Many Small Cataclysms

The Border House recently posted a piece about the insults players of Facebook games are subjected to. I don't play games on Facebook myself (well, I clicked my cow a couple of times before forgetting about it, if that counts), but I appreciated the sentiment. I don't like it when people are judgemental about the recreational choices of others. Or, when all Facebook gamers are lumped in with the ones who neglected to feed their children (clearly a bit more going on there than just FarmVille).

After people who play Facebook games, the most maligned gamers are probably World of Warcraft players. Although "Go and play a real instrument!" must be up there somewhere, too.

WoW no longer does too much for me, and stopping playing was a catalyst for doing a whole lot of cool things. I developed positive associations about leaving, and suddenly being able to write more, look after my house better, discover new forms of play and imagination, and so on. But WoW wasn't stopping me from doing those things previously -- I was lacking in those areas before I started playing, too. If anything the game just left me restless to do and be more things.

Anything that takes up a lot of time leaves a hole to fill afterwards, and I'd just spent a couple of years killing furbogs training up in focus, exploration, and how life can be more exciting. Continuing those things in other ways was very natural. I sort of want to say continuing those things in better ways, but it's not better in an objective way, just further along in a process for me.

So, I've tried not to let leaving WoW turn me into an insulting WoW-hater, laughing at all the lab rats still clicking the button for food pellets. It's also worth acknowledging the process my WoW days were part of, and how much I needed that safer, more controllable form of human interaction at the time (as a supplement to other interactions, anyway).

An imaginary heckler in the background stands up and shouts that I'm just proving their point: WoW's a game for socially maladjusted losers like me. They are missing the point, of course. I have the same social issues with or without a game -- hell, I've had the same social issues for as long as I have memory, the only part that changes is my perception of myself. And I could still have enjoyed the game without my eccentricities. The heckler might want to consider their own inadequacies before having a go at mine. I'm not the one who is broken.

If WoW is enriching your life, providing moments of fun, reducing stress, building more co-operation, or whatever it is you're looking for then good for you.

So... when my partner reactivated his account why did I tense up, get upset, and almost explode? Why did I even make it my business? Am I bullshitting about still thinking it's okay to play WoW? And when did I become a nagging, worrying girlfriend?

Maybe I am bullshitting a little bit. I speak a basic truth, but I'm leaving out a lot of the complexity. WoW does have a darker side, though it isn't really black and white, either. Sometimes it's less enriching, and more a place to hide. I should know.

Sometimes hiding and escape are important -- taking some time out to recharge, build yourself up again, take yourself away from a problem. But the longer you hide away the harder it can be to re-emerge, and live openly again. Small problems can grow bigger -- monsters cast eerie shadows on life when you leave them to grow unchecked.

So, maybe I worry that someone I love might have a reason to hide, and what his secret motivations are. WoW was once part of a difficult phase in his life, so returning to it triggers my fears about his current self-esteem and state-of-mind. It's about meeting people, relaxing, and exploring a vast environment. But it's also been about the pain of long-term unemployment, and similarly problematic things.

I want to help, and even more I want to understand (now, and in the past). But if my path moves away from something, while someone else's path is circling back again, that doesn't have to mean they are going backwards. Only they can tell me, really, and I just have to learn more trust. Trusting that other people can make their own choices without getting horribly lost -- that seems like quite an ask. All things are processes.

It's Cataclysm week -- the first real test of my trust-building and acceptance. It's too early to say much about that, beyond fingers crossed.

Postscript:

I wrote this post earlier in the week, and since then there has been more discussion floating around, thanks to a new documentary on game addition. I think using the same term for psychological compulsion and chemical dependency is problematic, but that doesn't mean problem gaming doesn't exist, of course it does and it's worth trying to understand better.

I have no experience of the extremes, where people go without food and sleep, or otherwise seriously neglect important elements of their life. It's not something I'm qualified to say much about, but I do want to defend those individuals against being called losers, as Leigh Alexander does. That's just being flippant and arrogant.

These are still real people we're talking about. Having problems and vulnerabilities doesn't make someone a loser. So tempting, perhaps, to look down on those who currently have more blatant issues to overcome and feel superior. Easier than being supportive. And certainly easier than admitting that those people aren't actually so different. Anyone can end up in a bad place.

But I do agree it's no good sticking our fingers in our ears and being unwilling to talk about any possible harm games might cause. There's a lot of sensationalist stuff out there, but that doesn't mean it's all rainbows, either