I have been playing WoW since 2006 and one unique thing about my relationship to wow is that I can easily, without strain or effort, play this game for very long periods of time. I'm talking 15 hour or longer sessions every weekend (covid times at least). I don't plan these sessions I just start playing and don't stop which I'm sure many of you can relate to. What got me thinking was, why am I able to play this game for so many hours with no problem when there isn't anything else in my life that I can do for such extended time periods? If I could just crack the code here then maybe I can find something productive to do with all that time. After giving it some thought I believe I have come to understand much better why.
To preface, I would describe my brain as hyperactive but not to a severe degree. Maintaining focus on a single activity can be difficult for me but overall is manageable and does not impact my life in a detrimental way mostly because I am able to counteract this quite successfully by healthy lifestyle habits such as eating well, good sleep hygiene, and most importantly regular intense exercise (this ties into the other two heavily but is my foundation for maintaining good habits and health). Because of covid my physical activity levels have tanked and I have very clearly noticed a sharp decrease in my ability to remain focused on routine tasks and work yet I am still able to binge WoW without effort.
With this said I see there are two primary modes of brain activity, the executive functioning and the subconscious functioning. I don't know the technical terminology for these but we'll go with these terms. Basically the main thinking brain and the background brain which causes distractions.
How does WoW fit into this? Well, I think WoW is the perfect activity for me because it very easily occupies both modes of thinking simultaneously. On one hand the subconscious brain is occupied with the game's continuous demand for input, that is, character control. When playing, we are constantly traveling from point A to point B, killing mobs, or performing a combat rotation which we know by heart. This part of the game seems to occupy the subconscious brain very well, excelling in these repetitive tasks and is well-suited for it.
On the other hand, WoW is also great at occupying our executive functioning brain. While our subconscious handles the routine character control our executive function is free to handle the important stuff such as planning your leveling route, optimizing quest completion, monitoring xp/hour or gold per/hour, chatting with players, forming groups, and all the other important aspects of the game.
WoW just seems to provide just the right amount of stimulation to occupy both parts of a hyperactive brain creating the perfect storm of escapism. For once my brain is fully occupied and not thinking about anything else and it can be pure bliss. No wonder this game is like crack and I can do it for hours on end. I do think there is an element of good game design which keeps you playing to indulge the need for progression but I think there is something really interesting about how this game or games in general can be so good at stimulating a hyperactive brain. I'm sure there is legit research about this out there but I found it to be an interesting observation and wanted to share. Now I just wonder what else is out there that I could apply this to that is more productive.
tl;dr: main brain = planning and optimizing gameplay lizard brain = controlling character = digital crack
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