ADHD and Computer Games: Keeping myself on track in World of Warcraft

Deborah Health Guide
  • As a card-carrying computer geek, I've been playing what are known as computer role-playing games (CRPGs) for close to twenty years. I'll try not to bore you with too many details, but basically the structure of these games consists of gaining experience for your character by doing battle and completing quests for non player (computer generated) characters. Since the internet really started going in the 1990s, I've also been playing online computer role playing games. Since you're playing with many other players (real life players), the experience is much more social, and more competitive to some extent.

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    Before these games were online, I played solely against the computer and the characters it generated. I went along my merry ADHD way, starting a quest and then getting distracted halfway through by a new one that I had serendipitously picked up along the way. I'd go haring off in the opposite direction from where I needed to go to complete the first request. And I frequently would return to the home base in the game to train my character's skills and stock up on supplies. While this is necessary, of course, I tended to do it when the mood struck me, and not when it made the most sense.


    Imagine that you go out to do your errands - you need to go to the bank, the post office and the grocery store. You go to the bank and then decide to go home for a drink. Then you set off again to the post office, but decide when you're almost there to go to the dry cleaners instead, which is in the opposite direction. After the dry cleaners, you go to the grocery store, passing the post office on the way. Then you go home again to drop everything off and subsequently set off for the post office again. That's what I was doing in games.


    As you can guess, this is not the most efficient way to accomplish tasks and finish quests. I'm sure that it took me a lot longer to finish these games than someone else who did things in a (even marginally) more organized way. But this didn't bother me too much. I didn't have any way to compare my performance to anyone else's.


    This changed about ten years ago, when I started playing an online CRPG, Everquest, in earnest and was part of a guild, a group of people who could communicate and play with each other in the game. I started noticing that other guild member's characters were advancing, or leveling, a lot faster than mine. Before too long, my character was level 20 while everyone else was level 40. This meant that I couldn't even venture into certain areas with them, as my character would not be able to contribute too much and get killed within about thirty seconds. So I kept playing the game my way, but in a much more solitary manner.


    Five years ago I started playing an online CRPG called World of Warcraft. In four and a half years I advanced my main character to level 35, while other people who started the same time, and weren't necessarily hardcore players who spent hours every week playing, had advanced several characters to level 60 and above. It was a little discouraging. Then I stumbled across The Guides. I'm capitalizing those two words, because they completely changed my experience. The people who wrote these guides, which generally were organized by level and area, had in most cases mapped out the most efficient way to complete the quests. So you'd gather all the quests in town and then go and fulfill the quests in one area, then go back for more. At first I was often tempted to break out of the structure of the guide and do things my own way, but when I started noticing how much more quickly my character was advancing, I became a convert.


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    Now, for someone without ADHD who plays CRPGs, this probably doesn't seem like a big deal. After all, it's pretty obvious which is the more efficient way. And organizing my actions in a game is not a matter of life and death. But for me, it's no small thing. I was becoming frustrated by the situation, and using this tool turned the activity back into a fun one for me. It also showed me that, with a little help, I can curb my ADHD impulsiveness and distractability when there's a good enough reason to. I figure there has to be some way I can apply this outside the game. 

Published On: August 05, 2009