Mogwai is cutting down the time he spends playing World of Warcraft. Twenty hours a week or less now, compared to a peak of over 70. It's not that he has lost interest—just that he's got to the top. He heads his own guild, has 20,000 gold pieces in the bank. He was recently offered $8,000 for his Warcraft account, given that he has clocked up over 4,500 hours of play, the prospective buyers were hardly making it worth his while. Plus, he feels his character is not his alone to sell: “He doesn't just belong to me. Every item he has he got through the hard work of 20 or more other people.” As in many modern online games, co-operation is the only way to progress, with the most challenging encounters manageable only with the collaboration of other experienced players. Hence the need for leaders, guilds—and online friendships measured in years. “When I started, I didn't care about the other people. Now they are the only reason I continue. In Warcraft I've developed confidence; a lack of fear about entering difficult situations; I've enhanced my presentation skills and debating. And I love leading them to succeed in a task.”
It's an eloquent self-justification—you find this kind of frank introspection again and again on the thousands of independent websites maintained by World of Warcraft's more than 10 million players. Yet this way of thinking about video games can be found almost nowhere within the mainstream media, which still tend to treat games as an odd mix of the slightly menacing and the alien: more like exotic organisms dredged from the deep sea than complex human creations.
This lack has become increasingly jarring, as video games and the culture that surrounds them have become very big news indeed. In March 2008, the British government released the Byron report—one of the first large-scale investigations into the effects of electronic media on children. Its conclusions set out a clear, rational basis for exploring the regulation of video games. Since then, however, the debate has descended into the same old squabbling between partisan factions. In one corner are the preachers of mental and moral decline; in the other the high priests of innovation. In between are the ever-increasing legions of gamers, busily buying and playing while nonsense is talked over their heads.