And finally, several players offered stories on how an MMORPG and the support they found there became their solace when they had to deal with real life emotional trauma.
I was playing EQ one night in June of 2000 when I got a call saying I needed to hurry up and get to the hospital because my daughter had been hit by a drunk driver. They said she was in very serious condition. My boyfriend and I immediately logged our characters and rushed out of the house. That night my daughter ended up dying from her injuries. I at first blamed my playing EQ for her death. I couldn't believe that while my daughter was out with friends that I was involved in another world. After the tragedy I decided that I needed to take a break from EQ to get my priorities straight. My boyfriend posted on our guild website that we would be out of the game for awhile due to my daughter being killed. The support I received from the people in my guild was overwhelming. I couldn't believe that people I only knew from an online game were so supportive of my decision and my feelings. I took a break from EQ for about 2 months. I finally realized that my playing EQ was not the reason for her death. So I went back to playing because I missed all the people I played with regularly. I was still deeply depressed about losing my child, but when I was in EQ I felt so much better about myself and about life. All my friends were there to talk to me about how I was feeling and to offer me advice on things I could do. I eventually got over my depression thanks to the people in EQ. If it wasn't for them I probably would either be depressed still or laying dead in the ground. I really feel that the escape into EQ and all the good people I have met there was very helpful to me in dealing with this tragedy. I really have the members of Warriors of Wrath and Ittie Bittie Brigade to thank for this! [EQ, F, 35]
I started playing Everquest as an additional activity between myself and my boyfriend at the time. When we broke up, I spent more and more time playing Everquest to escape from the feelings the break up had left me with. I refused to interact with people on a personal level for a long time. I feel that Everquest helped me to get back to dealing with and caring about people. [EQ, F, 23]
Am I the only person here that thinks this whole premise is a bit...dark?
Before we get into it- let me just say that I'm not a big fan of therapy. I beleive that a majority of cases of "depression" or ADHD or OCD, at a level that cannot be traced or treated biologically, is more a symptom of how lost our society is rather than a legitimate "illness". I say this with my experience in the therapy field, and my father who is a psychiatrist. I say this not to get into some argument about how most of this crap is heavily culturally biased, but to frame my previous statement.
So- people are using MMORPGs as therapy. From depressing lives, from trauma, or from whatever our "inner child" cannot get from aromatherapy. The world was once a tougher place you know. Have we softened up so much by living off the hard work of our ancestors that we're needing "therapy" from a video game to live in the richest country in the world, to not have to worry about a suicide bomber taking out our kid's bus on the way to school, or concerned that the 14 cents we made this month won't afford enough papaya to feed our family?
Yeah- I know it sounds callous- but get a freakin life. Spend some time in a third world country and maybe you'll understand that your life and problems here are utter BS compared to 95% of the planet.
How come those third-world nations don't have ADHD or MPD or PTSD problems that we have?
Because they're too busy just fighting to survive.
In certain ways, modern cities are darker and more isolating than a medieval agricultural village. Does living in "the richest country in the world" mean we're living in a wonderful and eternally cheery place where people don't die or where agony and loss can be relieved instantaneously?
To compare across cultures misses the point. Different cultures in different development phases face different problems. It's like telling AIDS patients that what has inflicted them is trivial compared with what happened with the bubonic plague, and that they shouldn't worry about their illness.
Besides, clinical diagnoses do not exist without ... well - diagnoses. It's like asking how come color-blindness was never known to really exist in Papua New Guinea before color-blindness tests were introduced to the country. What is almost certain, however, is that as these third-world countries develop, they too will have the whole host of DSM-V problems as we do.
I'm surprised (with your self-acknowledged experience) that you don't realize that our modern day psychological problems are a product of living in a modern society (which evolution did not select us for).
To paraphrase your complaint to reveal its strange logic: "Obesity isn't a real problem in the US these days because none of our ancestors were chronically obese. People are just imagining that obesity exists. But it's an illusion."
AIDS is a clinical epidemic. ADHD is an arguable psychological condition at best. I would not even compare the two.
Using your same analogy- no, we did not have obesity at the rate we do today. It is definitely a product of our way of life here, and the fat content of our food. But that in no way absolves us from teaching our kids to eat right. And that is the CORE issue.
Desiring and expecting to live in a perfect world are two different things. We live in the richest country in the world. Each and every one of us here has more potential for our lives than the average joe in another country. If you had two people with broken machines- and one had the willingness to fix it by themself, but no money, and the other had the tools, the money, and the time available- but was too lazy to learn how to do it themselves- who would you feel bad for? So let's acknowledge the problems for what they are- problems that we have imposed on ourselves.
Problems that arise from our mental weaknesses, from our "enabling" of the current generation. Every time we have a hardship in our lives we need to hyper-medicate it, we need counseling, therapy, etc. and before you know it- we're treating symptoms by adding symptoms, and we never get to the real issue.
When are we going to stop crippling everyone by telling them they have a "disease", and let them grow up?
Obesity is a problem, sometimes caused by bad diet and lazy life habits. Playing a video game, or talking to a therapist will make the person feel warm and fuzzy.
Turning off the computer, going on a freaking diet and being more active might actually fix the problem.
Hmmm ... interesting dialog you two are having ... I think there is something in what both of you are saying. I don't think we should ignore psychological problems - they are very real, but at the same time we should not lose sight of the 'real world' out there with its more tangible problems.
My view is that MMORPG's take us even further away from the 'real world' than civilisation has already taken us. And furthermore it does this by making us even more insular (even tho' we may be interacting with a lot of people it is done in a very primitive and insular way). This isn't therapy, this is escapism. That doesn't necessarily mean its bad, but it has a limited use.
A couple of thoughts. First, why are some people so threatened by others finding something in a virtual world that they don't have around them in the physical world? The lines between the two are blurring all the time, for some anyway. You can develop an avatar in a virtual world and meet them in real life, especially if you live in a city and use one of the organizing tools like meetup.com. I think we'll be seeing more of those digital-meets-physical relationships.
Second, the idea that somehow the virtual world is less "real" or more "primitive" is not clear to me. The social relationships that are formed on the web are every bit as real as those that happen in the "real world." I am interested, however, in the quality of different experiences and the longterm social impact of different kinds of experiences. People talk about the explosion of "mediated" experience in contemporary life...but I definitely think that the mediated experience of interacting in a virtual world is MUCH more interesting than the mediated experience of sitting in front of the TV. And nobody seems to be up in arms about people who watch 4 hours of TV a day.
Nick -- I just discovered your work today. What great stuff!
1. Your assertion that 'people in the third world don't have PTSD' is a lie. There are many people in the third world who do have this as the result of the wars etc they have been through. Just because they're not getting any help, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You could well say, 'people in the third world don't have eyesight problems- none of them wear glasses'.
2. Just because you are a privilidged little git doesn't mean everyone in the west is. There are people (even in the 'amazing' US) who are starving, homeless, families are dead, families are broken up, have been severely violently abused. You just have no idea about real life. Just because all you do is sit on your (presumably 'perfectly toned') arse typing judgemental crap, and going to do 'exercise', doesn't mean everyone in your country is so privilidged. Don't bother going to the third world, go out your door and have a look round- haven't you ever seen the underprivilidged in your own country? Until you do, talking about the 'third world' is just so much bullshit.
3. No one who starts out badly in the west has any chance at all. How the hell do you think they will pay for education to have any chance? If your mother was a drug addict and your father had left before you were born, do you think you would be sat here typing this crap? I don't think so.
4. In terms of mental 'weakness'- this would be inability to think correctly and see reality? Hmmm, who might that apply to? Someone who thinks people in the west are all having it great just because their shallow little life is so privilidged, perhaps? Someone who thinks that people 'give themselves' mental illness, whereas getting AIDS by messing with 50 prostitutes is not anything to do with their free choice at all? The only people who don't 'bring it upon themselves' with AIDS are the women and children who are forced into sex or raped, or people who have bad blood transfusions. Safe sex is not complicated, and you can even get condoms in Africa. That's not to say they shouldn't get any help, obviously. But by your argument, they should just get on with it, right?
To get back to the topic:
I am a person who is successfully and deliberately using EQ to provide therapeutic space.
I have some problems . . .long story short raised in a dysfunctional family in which I coped by retreating into books and fantasies. In later life, very much a loner and terrified of people in any social situation. Am in traditional therapy . . . which is helpful in letting me understand the nature of the problem, but not so helpful in solving it. 'Understanding' the roots of such a problem does not necessarily change the feelings or teach skills that are lacking. Because I was such a solitary child, I missed out on the socialization most people get while growing up. And here is where I am finding EQ useful.
In real life, I have had the opportunities to take on managerial jobs. And although having the knowledge and skill to take a leadership role, my difficulties dealing with personalities and politics always dragged me down. To the point I became afraid to accept any kind of promotion.
In EQ, through a series of circumstances I ended up as the leader of a guild. The old guild leader quit and I was the only one in a position to take on the work involved. I have brought this guild through a low point when many friends of that old leader left, a rebuilding phase, and now into a reorganization to adjust for our successess.
In the process I have had to work on teams, learned to stand up to people and also how to play politics. I've made friends, fought side-by-side with my comrades in tough battles, mediated conflicts, formulated policies and enforced them.
Because it is a game, I am not as anxious as in RL and have more freedom to experiment. If I make mistakes, I haven't lost my job or bankrupted my corporation.
What I have learned is incredible . . .both being able, as an adult, to backtrack and learn the playground skills most people pick up when they are 14 . . . and, as a manager, being offered the experience of guiding a sort of virtual small business through a corporate downsizing, restructuring and expansion.
My ability to handle social situations and managerial responsibilities in the real world has improved as a result of the exercises in this virtual laboratory.
Perhaps I'm responding to this a little late, but...
I'm 22 and was quite badly attacked, unprovoked in a busy city center at midday on a Saturday. No one stopped to help. This was a year ago, I was 21, had a g/f, a steady job, went to the gym 3-4 times a week and DJed as a hobby. Since that attack my entire life crumbled, my capacity to be around other people totally crumbled. I've basically had classic PTSD during which I had 8 months of hell trying to cling on to my old values and way of life. A month ago I started playing SWG (Star Wars Galaxies), since then my confidence levels have risen, and I've become more social. This seems to have spilled over into real life and I am starting to get things back together again. I've now applied to a degree in Games Development (BSc). I believe that my time on SWG has been very theraputic & helped greatly in this move.
I have this theory that as individuals we acclimatise (I'm english so that is how we spell it) to the ambient misery, so that even if in absloute terms most European woes may not be in the same league as the problems of your average African, on a relative basis they feel the same to the individual. Who doesn't know someone with a supposedly perfect life who has commited suicide out of the blue (I do, my friend had a lovely family, a beautiful house, no money problems, but for some reason I will never truly know she decided one day that she had had too much of life, it still makes me very sad to think about it). This theory accepts the daily tragedies occuring in many parts of the world, but acknowledges that those in economically powerful nations can still suffer. Whereas the problems in the developing world are certainly more fundamental to the needs of life, those in the developed world affect complex and badly understood higher level needs; driven by information overload, incubating a desperate desire to succeed in the populous, people search for purpose and they find that the accumulation of material wealth does not offer the fulfilment that they desire. Is the richest person you know the happiest? Unlikely, yet avarice consumes us with every breath. Why? Because we can say the words ("money does not equal happiness"), but, somehow, we do not believe them. As I sit and type I am concocting my plan for fame and weath, who isn't?
The only advice I can give is to listen to more Mozart, be nice to your friends and don't get involved in political games. I have a friend who seems to be something of an urban Zen master who told me just to multiply everything by zero. [m,25,RL]
I think the OP’s point about our getting mired in “problems” that would seem irrelevant to those who struggle for physical existence on a daily basis is worthwhile to keep in mind. (An extreme is a “Paris Hilton” scenario where someone is suing over a bad hair treatment and acting as if it’s the end of the world, while a few blocks over some kids are starving of malnutrition.)
However, this doesn’t mean that the problems many of us undergo are not as psychologically painful as the physical pain experienced by others. (To be honest, having experienced anxiety as well as existential depression and meaninglessness at different times of my life, sometimes I would rather be undergoing starvation or some other deprivation, because the pain has been almost unendurable.)
We are simply tormented by different things, the specifics depending upon our local culture. The “modern” western culture has created as many problems sociologically and psychologically as it has seemed to solve technologically.
I think MMOs can be therapeutic. I think they can also be an escape. In fact, I think they can be both at once. Some amount of escapism is good, just to lighten up the pain or frustration of life, and there are opportunities to develop social strength for those who feel socially weak. There is mental stimulation, there is problem-solving, there is imagination exercising – a host of good things. The game can act like a test ground where mistakes don’t matter, so you’re not as afraid to try things.
It’s a momentary safe haven that can be a help – but not a replacement -- for Real Life.
Nohting I could say would give you undue credit for this story.