Therapeutic Spaces

It is clear that an MMORPG is great for escapism Ė a fantastical land where the everyday clerk or secretary can be part of a group that slays dragons instead of shuffling paperwork. The following set of narratives explores how different players have used the MMORPG space as both evasion and therapy, and how the MMORPG space is both sheltering and cathartic.

We begin with players who use the MMORPG space to destress after a day of work.

I constantly use the game as an escape from work. Right now work sucks, but the market is so depressed I have been unable to locate anything else. So, I go home every Monday night to meet with the Undead Slayers(tm). We pick a nice undead zone and just beat them up (though sometimes they beat us up as well!). It is a great release and helps me make it through the rest of the work week. [EQ, M, 43]

In hindsight, I definitely used the game as an escape from my job as a medical resident. I spent all day dealing with things that, more often than not, got me depressed, and the last thing I wanted to do when I came home was to watch TV or sit around. The game was a good way to obliterate any thoughts about the day of work. However, I'm not sure it really helped me out. I guess it's hard to say. That time of my life was definitely the worst, and I didn't have much of a life outside of my job and playing EQ. On the bright side, that time passed quickly. However, when I started enjoying my other life again, I generally lost interest in the time investment that these games require, possibly because the escape part of it was not as necessary anymore. [EQ, M, 30]

I use online gaming as an escape from worklife. I work as a security guard and at times the annoyances that I have to put up with can sometimes be very bad. Since I have to spent the whole time being polite even though I want to reach across the desk and strangle someone who just can't understand that they are not the center of existence or worse yet when someone is on the phone and continues to tie up the lines even after they have gotten information or the information they have in not available. Thus going home and playing some game where I can run around and bash/fry creatures which I give pet names to while getting some reward (ie experience or gold) makes me feel a lot better. [DAOC, M , 33]


Other players use the MMORPG space as an escape from real-life burdens and problems. Oftentimes, it isnít clear whether this evasion helps or hinders them in real-life.

I had been involved with a man who had a dependency problem ... and life with him had become hard. He would disappear into his world of addiction and I into my world of EQ. I had tried for months to get him to seek help to no avail. He would become angry and say he had things under control so I just despaired and sank deeper into the game. I met friends, married one, we broke it off, I met another man Ö I think I did all these things because I was missing a lot in my RL relationship. One day I came home and found my RL man really high and out of it. I had to do something. I called a psychologist and we entered couples counseling. She sent him to detox and rehab. His life has changed ... and I am happier for it. My 'addiction' I am still working on. As far as helping the problem ... itís difficult to say. In the short term, sinking into EQ helped me get through the bad days. In the long term, I think EQ was detrimental to the situation because perhaps I would have gotten him help with the drug problem earlier. [EQ, F, 29]

I have, and it always comes back to bite you in the ass. Crass but true. Graduate apps. I didn't want to do them. You couldn't make me do them. I had such a huge mental block to filling them out that it would have been easier to cut off my arm. Needless to say I played a lot of EQ to null the apprehension when I should have reconciled my feelings and played for enjoyment. It wasn't the game that got in the way. I put the game in the way to block my responsibilities. [EQ, F, 33]

It helps me take my mind off of my depression. And my RL relationship, and family problems. I think it just put resolving the bigger problems of my repeated abuse on hold until I was mentally ready to do so, with the help of someone I actually met online at a message board for the game. But even now, I still use the game for an escape from the real world very often, mostly because the real world isnít a very great place to be, at least for me it isnít. [EQ, F, 17]

My entire life is a problem, and the game is an escape from life itself. When I log in to EQ my every problem is instantly forgotten. I am no longer a lowly teenager who doesn't go to school and has a piss-poor job. I am a respected and powerful warrior. There is no father in the game that tells me how messy my room is. There is no mother in game that tells me what a scumbag I'm turning in to. Itís just me surrounded by others like me, all with a common goal: just to play the game and get away from everything else. Well that's what I like to believe anyway. [EQ, M, 18]

I have been out of work for a year now. I have found EQ to be a good diversion from the daily stresses. Itís nice to be able to see green fields and feel like a useful person when, in real life, it is cold and ugly (winter time) and no one wants to hire you. I think EQ has helped reduce stress but has not done anything to resolve the issue. I have, however, received job leads and resume help from people I have met in the game. [EQ, M, 32]


For some people, the game offers them social contact and support that they otherwise wouldnít have because of their real life situations.

I often use EverQuest as an escape tool - I am a stay-at-home mom, which is often incredibly mundane, repetitive, and frustrating. There are only so many times that I can change diapers, vacuum the floor, wash dishes, do laundry, and play peek-a-boo before I'm almost screaming for some intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to 'be someone else' for a while. It's just a great relief to get away from all that and for a while become an accomplished troubadour who leads a strong guild of roleplayers in a fantasy world, for a while. I've found that playing EverQuest to escape the boredom of daily life does not interfere, but rather gives me a much-needed break, and time for mature discussion and imagination. [EQ, F, 25]

Going into my final year of college I was forced by class scheduling to go to school at night. At the same time I was forced out of a job I had held for three years working nights and weekends. In this time I had the stress of school, a new job, and lack of contact with friends. The people I knew and trusted continued working nights and weekends. My time was spent working days and school at nights. I went from a working environment where I worked with like-minded people to an environment where my hobbies and interests were frowned upon. EQ provided accessible social contacts needed to get through stressful times. It helped alleviate feelings of isolation and depression that might otherwise have broken my willpower to finish school. [EQ, M, 25]


Other players talk about how they are able to use the MMORPG space as therapy for a variety of social anxiety problems they are struggling with.

Social phobias. I am a hermit but also avoid social situation because of anxiety. EQ offers me a way to play a video game (mind numbing, etc) yet have some social contact at the level I chose. I can guild chat, hide in an unguilded alt, participate in tradeskill chat serverwide, etc. If all flops, I can switch servers and restart new alts and new friends. If I cannot give up my alt, I can pay to change her name and just not let on it is me - something I haven't tried, btw. Via online interactions, I have identified new issues, managed to work more on issues that I had gotten stuck on, etc in my talk therapy. Kudos to eq, lol. [EQ, F, 41]

Being a bookworm by nature and none too sociable as a kid, I was very bad at talking to people. Online however, was different. I could be totally anonymous, and I could actually think of what I was going to 'say' before I said it. I was actually a darn good writer, I just was no good at talking to people. UO and EQ helped me build up a relatively accurate model of social interaction and allowed me to become better in conversation, to the point where I was normal. [EQ, M, 20]

EverQuest has always been my escape from things like a job that I hated, times in life that I wasn't sure I would live through, etc. Once I moved to a new location to be with my husband, EverQuest became my life. I have Asperger's Syndrome, meaning among many things that I have great difficulty in social situations (to the point where I would rather be alone than make friends). My online world was mostly safe and I already had my quota of friends to keep my company. My husband's family no doubt wondered why I did not want to hang out with them, and I didn't want to kill time making small talk about other people's children. I'd rather be off adventuring with my friends in Norrath. There have been a few times that I have not been able to play EverQuest for one reason or another, and I hate those times. EQIM doesn't quite cut it. If I didn't have my guild message board I would be really lost, but thankfully most of my guildmates are all real-life friends and family that I have phone numbers for. However, when I can't play EQ, I still wish I could escape into it... badly sometimes. I miss my friends. I have a difficult enough time with real life, about all I can do some days is play games and deal with the little bit of lifelikeness you can't help but come across in games. [EQ, F, 25]


A few players commented on how the MMORPG environment helped them deal with self-esteem issues, and how the game empowered them.

I have GAD (General Anxiety Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and depression diagnosed. This causes me a lot of trouble 95% of the time. I even had to go to an alternative school because I couldn't handle my other high school due to anxiety levels. Then, I was able to make it through one semester of college. But the second semester fell through. I had more classes that seemed to provoke anxiety, my OCD was getting out of control, which prevented me from going to classes, which in turn ate away at my grades, and everything except the sport I was involved in went on a steep decline. I had to withdraw from college (I plan on doing something online and such...I didn't drop out) and come home.

Still, I am plagued with anxiety since I'm home by myself all day. The game allowed me to be with people, even if we were, in reality, millions of miles away. It also took down my stress level, lessening the anxiety I felt while at home. I'm also a lone wolf sort of person ... a social outcast. I had never fit in before college, and was always being made fun of. I had little to no friends ... and through 12th grade, I had one best friend and two school friends whom I haven't seen or heard from since graduation in the summer of 2002. My best friends are all online friends and live in other states from me now. Playing the game allowed me to become an entirely different person ... it allowed me to start over. I'm not a social outcast in the game. I don't have a single enemy in the game, and I try to make friends with just about everyone (except the monsters). I'm accepted there, and since I get to participate in more conversational things in the game, it actually helped me to understand how I should behave with a group of people in real life. Things I should say, things I shouldn't say ... I'm still learning that.

My parents just got divorced after the process took two years to complete, and are now living in separate houses. They have a ton of arguments, still, which drives me nuts. My father isn't the best of people, either. He's not understanding at all of my disabilities, and before they split apart, my mother was never home to talk to. I have a younger brother (by two years) that isn't going to school either because of depression, and I worry about him a lot of times as well. Playing the game enabled me to forget all my troubles in real life and become the character I created. I would rather spend my time in the game then in real life because of this.

So, once again, the game allows me to become someone else, make a clean start, and interact with others and be who I want to be. I can't protect all the people I want to protect in real life because of how far away we live from one another. But in the game, I can protect others. I can be strong, and I don't have to worry about a disability. I can also see my friends and make new ones. It's a good coping outlet for me while I try to get my life straightened out and put all the pieces back together. Because when I role-play my character, I don't have to worry about anything except for what I'm going to do next in the game. [Other, F, 19]

I did play Underlight for almost 5 years, at the end I pretty much burned out. I am glad what happened in the end for me to realize that I wasn't living a reality. I looked for a game for self esteem and self worth. Games sometimes become addictive not because they are great games, but because we go looking for something that is missing in our lives, because of a feeling that someone in this game is giving you. I feel that people that already have a addictive personality should really stay away from these games because once they suck you in its really hard to be sucked out until something bad happens in RL or in the game itself. I have cried, I have laughed, and I have loved in this game and I will tell you right now I think at that time of my life I just needed to go through it before I could face the world again. [Other, F, 36]


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]