Dear Dr Mark.
I wonder if I have a problem. I find myself playing WoW for long stretches with no significant breaks. These marathons can go from thirty to fifty hours of constant play, foregoing all sleep and eating in hurried bites. When I'm not raiding, running instances, or farming, I level alts--I now have six 85s. Sometimes I help other players in my guild, sometimes I work on organizing the guild better. After one of these marathons, I might sleep for ten hours or so and then I'm at it again. Though I sometimes get a bored feeling when I've been on for a long time, I mostly feel good while I'm playing and want to keep it up. I don't have the feeling I can't stop, I just don't want to. What's going on here?
It's very impressive and interesting that you play for such long periods. Some will wonder if you are addicted or engaged in obsessive-compulsive behavior while others may see this as a familiar experience. What would lead you to spend vast stretches of time in a game world, forsaking almost all other priorities and activities? While it's easy for others to pass judgment, how would you decide whether it's a problem or not?
Intensive, prolonged gaming allows us to dwell in a magical world that seems richer, more appealing, and more interesting than reality. While achieving goals within a game can be satisfying, there is a strangely relaxing but also stimulating sensation that accompanies game play, almost as if the gamer has entered a kind of trance state that goes well beyond simple preference and enjoyment. You may want to be in this world as much as you can to extend this feeling, which can have neurobiological correlates that we are only beginning to understand.
In a Boston Globe editorial on 5/14/11, Jesse Singal writes about "Game Transfer Phenomena," an experience that a group of European researchers (Griffiths, et al) have investigated and will discuss in an upcoming article in the Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology, and Learning. This has to do with the way videogame experiences worm their way into our real life existences, in the form of thought intrusions, sensations, and repeated mental rehearsal of game situations and imagery. Singal interestingly speculates that his own experience made him wonder if the "neurons that had been tasked" with game play were continuing to do so even though he wasn't playing anymore.