Written by the fantastic Emma E. Peters, professional graphic designer and geek.
I’ve always been a gamer. At 45 I probably should have ‘grown out of it’ according to a chunk of the general populous.
With a combination of Fibromyalgia, a chronic back problem and anxiety you would think my life would be pretty depressing. Obviously, I have bad days when I rage at the universe and make plans to lick every species of British frog (just in case one of them is an undiscovered cure) but generally, my life is actually pretty good. I have a wonderful partner who after 24 years still thinks I’m awesome, a few close ‘real life’ friends and family members who are a godsend, and thanks to World of Warcraft, a large online family who I wouldn’t be without (Other MMORPG’s are available… apparently).
People underestimate the community side of gaming. In the last 13 years I’ve had a few points where I’ve got bored of WoW’s current content and gone off in search of new games – and I’ve found some really great ones along the way – but I always go back. Other games have better graphics, more exciting story lines, more challenging puzzles than WoW, but what they don’t have is my guild.
When we started playing WoW (yep hubby plays too, which is why he doesn’t hate me) back in the halcyon days of Burning Crusade, we joined a newly created guild. There were 4 of us. We had an ethos from the beginning; we play for fun, we’re all inclusive, no exceptions. When the guild owner left WoW and handed the guild to us, we picked up where he left off. We didn’t care how good anyone was at raiding, or how much progression they had, we just concentrated on recruiting the nicest, most patient people we could find on our server. Fortunately for us, some of those really decent human beings turned out to also be epically good players. Those poor souls were roped into shaping our diverse group of reprobates into an effective raid team, and thanks to their unending patience (and the fact that they only scream about how dense we all are with the mic switched off) we’re doing well.
I feel the need to explain the extent of our guild’s diversity. We have people from all over the world, aged from 18 to 74. Most people are shocked to discover we have quite a few pensioners (most of which raid at heroic level with us twice a week) including our 74-year-old ‘Guild Mother’. We have quite a few LGBT members. We have people with physical disabilities, autism, dyslexia and mental health problems, and those with none of the above. Ironically, one of the most challenging disabilities for raiding is colour blindness… WoW’s colour-blind settings are a tad lacking – their genius idea of making colour markers in different shapes would work much better if you could tell what they were supposed to be. ‘Ok you’re purple. No, not red, purple. Oh, shit, you’re colour blind. Chicken. Is that a chicken? Yeah… the thing that looks like a chicken’. It can be an issue, but we manage.
I suppose in many ways we’re just an average cross section of global society, but as a community we support each other through whatever life throws at us (a practice sadly lacking in ‘actual’ communities these days) and sometimes, we travel from all over the world to be there for each other. Four years ago, our Guild Mother, who lives in the Midlands of England, had a party for her 70th birthday. Six of us flew over from four different countries to surprise her… one all the way from America. When her online friends walked into the room, she was astonished, and overwhelmed. She had the best night of her life, and her globe-trotting friends inspired her to face her fear of travelling alone – she now flies to the Netherlands every year to visit her Dutch best friend from WoW.
At this point I should point out that our guild is not the norm. Our members (I think we have about 50 at the moment) tend to be with us for years, many have been with us for over a decade. It’s an online sanctuary, created for exactly that purpose. It’s a safe space to go where you can hang out with friends and go off on a crusade to kill the bad guys; anyone behaving badly is quickly and politely removed, it’s important that we can play the game we love without having to deal with the shouty, abusive toddlers who call everyone ‘noob’ and generally ruin everyone’s fun. It’s true that most people don’t have our great experience of a long running, close-knit guild, but even without that, online gaming itself has many positive effects that most people don’t consider.
For a lot of people, online gaming is the electronic equivalent of popping down the local, except it costs way less than going to an actual pub, you don’t end up with a hangover and no one has to fork out for a taxi home. It’s fun, challenging, team building, hilarious, builds lifelong friendships and allows you to escape from your slightly disappointing life without leaving your nice warm house. As an extra bonus, you can socialise in your pyjamas with a crap hairdo and no one cares – which is useful if you have a chronic pain condition and you don’t usually get dressed unless you’re going out, or if you’re just naturally a bit of a slob. (Shush Baden. I know I fit both those descriptions.)
There’s nothing better than spending an evening with friends, falling about laughing when someone walks backwards off a cliff in the middle of a boss fight, playing football around a dungeon with a fish (Yes, really) and – last night’s awesome example – finding out the reason you all died on an easy fight was that the tank had hit the wrong button and taken an in-game selfie instead of shielding herself. (Unsurprisingly, we couldn’t kill the boss after that, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re crying laughing).
This is the strange, hilarious world I live in, and I wouldn’t swap it for anything.
For some people though, it’s so much more than that. For those people who don’t get out much, for those separated from family, limited by disabilities or age, for those with anxiety that find social situations difficult, it’s not just a pastime, it’s a lifeline. Social networks are useful tools for staying in touch with people, but with online gaming you’re not just messaging people; you’re playing alongside them regularly, getting to know them well.
I honestly believe it’s a valuable resource that is tragically under used, especially in the care sector where people are often lonely and isolated despite the best efforts of staff.
On WoW, our guild members with physical and mental issues are socialising with friends most nights, our most able members are helping those not blessed with lightning fast reactions and our elderly members are keeping their brains young with problem solving and thinking on their feet. Everyone feels useful and appreciated as members of a close-knit community. These are the ingredients of a happy life. Some of us might be limited in what we can do physically, but our lives are a far cry from the isolated and lonely existence that many people suffer these days. There will always be people who think gaming is a childish waste of time, but I hope one day they will discover that it’s so much more than that; it’s a community-based way of life – and many people would be lost without it.