Reality, In Small Doses
This is going to come out a bit rambly – there’s a lot of things all jarring around inside my head, and I haven’t found a clean pattern to it yet. But, there’s definitely a few things I want to get out as a result of a lot of Twitter conversations I’ve seen, or recent blog posts I’ve looked at.
Lately I’ve been seeing quite a few blog posts about what difficult circumstances the writer faces, and how they took to MMORPGs as a way of dealing with things. Some of the posts have been earth-shatteringly moving, horribly similar to my own situations, or outright sad. The feeling that I’m getting from all of this is that we’ve faced a lot. All of us.
I’ve got similar stories, and I’ll probably get around to telling them sometime. I’ll admit that during Ambermist’s Meme I was certainly considering sharing, but I had simply too much going on in real life to come out and cope with this material as well. Things are almost nearly done being shaken up in my real life, and it looks like I’m making it through.
But, as Hestiah pointed out, the negativity is getting difficult. I want to look at things a little differently. I want to ask why gaming is giving us a place to relax, connect, and enjoy our time even if our lives, or our histories, seem to imply that we shouldn’t. So, I guess I’ll share at least a little bit about why it seems to work for me.
I prefer to deal with reality in small doses. I don’t seem to want to face everything all at once. I want to glance at it, walk away, come back later, check on it, procrastinate about it, and eventually go own up to it and get it over with. Without that “warming up to it” period, I generally feel overwhelmed and try to find some avoidance mechanism. I get highly annoyed when my day is so tightly scheduled that I don’t have a break (like running errands all day, or a day full of meetings). I actually need those momentary pauses to just… disconnect. I need to temporarily let go of everything I’m trying to carry around, and just calm down for a minute.
I know that my mind works a little differently than most people. My wife isn’t calm until she’s completed the list of tasks for the day. I feel calm when I get to concentrate. If I can become so engrossed in what I’m doing, my perception of my immediate environs vanishes and I feel overwhelmingly calm. This happens the best when I’m writing. Other choices that work are reading (blogs even work, please keep sending links!), writing code (yes, I’m a programmer), or playing music. MMO gaming, however, is just a little bit different. It provides that calming mechanism, but it also provides something else.
That “other thing” it provides, is company. I’m not alone. Now, to be clear, I don’t game with a lot of people. My guild, if you’d call it that, is a few real life friends and we run dungeons together, or go do our own independent thing – there’s not enough of us for a raid group, and with SW:TOR in the mix, lately people have been playing different games entirely and only chatting back and forth on Teamspeak (Dark ages, I know, but it’s not my server and it works well enough).
But, I do get to chat with people. I do get to interact with my friends. That imaginary bubble that holds the real world back for a while actually let some other people in, and I’m not all alone. That’s phenomenally huge. MMO Gaming allows for a communal escape. “Your life sucks?” “Yeah, mine too, let’s go kill some ogres and enjoy ourselves anyway.”
I get an opportunity to push a giant PAUSE button on reality, but it doesn’t freeze my friends. That’s pretty cool. Growing up, I’d never have imagined being able to have friends tag along into a well-crafted book at the same time as me. I could lend a book out, we could talk about it afterward, but we couldn’t ever enjoy it at the same time. Our temporary escapes were solitary. Watching a movie was probably the closest we could get, but you’re just sitting there, not participating. That’s not quite the same either.
The ability to communicate, to share the event, or to interact with actual people really made a huge difference. Suddenly, console games seemed incredibly lonely. I noticed something else about myself, though. I tend to seek out these like-minded virtual communities, and have done so since before MMORPGs existed.
I went to a college called RPI, where students developed a computer-mediated communication system called lily. This system was so fascinating to me in the fact that I was communicating with basically strangers, but they had similar backgrounds and interests as me, and it wasn’t the fractured populace just wildly yammering at each other. Knowledge of the system was predicated on either being associated with the college, or knowing someone on the system. This environment gave a similar feeling, the ability to provide a side-commentary on reality, without the immediate participation in reality. I could PAUSE things while I have a brief conversation with someone.
My recent foray into the world of blogging has been similar. The gaming blogosphere isn’t like the official Blizzard forums – people certainly come across as caring, genuine, intelligent, and interesting. Twitter allows those interactions to become conversations. This has been really fun. When it feels like a chore, or a duty, or… I dunno, a Molten Front daily, then I’ll probably take a pause from it.
(To hold a bubble like my daughter is doing, just get your hand wet first).