Real Life vs MMOs

by Tyler Edwards, August 8, 2012

Lately, our regular cartoon strip Digital Dragons has been highlighting some of the differences between reality and MMOs, but we thought it was time to delve into this a little more deeply. MMOs are like worlds unto themselves, and there are many parallels between them and the real life. You can't deny that you have at some point wondered which reality was ultimately better - it's something we all do eventually. With this article, we hope to settle the question of real versus virtual once and for all, one category at a time.

health potion


Healthcare is one of the most serious issues faced by our society. It's a subject of intense political debate and a constant struggle for governments to provide adequately. Even in good systems, getting treated can be a massive pain in the ass involving weeks of waiting, testing, treatment, therapy, and recovery.

And let's not even get into the drug side effects. I really don't want to know how a heartburn pill can cause neurological damage.

Healthcare in MMOs is awesome by comparison. You can get your face bitten off by a dragon, and all you need to do is chug a bottle of mysterious red liquid to be as good as new, and without so much as cotton mouth as a side effect. That you're able to chug it with no face is confusing, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?

The worst of injuries can be erased by your healer, and even if you don't have a healer handy, it only takes a few seconds out of combat and maybe a light snack to go from death's door to the peak of health. Although then again, your real life doctor probably isn't going to let you die if you call him a noob - not that I recommend trying.

Still, MMOs are the clear winner here. Despite attempts to replicate the kinds of wondrous medicines seen in MMOs [Warning: Link contains mature language], disease and injury still plague the real world.

world of warcraft death

Death penalties:

No, I don't mean corporal punishment. Death penalties are what happen when healthcare fails. They are the consequences of reaching the end of your days, suicidal recklessness, or insulting your tank or healer.

Death penalties are a subject of some controversy among MMO players. Some players feel that stiff punishments for death are a good thing, encouraging players to improve and adding a sense of peril to the game. Others feel they're nothing but an irritant that unfairly punishes the inexperienced. Overall, while a few games may buck the trend, most games are now moving towards more forgiving death penalties.

There's only one death penalty in real life, but it's a big one: you die. It's all over. No respawn. No second chance. No resurrection by a friend. You've kicked the bucket. You are dead, gone, stiff as a board, pushing up daisies, expired and gone to meet your maker. You are an ex-person.

This is another area where MMOs are the clear winner over reality. Resurrection sickness, corpse runs, and a high repair bill undoubtedly suck, but they have no comparison to being ripped away from the mortal world forever and sent to some uncertain beyond. Even in the rare games where death is permanent, you can always start over with a new character. No such luck in reality - unless you believe in reincarnation.

mmo communities


No matter where you go in the real or virtual world, people will be a defining part of your experiences. Some will be nice, but a lot will be jerks. They can make your life a lot more fun, or make it a living hell.

The real world is unfortunately full of unpleasant people. Idiotic drivers will cut you off in traffic, weaving drunkenly across the road whilst compulsively texting on their smartphone. The inconsiderate will cut in front of you in line at the grocery store. Your boss will take credit for your hard work. The few decent people will seem like tiny islands in a vast sea of selfishness, rudeness, and stupidity.

But none of that compares to the all out assault on your faith in the human race that will begin the moment you log into an MMO. Every kind of bigotry, poor manners, incompetence, inconsiderateness, intolerance, and general stupidity imaginable - and several you couldn't imagine - are given free reign under the anonymity of cyberspace. If the nice people in the real world are islands in an endless sea, then the decent MMO players are specks of dust drifting through the void of space.

Both realities have bad apples aplenty, but the real world simply can't compete with the troll's paradise that is an MMO. Chalk this win up to the real world.



Grinding is a major problem with the MMO genre. Some claim to enjoy it, but it's safe to say they're probably a minority. It's synonymous with tedium and repetitive stress injuries, and it's the sort of thing that makes most of us want to rip out our own eyeballs after a while.

Grinding involves doing a dull, repetitive task for hours or even weeks on end so that you can gradually increase your capabilities so as to grind faster so as to improve more quickly so as to one day be able to do something you actually enjoy. It's a soul crushing chore that we all struggle to endure.

The closest thing to grinding in the real world would be probably be a job. In most jobs, you spend all day doing things that are often dull and repetitive so as to buy things like food and gas so you can keep going to work so you can maybe one day save enough money to retire and do something you actually want to do.

Come to think of it, there really isn't much difference between real life and MMOs when it comes to grinding. Buy this car to drive to work; drive to work to pay for this car. Slay this dragon to grab some gear; grab some gear to slay the next dragon.



If you've got an open mind, there's almost no limit to the forms of culture you can enjoy in the real world. You can read a book, go to the movies, listen to music, watch a play, read silly articles on the web, or even play video games. Thousands of years of human history has led to more art and literature than can be consumed in one lifetime.

Culture in MMOs is a bit more... limited. There's the story and artwork built into the game itself, and that's about it. Most MMO players are only interested in getting the next gear upgrade, and they're not exactly known for their wit or sophistication. Bad "anal" jokes and other immature memes are usually what define MMO culture.

The closest you can come to proper culture in an MMO is role playing, which is somewhere between amateur drama and collaborative writing. But even that has its share of clowns and rubes, and it probably isn't for everyone.

Real life wins this one easily. Chaucer and Beethoven versus Nooobkllčrr the anal spammer is one of the most ludicrously one side contests in history, up there with "small child with magnifying glass versus ants" and "windshield versus bug."



Believe it or not, some people do find love in an MMO. Some seek it out, whereas others find themselves falling for another player entirely by accident. You would be surprised to find out how many relationships begin in the virtual world.

However, virtual relationships have certain… limitations. Long distance relationships are notoriously difficult, and MMO couples are just another form of that. MMO relationships also suffer from the innate flaw of meeting someone over the Internet: you only know what they choose to tell you about themselves. And, of course, the biggest problem of all: your toons don't have anything underneath their clothes.

Nudge, nudge; wink, wink.

At least one developer is trying to overcome this limitation, but you're still probably going to prefer meeting up in the virtual world.

Real life has a lot of advantages in this category, but it really only needs the one. Any MMO relationship will invariably transition to the real world, because sending dirty whispers to your in game significant other will only get you so far.

When you get down to it, this is really the only difference between reality and MMOs that matters. MMOs are fun, but they can't compete with a couple million years of evolution hard wired into our minds screaming at us to procreate.