On Therapy and Dependency
In addition to using MMOs as a coping mechanism regarding emotional stress and work dissatisfaction, players described using online games to derive social support in a variety of ways.
In the most straight-forward examples, some players noted that friends they had in the game provided emotional support in times of need.
The people I met in game became an important support group for me (my only support group) - whether I talked to them about my issues or not. I don't know how I would have made it through that tough time without them. [WoW, F, 21]
Once after an extremely painful breakup. It helped because the friends I had made online were more caring than most of the people I had called friends in real life, who blew me off. [Eve Online, M, 22]
Easier to Talk to People
Others described how talking to people online was different to talking to people face-to-face and the relative anonymity made it easier to talk about difficult issues. The first narrative is interesting in that the practice of talking about these emotional issues online made it easier subsequently to talk about it face-to-face.
When I went through a depression it was a relief to have the online friends to chat with. For some reason it was easier to break the ice talking about difficult issues with online friends before talking with friends irl. Once I had been warming up talking with online friends it was easier taking the step talking to irl friends. [WoW, M, 25]
There is something about online friends that let you break through walls you normally put up with real life friends. You can be you without judgment and they give you advice the same way. Online people don't have to care about protecting your feelings as much so they give you the benefit of saying exactly what they think without regard to how it affects your relationship (as much). [WoW, F, 26]
Alternate Social Network
Some players noted that it wasn't simply that they didn't have friends in real life, but that certain constraints made it difficult to tap their existing social network for emotional support. For them, the MMO provided an alternate social network that better fit their needs.
When I was in high school I was being raised in a very restrictive religious cult and afraid to tell my parents I was bisexual. I used to cry myself to sleep every night and engage in cutting behavior and a lot of withdrawal from my family. Since I was not allowed to have friends outside the religion and I could not trust those who were cult members I felt very much alone. By playing an MMO I found friends I could confide in who helped me and putting on my headset I could forget of where I was in my life. It made me even more driven to succeed in the game and I met friends who I still keep in touch with. It didn't help me solve my problems but it did help me cope until I was in a better situation to make changes in my life. [WoW, F, 21]
I live in a neighborhood where its dangerous to walk out my front door, and yet I can log onto World of Warcraft and talk to friends who are there for me and are willing to support me. I can in-turn support them in the best way I know how. [WoW, M, 19]
I have many good friends, but they live all over the world and it's hard to keep in touch. Part of my depression stemmed from having no good friends who I could be in consistent *regular* contact with, so I spent most of my days somewhat lonely, and at a loss how to start over making new friends. Gaming provided me with a more stable and satisfying social life. I ended up making many good friends and becoming a well-loved officer in a fun guild. [WoW, F, 33]
Several respondents provided an interesting variant of using MMOs as alternate social networks. In these examples, the respondent has an existing social network they are able to tap into for emotional support, but it is that very support that they feel traps them in their grief by constantly reminding them of the traumatic event. Having a social network in an MMO allowed them to put the trauma behind them.
Several years ago I lost my husband and my daughter in an auto accident, leaving me the only survivor of my family. The constantly changing world of the MMO and the comings and goings of real live people provided something I needed at the time -- a whole world that I was part of, yet no one there knew of my pain. I could interact with real people and not have the pressure of being 'that poor woman who lost her family', which I hadn't realized was weighing so heavily on me in real life, and which well-meaning friends tended to put on me. [DAoC, F, 48]
When my father was released from prison (after being in since 1986) and tried to make contact with me, I started playing WoW more often than usual. I think, apart from playing too much, Warcraft helped to even out the stress in my life for that period of time. None of my guild mates knew of my problems, and therefore didn't ask me about them (whereas my RL friends would, naturally), which meant I wasn't being constantly reminded of the RL issues at hand. [WoW, F, 21]
And finally, some players used the MMO to cope with social anxiety problems. The MMO allowed them to interact with others at the pace and intensity that they were comfortable with.
I've also struggled with shyness for many years, and have used games as a way to hide from my social problems, which are bad enough to be paralyzing. I'm still shy in the game sometimes, and often have trouble finding groups. However, overall, I think I'm less shy now than I was before I started playing. I've definitely noticed a change in my behavior in the real world, and close friends (in real life) have noticed this change also. I'm a lot more likely to put myself and my opinions out there when I'm around other people, and with new people I've met in the past year, I've been a lot more outgoing. [WoW, F, 31]
I'm an extreme introvert (Asperger's Syndrome) and spending time with others irritates me. I play online games as entertainment that connects me with people 'a little' but not really connecting with people. Sociologists would probably say that this behaviour isn't psychologically sound, so in that sense feeding that would be hurting me more than trying to work out my so-called 'disorder' and socializing with people. [Guild Wars, M, 27]
I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. When it was really bad, I liked playing games on line, because I could talk with people I didn't know. This was something I didn't dare in Real Life. It has helped me a bit to get my life going because people listened to me and supported me. [WoW, F, 21]
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