Does logging in fill you with dread?
Do you feel obligated to log in? Are you only playing because you feel like it's expected of you, or that your guild will fall apart without you? Do you resent them for it? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you, dear reader, are suffering from player burnout.
Player burnout is a consequence of social gaming. In a game like World of Warcraft, activities like raiding, arena or rated battlegrounds cannot be accomplished alone, they require groups of people to engage in them. They require scheduling and ask us to do more than simply show up and play - there's research into strategies, learning proper group composition, handling the minutia of loot distribution or discussing how to counter specific enemy action or what have you. Especially when leading a group of players into these situations, there's a level of added responsibility. Be it as a tank, as a DPS lead, as the person calling for focus fire in arena, the flag carrier in rated BG play, or as the person behind the scenes managing loot council or running the website, players can grow exhausted with what comes to feel like a burden.
So what if you're going through player burnout? What can you do about it? Well, I'm no psychiatrist, but there are a few things you can do in game to reduce your stress level.
This one's the easiest one to implement, but the hardest one to implement well. It's easy to just stop showing up. It's harder to get together with people and say "Hey, I'm just not capable of playing to this level anymore and I need a break" especially if you feel like everyone's depending on you. But the dirty little secret of player burnout is that it often comes from our own mismanaged expectation of our own importance. It's not that you're not important, of course, but rather that you are replaceable. No matter how much work you've been doing, you can and will be replaced if necessary. It may take two or three people to do all the work you've been doing, but that in fact may be the real culprit behind your burnout - you may be doing too much.
Are you doing all the guild recruiting, deciding all the strats for your raids, and making all the calls in the fights? Are you doing all this while managing DKP and setting up your weekly Rated Battleground group? And then are you running your arena team on the weekend? Congratulations, but you're probably doing too much. It's no wonder you're feeling burned out.
Similarly, if you're feeling burned out because you don't enjoy an aspect of the game - doing daily quests for reputation, for instance - then don't do that. I personally don't like rated battlegrounds, so I stopped doing them (I was on a team for a while) and I'm much happier. Once you get the reputations you need for professions out of the way, there's no reason to force yourself to try and do 30 or 40 dailies in a day - do ten, or five, or even none, depending on how you feel about it.
This one is a less drastic option then the first one. In a lot of ways, it helps stem off burnout if you're not turning your gameplay into a second job. You may feel like you're the only person who will do these things, but if other players care about the group they'll step up, and if they don't, then driving yourself insane trying to do everything isn't going to be tenable long term. You simply can't do everything. Eventually, be it a month or five years down the road, you are going to snap. When you do, you'll take actions based not on careful thought but the burning need to take actions, and at best you'll end up embarrassed and at worst forced to change your character's name and move to an entirely new server.
Delegation, combined with knowing your own limits, is key to successfully managing your time spent in game. What can you do? What are you good at doing, and more importantly, what are you willing to endure doing? If you hate talking to people and reading their applications, then being in charge of recruitment probably isn't a good idea. There are almost always people who, if they don't like doing something you hate, are willing to do it to take some weight off of you. Make use of them.
Similarly, if you're burning out because you added some responsibility recently and you can't keep doing it for whatever reason (real life issues, a lack of commitment, a change in your available time) then tell people about it. Don't just thrash around hoping it'll get better.
Play at your own pace
The game is set up now to be about as friendly to players as it has ever been, and yet a lot of us fail to take advantage of that. If you still love logging in on the weekends, but don't want to be raiding full time anymore, do that. If you still love to raid but are sick to death of the PvP system, stop ramming yourself into PvP activities you don't like. Your in-game friends will either understand, or they're not really worth extending yourself for in the first place - as long as you're up front about what you want out of the game, anyway.
Be mindful of how you treat others
There's a long list of 'don'ts' here. People being people, we're going to do a lot of the same things in game that we do in real life. We're going to meet people and form connections, attractions, friendships, rivalries. I'm not telling you not to do these things. I'm saying that when you do them, remember that the general consensus that all of this is just a game is dead wrong when it comes to interpersonal relationships in game.
It's not just that those other people you talk to in guild chat or over mumble are real people. You're a real person. Your emotions don't know that Avatru the hunter that you talk to every single day about everything isn't just as much your friend as Bobby down in accounting. Heck, you might share more with Avatru. You already know you have one interest in common.
I've lost count of how many times I've seen players get swept up in intense emotional firestorms centered around other players they met in game. I suspect (but can't prove) that people are often surprised by the depth of their own feelings for people they met in a video game, because video games somehow lack that understanding of the reality of these connections and the potential consequences.
It doesn't matter at all that 'this is just a game' because games are played by people. And you're a person, too.
Avoid the meltdown
Amazingly, and I'm speaking from experience here, people have no idea what's going through your head if you don't tell them. Are you beyond sick and tired of running the BG team and just can't deal anymore? The time to deal with this is before you go on a screaming tear in mumble, insult everyone's mothers, and leave a trail of bruised egos and baffled former friends in your destructive wake.
If you're a GM or officer, get the officers together and tell them your concerns. If you're a player with added responsibilities or even just a regular player who feels like you're tired of playing and need to take a month or so off to recharge, go to an officer and bring it up. If you're having health concerns or your family is in town, let people know. Talk to people. If you keep everything bottled up inside, or always adopt a pose of unflappability in the face of pressure, no one else can tell how bad it's actually getting for you. You have to tell them, if you want them to do anything to help lessen it.
To sum it all up
Player burnout happens - I've had it happen to me twice, once at the very end of vanilla, and once in the end of Wrath/beginning of Cataclysm phase. (I also took some time off at the end of Cataclysm to avoid it.) Your interest in the game is going to wax and wane if you keep playing it at all. But the spectacular implosions can be avoided if you're willing to talk to other players, treat them like you'd like to be treated yourself, and play the game with an eye to your own comfort and interests.
Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.