Friday, March 21, 2014

Virtual Exodus

This past year, I've been more outgoing and social then I've ever been at any other point in my life. Tabletop gaming has been my primary hobby for the past year and a half. I have either hosted or attended public events almost every week/weekend in 2013, sometimes twice or even three times in one week. When my wife and I separated, I thought that further embracing this lifestyle, allowing myself to just get swept up in a current of boardgames and role-playing games, could help keep me sane.

It has not. Turns out the byproduct of all this planning and hopping around...stress...has hit heavy levels with me. I'm not normally a stressed-out dude. If anything, my problem is I don't stress enough. But constantly juggling full-time work, full-time grad school, and a lively social calendar have left me depleted. I'm not sure how much longer I can do this.

Of course, I know that a hobby isn't the only thing I need to stay afloat in this confusing and dark time. I need to take care of my body. I need to talk to someone (a therapist). I know. I get it. But for whatever reason, I am a gamer. It's what I do. It's how I define myself. If that isn't working, then my depression becomes systemic.

So it's time to get back to basics. It's time to go back to Azeroth.

In 2004, my girlfriend (then wife, now estranged wife) and I split up. It was a devastating time for me. There were few points of light/beacons of hope during that period. One of those few beacons was a little computer game called World of Warcraft. I bought it the day it came out, my love of Diablo II and Warcraft III providing all the assurance I needed that the game was going to be fantastic. I was more right than I could have possibly known at that time.

When we got back together a year later, we decided that we simply couldn't live without each other. And so we got married. I had dropped out of college and wasn't particularly motivated to go back. But I wanted a real career, and my pathetic skill set wasn't going to get me anywhere fast. So I enlisted in the Army. That was one of the hardest things I ever did. Between my inherent lack of respect for authority, I was also a life-long couch potato with literally zero athletic training or experience. I endured many humiliations and hardships in Basic Training alone. And through it all, two things kept me sane: my wife, and Tarsus of Dalaran, my warrior alter-ego in World of Warcraft. 

The game was still pretty new at the time. I was one of the few guys in my platoon who had played it. As we'd sit there, waiting to get our weapons from the arms locker or waiting for transport to bring us back from the training range, I would tell them stories about the game, the same way someone who had spent a year in Tokyo might tell you stories about all the amazing and bizarre things they had seen. I remember one time in particular, during weapons draw, where we saw the sun rising over the horizon.

"Huh," I said. "In WoW (so many of the stories I told in Basic started like that: 'this one time, while playing WoW...'), the clock in the server syncs with real time in that server's time zone. I was playing WoW all night, hunting murlocs and exploring the Deadmines, and then watched the sun rise in the game over the plains of Westfall."

"The sun rose in the game?" said this one private next to me. "Like, in real time?"

"Yep," I said.

When I came back from basic training (nearly 40 pounds lighter than when I entered, by the way), it was a beautiful reunion, both with my wife, and with my game.

The years following Basic were also very difficult. Time and again, whenever things got bad, I would inevitably drift back to World of Warcraft. It would work its magic on me, and for just a little while, whatever was bumming me out would be distant in my mind.

Now, ten years later, dark times are upon me again. My wife and I have separated. I have been a listless and depressed shell of a human being for many weeks. And so I have finally returned to Azeroth, looking for an escape from the more miserable parts of my life.

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