This can be a bit long, detailed and uninteresting, but I assure you that it will actually go somewhere. Bear with me. And no, "justice" won't be a recurring theme, it is just a coincidence.....maybe.
So, like an ever increasing number of people my age and gender (that being male and approximately age 0-200) I am a bit of a nerd. I'm not a geek, I'm not into all kinds of tech savvy things, but I do nerdy things such as play a lot of video games. One of these games is called Astro Empires, and I've been playing it in one capacity or another for the past 4 years. I currently play on the Delta server with about 5000 other people. And I'm very good. Very. I was ranked #1 on the server for a period of about 6 months, and have been consistently in the top 10 for the entire age of the server, which today is 586 days old.
A few weeks ago this changed. I was traveling from one part of the universe to another on a week long journey when my fleet was ambushed by a rival guild. I had no idea it was happening, I was at my computer at work, but not in the game at the moment. This game like many others is a 'persistent universe' meaning that things can happen to you while you're not logged in. Anyway, a sizable portion of my fleet was destroyed before my guild mates started to send me instant messages on MSN (remember, nerd?) to tell me I was being blown up. I logged on to be able to save a few of my ships and send them elsewhere to safety, but I had been pretty well destroyed. All in all, I lost about 19 million fleet (about 1/2 of what I had), to say I was angry would be a bit of an understatement.
So for the past few weeks, our guild has been tracking the guild of those who ambushed me, and have been planning to return the favor with our particular brand of "internet space ship game justice." This happened yesterday. We had a coordinated launch of about 50 of us mid morning around 10. Landed around 5 pm for a 2nd launch. Landed around 12:30 am for a 3rd launch. Landed yet again around 3:30 am today for the fourth and final launch towards one of that guild's main fleet gatherings. We do several smaller launches to limit the amount of time they can see us coming. And so last night, I went to bed after launching around 12:30 am and set an alarm for 3 hours later in the middle of the night to administer some space justice. And boy, did our internet space ships whallop the crap out of theirs. Our attack started at about 4am, we killed off about 350 million of that guild's fleet, which was about 1/8 of their total while losing about 100 million of our own which was about 1/16 of our total. They are a guild twice our size, and we will destroy them, we have done this before to others, many times. That is now our goal for the game and it will not change until they are approximately half of our size. We are perfectly capable of this because we are easily the best guild in the game, made up of the best players, who are quite willing to wake up at 3:30am to get revenge on someone they don't know on the internet.
So, why did I waste your time with this nonsense? Because it's surprisingly important. When I was ambushed, I was furious. I was depressed. I was anxious. It had destroyed my day. It was about all I could think about for the rest of the day, and some of the next. This was not just some thing that happened in some game, it elicited a genuine emotional response. If I knew one of the people who had attacked me, I very well may have punched them in the face. And then kicked their dog. This could be because I really "get into" the games that I play. It could be because I'm a bit of a (ok, huge) nerd. It could be because I'm a bit of an angry person. Or, as I suspect, it could be because I'm pretty normal.
I took pride in my good position in the game. In this online, pointless game. I had placed a small sense of self worth into this game, and when it had been taken away from me I felt helpless and angry. And when we made our attack early this morning, my guild imparted that same feeling onto dozens of other players. I'm sure many of them will quit the game because of this (it's quite normal actually). They won't feel that they can handle the loss of what occurred, and instead of dealing with it and rebuilding they will simply quit. They will be angry, they will be anxious, depressed and unable to adequately deal with the situation for a short period of time. Just because of a few internet space ships.
It is not just this game, and it is not just me. I think one of the main reasons people play video games is because it is a form of escapism. They get to ignore what is going on around them or to them, if only for a little while and change their identity to whatever it is in the game. This is not something only 'socially challenged' people do, or only a small amount of people, or only teenagers or anything ridiculous such as that. The average age of a video gamer is 33, over 60% of Americans play video games regularly, nearly 1/3 of them are female, and in the last 6 months there have been more people who have played a video game than gone to see a movie (source: The Internet). World of Warcraft has over 11 million users, meaning that if it were a country it would be in the top 75 in size. And no matter the intensity of the game, there are plenty of people who get a very real emotional response from playing it; sometimes positive, and sometimes negative.
Mine today was positive. I was happy. I went back to bed at 4:45am very pleased with what had happened and quite content. But for me to be happy with the result, someone else has to be unhappy with it. And unless the game is something along the lines of 'virtual T-ball,' where there is no score, that is the way it is with every game. There's always a winner, there's always losers. Whether it's people playing head to head against each other, or if it's only measured in terms of score without a real competition. Even if it is only a goal established in the mind of an individual player of something in the game they need to accomplish and the only comparison is to himself. If they accomplish it they will be a winner, if not they will be a loser. And they will probably receive the appropriate emotional response.
So we keep playing. We just may get the positive emotional response from it instead of a negative one. We may feel accomplished. We may feel important. In something as insignificant as a video game. Yet that sense of importance or accomplishment is sought after. If even only a little bit.
Or we might just keep playing because it's fun and there is little else to do while at the office.