The Role of Your Hippocampus In Oculus

You probably thought I was done in bashing Oculus. Oh how wrong you were. MWAHAHAHA. If you are not interested in psychology of gameplay, you may just want to skip this post, or at least just scroll on down to the very last section. You’ve been forewarned. Please don’t stop subscribing to Miss Medicina just because I find psychology of gameplay a worthy wall of text topic. This is what happens when instead of writing my thesis, I wax poetic on World of Warcraft.

In response to my own post yesterday, I can answer my title question quite easily. “Why Occulus is a Failure?” Because even some of us grammar Nazis just can’t spell it. Sigh. Thank you Shintar for pointing out my egregious error. Even Larisa gave me some light teasing, and informed us all who Occulus really is. If I had not misspelled Oculus in the title of the post itself, I would go back and correct my spelling, but now it’s out there, and everyone whose spelling I have criticized can redirect me to it.

Earlier I touched upon the problems with Oculus in regards to the Vehicle Mechanic. I stand by my hypothesis that this is one of the major issues influencing the overall failure of Oculus as an instance, but I wanted to post separately about something that was brought up in the comments that has also contributed to its failure.

Many people mentioned that their biggest struggle with this instance has nothing at all to do with learning the abilities of a new vehicle, and more related to flying. Oculus and Eye of Eternity phase 3 are both three dimensional fights. That is to say, they not only require you to properly move left, right, forward and back, but also up and down. For some of us this is a more serious problem than for others.

Traditionally our game fights are horizontal. Adding that extra vertical element can either be perceived as a welcome challenge that adds a lot to the fight for some, or a vertigo inspiring nightmare for others. I fall into the latter category. I won’t even talk about PvP fighting in Aion. Regardless, I don’t blame Blizzard. No, I blame my hippocampus.

The Hippocampus

First I will draw you a pretty picture that shows where your hippocampus is. By the way, I’m totally accepting commissions for my now famous MSPaint diagrams.

So what does your Hippocampus do? Well, to be honest, there is still some debate on this, but here’s what scientists currently think the Hippocampus does (simplistically of course). I originally wrote a lot more about the first two duties of the Hippocampus, but if you are interested in that, go to that wiki – I will try to cut this post down only to the relevant material.

· Helps you form new episodic memories.

· Another theory that is apparently not very popular currently is the inhibition function. The idea is that if you have hippocampal damage, you may seem more hyperactive, or have difficulty learning to inhibit your responses to things based on how you first learned to respond. You may seem a little… well, tweaky.

· The most relevant function of the Hippocampus to this post, however, is its role in spatial memory and navigation. This is related to the discovery of what is called “place cells” in the Hippocampus. These are spatial firing fields in the neurons in the Hippocampus, and they are triggered by recognizing your location, the direction you are faced, if you’ve been there before, where you suspect you are heading, etc etc etc.

The discovery of place cells led to the idea that the hippocampus might act as a cognitive map — a neural representation of the layout of the environment… Studies with animals have shown that an intact hippocampus is required for simple spatial memory tasks (for instance, finding the way back to a hidden goal)… the hippocampus plays a particularly important role in finding shortcuts and new routes between familiar places. Some people exhibit more skill at this sort of navigation than do others, and brain imaging shows that these individuals have more active hippocampi when navigating.
(Taken from the Wiki linked above)

Why am I bringing this potentially boring topic into a discussion about flying fantasy drakes? Because I suck at flying in a 3d environment, and I wanted to know why. I get disoriented. I don’t know what direction I’m facing, or where I’m heading. Even though I stated yesterday that the overwhelming problem with Vehicle Mechanic fights is learning the new abilities at the drop of a hat, that’s not actually the biggest issue for me and many others. Sure, I don’t particularly LIKE it, but that’s not enough to make me rudely drop group after landing in Oculus. However, my complete inability to navigate within a 3D environment is. And apparently I’m not the only one.

Do you find yourself getting lost in Oculus? Are you useless flying on your own near Malygos? In spite of all that, are you still pretty good at Flame Leviathon and jousting? If you do not have a problem with vehicle mounts on a flat surface, but struggle in a vertical one this may be your issue. If you have tried to PvP in Aion by flying around, and struggle with it, this may also be your issue. Hippocampal damage can have severe debilitating effects on your spatial navigation system. And it is not uncommon to have some minor degree of Hippocampal damage. It’s not just for people with Parkinson’s or Alzheimers Syndrome.

The Role of Depression in Hippocampal Damage

I’m going to throw some statistics at you, folks. Take them as you see fit – 326% of statistics are bogus, right?

· 15% of the population of most developed countries suffers severe depression.

· 30% of women are depressed. Men's figures were previously thought to be half that of women, but new estimates are higher.

· 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment.

· 80% of people who see physicians are depressed.

Basically, all that means is that a lot of people are depressed, a lot of people don’t take it very seriously, and I deliberately did not include the stats on suicide. It’s just too… well, depressing. I will save my soapbox rant about people misunderstanding exactly what depression is for another time, another place. That having been said, I know it’s a controversial topic here in the states, but please do not comment here to tell me all about how people are whiney, and depression is a silly pill-popping conundrum. Link me a peer-reviewed journal article on the topic and I will take you a lot more seriously.

And it probably comes as no surprise to you that a lot of depressed people play MMOs.

I can’t find the actual article Dr. Noshir Contractor wrote, or a copy of the presentation, but it was a pretty hot topic amongst MMO players for while. Here’s the skinny:

· 7,000 players of EverQuest II were surveyed.

· 21% of the players who didn’t play the game that often were depressed.

· 30% of the players who DID play the game often were depressed.

· "This could mean that highly active players get more depressed or that depressed people are more likely to be active role players," said the author of the study, Noshir Contractor, a professor of behavioral science.

One of the reasons Dr. Contractor won my respect is due to that very quote – showing a correlation between two things does not show causality. What that means in layman’s terms is that just because a bunch of depressed people play an MMO does not mean that the MMO makes them depressed. Maybe they play the MMO BECAUSE they are depressed.

Without reading the actual study, I cannot tell you how “playing the game often” was quantified, or how researchers determined who was depressed. I also can’t tell you if folks who play EQ2 are inherently different than those who play World of Warcraft. To someone who doesn’t play these games, we all may be the same. But to those of us who do, there could be vast differences. According to tables shown at, WoW has just over 11.5 million players. Aion is fairly new in North America, and has just south of 3 million players. EQII is listed as having around 200,000 players.

This leaves me wondering… if you surveyed Aion players (a game which is developed around a concept of three dimensional PvP via flying) and compared them to WoW players (which is not), would you see a lot fewer people sticking around to play in the Abyss in Aion if they are depressed? I know, I know, what a logical leap. But this is MY kind of theorycrafting, mmk?

Get to the Point, J-Bizzle

Alright, alright. TLDR like whoa, I know. I find this stuff fascinating. My point in this argument is actually very simple. A lot of people have a problem with Oculus and Eye of Eternity, not because they struggle to learn new vehicle mechanics, but because they struggle with the 3 dimensional, vertical aspect.

I am merely suggesting that since deficiencies in spatial navigation are often connected to problems in the Hippocampus, which is also linked to depression, and that since depression is allegedly more common amongst MMO players than the average population, maybe this isn’t really that big of a surprise. I’m not saying that if you suck at Oculus, you are Hippocampally challenged either. There is truth in the argument that a lot of people hate Oculus simply because they can’t zerg it, and therefore, in an attempt to maximize their badge-grinding time, drop out of it.

The hippocampus is often directly linked to depression.

The hippocampus is also linked to spatial memory and navigation.

Lots of depressed folks play MMOs.

So let’s just go out on a limb here, and say that IF 25% of WoW players suffer from some degree of depression, and IF depression does have a solid link to hippocampal damage, maybe, just maybe, 25% of players struggle with the Oculus because three-dimensional fights are particularly challenging for them.

The other 75% just hate those whelps in the first pull, yo.

15 Responses
  1. Tam Says:

    Miss Medicina, I adore your walls o'text about the psychology of gaming. Don't ever stop :)

    Although I have to say 'hippocampus' (I do know what it is, honest) sounds like an additional vehicle. Players will be rescued by flying hippocampi who they will then control through Phase 3 of the fight.

    The hippocampus has several useful abilities:

    1) Spatial Awareness - the fight becomes 2D for [x] seconds

    2) Seratonin Uptake Inhibition - a burst of energy and well-being that allows you to fly at 50% normal speed.

  2. *vlad* Says:

    A long post but I have to completely disagree with you!
    We all fly mounts in WoW; the "ZOMG 3 dimensions I cant do it" argument is no excuse.
    It's more "I don't know how to do this instance, I better just dc in case people realise my ignorance and make me a target of their abuse".

  3. Anonymous Says:

    MM, you have both given and taken away, oh yes :)

    Yesterday saw my reader chock full of a litany of hate towards the heroic known as Oculus; however, while most of the posts mentioned the hated vehicle mechanic, I've found it's not the vehicle controls players have a problem with, but the act of flying in a 3D environment.

    The same was true in Eye of Eternity. Some poor raid members could not manage to get their drake to fly in a smooth circle around the boss, even after having mastered the rotation for damage.

    I really enjoyed how you've chosen to handle this topic! Thanks for the great morning read.

  4. @Tam

    I think this is a lovely idea. Instead of giving us all a chance for a drop for yet another drake that some people like me can't even fly in a straight line, let's have a Hippo Camp mount drop. Like Mimi's head, but squishier.


    But I can't fly well on my own mount either, I swear! You should see me, I look drunk.

    Also, in answer to the second part... well there is truth in that as well. But perhaps less people would drop if they knew that others would be patient and help them understand the fights instead of ridicule them if they couldn't zerg right though it :)


    I'm so glad you like it! While I really do think that a lot of people just don't like the vehicle mechanic because they don't enjoy the process of learning the new abilities, I don't have a problem with that. It's the flying! I'm glad I'm not alone XD

  5. Fuubaar Says:

    Aion totally screws with me. Not only did I pick the only class who chooses to fight on the ground (Assassin), I actually get motion sickness when I'm flying without ground beneth me. I've gotten better at it, but when someone starts to attack me from above, it's extremely hard for me to manuver around to actually see him. Then all of my focus is just keep that bastard on my screen. I ignore all of my surroundings, run out of flight time & fall to my death. Needless to say I'm a pretty easy kill out there. Why I didn't pick a ranged caster is beyond me lol.

    On a different note though: I believe that Aion is failing to keep peoples interests because there just really isn't all that much to do in the game yet. WoW has everything for every person (Festivals, pets, Pvp, Raiding, questing, solo activities, group activities, achievements, etc etc.) Aion only has a handful of things to keep one busy for only so long before it becomes a grinding bore. Don't get me wrong, the game has some really awesome qualities that I think WoW could totally snake, but it has a long way to go before it EVER could be a wow killer.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    So...a bit off topic here.

    But, last night I got the Oculus as my daily heroic. And no sooner did we zone in and start pulling the trash, I pulled a "Miss Medicina" and ran right off the edge of the bloody thing.

    I just thought you might appreciate knowing you aren't alone! =)

  7. Interesting thought, but what about those of us that are great at spatial tasks outside of WoW? I'm pretty damn amazing at 3D platform games on game consoles, but I manage to completely become useless in similar situations in WoW.

    Personally, I think a lot of the difficulty in these situations owe a lot to the fact that the WoW engine is aging and as the challenges become more complex, the cracks begin to show. Oculus is a pretty ambitious concept and certainly wasn't the kind of the thing they had in mind when WoW launched. To me, it feels like I'm trying to play the game in spite of itself. Awkward and frustrating.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    My dear gods, Jess, this is a FANTASTIC read. I love it! The next time Malygos is the weekly raid and I fly DIRECTLY INTO HIM LIKE NORMAL, I'm blaming my hippocampus!

    ...and yet I like those fights. Just goes to show that I do in fact have a masochistic streak. :D

  9. Hinenuitepo Says:

    I loves ya, Missy!

    I'm soo glad I finished the 'ol thesis/diss BEFORE starting MMOs. I never would have completed them otherwise.

    Get them done, girl!

    Interestingly, you do bring up some very good points. One that isn't really treated here, is that indeed, some aspect of the trolls' comments are correct.

    There is solid evidence that ON AVERAGE, males have better spatial awareness than males. Of course, there's also evidence that ON AVERAGE, females have better-developed verbal skills.

    On average is important, because the bell curves of spatial awareness and verbal skills overlap for the genders far more than they distinguish between genders, but the differences are there. :)

    gogo trolls!

    Although, I think most of them might find it a bit much to wade through the actual depth of the writing here, much more the lols. :P

  10. Hinenuitepo Says:

    Gah for no edits.
    My sentence obviously should have read, "ON AVERAGE, males do have better spatial awareness than females."

  11. @Hinen

    Ha! I happen to live with a male who fits very well into the average of less-developed verbal skills, so I am accustomed to translating such sentences - I understood you perfectly.

    I think nothing exhibits that male/female difference better than the fact that while there are more men that play MMOs, have you ever noticed how many more women blog about it?

  12. Kae Says:

    My problem with Oculus is not the act of flying/3D navigation itself, but having to deal with those who DO have that problem at the same time as dealing with people who chain-pull :( It ties securely into the majority of pugs' unwillingness to talk or listen to others.

    I'm in the same camp as you of not just dropping out of the instance immediately. Oculus is easy when you get the hang of it. I don't mind forming guild groups specifically for it. I spent weeks in there early in the expansion, hoping for the staff to drop.

    Some pug Oculuses are great, but most of them I've been in have had more deaths than any other heroic dungeon pug I've been in, including HoR.

    Completely aside, a hippocampus is also a mythological creature. :) The true sea-horse! A mount version would be fun.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Reminds me of star trek 2 (wrath of khan) where kirk takes the ship into the nebula. khan is brilliant, but on a 2d field. while kirk can think in 3d.

  14. Shadira Says:

    All I can say, brilliant work, as a psychology student I'm pleased to see this sort of thing arising. I've always seen WoW as much more than a game, and this is something really awesome. I appreciate your work very much! Best wishes, and never stop writing!

  15. Hiram Says:

    wow, that text is awesome

    it makes me wonder, I really know nothing about the brain itself but, could some kind of practice in 3d enviroment actually lower the chances of having depression or those kind of issues ?
    Imagine a treatment for depression issues, using virtual enviroment to enhance your hippocampus !?

Creative Commons License
Miss Medicina by Miss Medicina is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at