Who would you rather be? Stephen, a 17 year old who has just had his dreams of being in the RAF smashed, and been told at the post-interview that he came across as dull, monotonous and boring…Or Epyon, a Paladin for the Alliance in World of Warcraft – an MMORPG, a key healer for a ‘raid’ group of 40 people as they take on Ragnaros the fire titan, Onyxia and Neltharion the black dragons and facing down an ancient evil in Ahn Qiraj.
I know which one I chose. For a year my focus wasn’t really on being Stephen, but was more on being Epyon. As Epyon I was useful, I was needed and my heals could make a real difference to how the raids went. So every night when I got home from college I would boot up my laptop, turn on World of Warcraft and play it almost non stop until the early hours of the morning, chatting with my friends in text chat and over the microphone as we either took on huge monsters, or spent time repeatedly doing the same task over and over again (grinding) to get the equipment we would need to make sure we could do better the next time we tried the huge monsters.
It became where I was most comfortable. As Epyon I was in control – there was a set way for me to go about things and when I did it right I was rewarded not just with items I could use (loot) but with respect and admiration from the people I was playing with. I could retreat from the world and not have to face my own problems. In that year I remained logged on to World of Warcraft for approximately 2,160 hours. The game logs you off if you don;t do anything in it for 15 minutes, and I spent 90 days logged in. That’s 3 months.
I was suffering from a very severe and deep depression, but I didn’t want to admit it. The post interview words had sunk deeply into my psyche – dull, monotonous and boring – and I became convinced that’s what I was.
I had a big problem, but I didn’t really acknowledge it until I did really badly in my A levels. I was set to get all B’s, if not As. The highest I got was a D. Thankfully I got into one of my universities of choice through clearing and things started to look up for me.
At university I made some awesome friends, and realised I mustn’t be dull monotonous and boring otherwise why would people actively want to hang out with me when they don’t have to? I got involved in societies and got to know lots of people and I learnt to open up and talk about what was getting me down so I could work through it. I still struggled with my addiction to gaming, but it was no where near as bad as it had been before. I would still often choose to spend a silly number of hours glued to a screen – being someone I perceived as better than myself – but I learnt who I was again, and I was able to come out of my shell more. I started to choose my own life over my digital life.
I still struggle with it now, if I am feeling overwhelmed or if I am feeling down I will choose to retreat into a game. However I have now learnt how to tell when I’m doing that, and whilst I will enjoy the game I will also force myself to face up to my issues and talk them out with people.
I know this is an issue for many people, you hear of people in East Asia who are found dead at their computers, there’s been at least one couple arrested for neglecting their children due to their online life taking over, its so common now that TV shows will lambast online gamers – South Park had their World of Warcraft episode and The Big Bang Theory had Penny become an MMO addict at the end of one episode.
Part of the problem is that the games are designed to make you want to play them, you want to go in and win and get new items. Destiny got this just right in their first game. Killing enemies had a chance to drop certain weapons, but the stats could be great or they could be rubbish, so you would want to kill that enemy again and again in the hopes of getting the right version of the weapon. Some MMORPGS like World of Warcraft do it by making the raid bosses only drop one or two pieces of armour. When you have a group of 40 fighting it that means you need to fight that boss at least 40 times to get everyone in the right equipment – and that’s only if it actually drops the right pieces.
But I don’t believe that’s the main problem. The main problem is that mental health is a huge issue that has often been overlooked. We will try and make sure our friends and families physical health is good, but there can be mental health problems that you can’t see. In the UK you can still be stigmatised for seeking help – therapy is looked down on, when I think really everyone should see a therapist if they need to or at least be taught how to recognise when they are starting to spiral, because I know for me I didn’t realise until it was too late.
If you want more help with this issue then check out this page from the NHS and see about contacting one of the organisations listed.