The Face Behind the Screen

photo courtesy of Koku Gamer

This past weekend at Blizzcon I met several interesting people.  And I was reminded yet again how every gamer has a story, a very human story.

The first person I met while socializing in the ½ mile line of people waiting to get in was Luke (all names have been disguised.)  Luke was a gay man who had begun playing World of Warcraft with his then partner and friends about 2 years ago.  In the course of the past two years, Luke and his partner had tried unsuccessfully to adopt a child, which he believes was thwarted by a judge who did not think gay couples should marry.  He and his partner saw the legalization of gay marriage and its overturn in his state, CA.  His partner had lost his job, and their relationship subsequently deteriorated, ending in divorce.  Throughout all of this Luke was able to stay connected and supported by his friends and other members of his guild.  He attributes his ability to move on and be ready for the next phase of his life through the enjoyment of WoW and his guildies.

A second man credited WoW with saving his life.  Sam was working abroad in Qatar in the Middle East.  He told me how he had fallen into a profound loneliness and depression shortly after moving out of the country.  His work began to suffer, and he had a hard time dealing with the isolation.  All his friends were back in the US, and he had a hard time being in touch with them.  He had seriously begun contemplating suicide.  Then he remembered that his friends had been pestering him to try this game, World of Warcraft.  He had nothing to lose, so he loaded the game onto his computer.  He found the game very compelling, and was even happier to discover that he could log on to the same server as his friends at home.  They were able to raid and talk together for the next 9 months he was living in the Middle East, and isolation and suicidality became a thing of the past.

I also met Matt, a young man in the elevator, wearing his gaming regalia.  “How are you enjoying the convention?” I asked him.  He looked glumly at me and pointed to his badge which said “TEAM 127” on it.  “I came in 5th,” he said.  “Congratulations,” I said, adding, 5th place isn’t bad.

“5th place you only win $1000,” he said, “1st is $25000.”  Turns out that he had been flown across the country to participate in the WoW tournament.  So much for gamers as slackers who have no ambition or work ethic.

I wish my colleagues could meet the thousands of people like Luke and Sam who made the trip to Anaheim for Blizzcon.  They would see some very resilient people who were dealing with some pretty big life problems.  These weren’t people who checked out of reality, instead they leaned on the virtual world and the human relatedness they found through it.  I was struck by how affable and engaging everyone I met was.  They were so happy to be in a place where they could engage with others around the games they enjoyed.  The stereotypical lack of social skills people associate with gamers was not what I saw. I saw people willing to strike up a conversation with me as we waited in line.  I saw fathers and their adolescent sons and daughters spending quality together.  I saw couples of every configuration and entire families, all spending time together, not avoiding human contact.

I hope you’ll keep these stories in mind the next time you hear someone making fun of a gamer, or criticizing online gaming.  Each gamer has a story, just like each of our patients do.  And each story deserves our respect.

Following Your Blizz

This weekend I am enjoying Blizzcon 2010 in Anaheim, CA.  Blizzcon is the biggest convention for fans of the online games World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft.  The fact that I am able to go to this as part of my work and recreation is to me a testament to why private practice is worth the work.

I have been playing World of Warcraft since 2006, and in the course of the past 4 years I have met many people in-world who have educated me about who plays, and why.  I have been part of several guilds, and learned about how groups deal with leadership and cooperation.  But most of all I have had tons of fun and stress relief, and found a recreational pastime that is flexible and creative.

Because of my interest in online gaming, I began to think, write and teach about online gaming and psychotherapy.  I was able to do this because I had built a private practice based on creativity and diligence, not fear and rigidity.  I was willing to hold open a space in my practice to work with people who game, and who feel that they want a gamer-affirmative therapist.  I was able to see that for me, trying to wheedle with insurance companies for an extra session was a waste of my time and money.  In the time I had previously spent arguing with insurance companies for 8 more sessions I could write a workshop syllabus that brought in more revenue.  In the process I discovered my niche, psychotherapy and it’s interface with Web 2.0, so that I was able to focus my business and help people find me.

An old creative writing teacher once told me, “What interests you is interesting.” Too often the therapists I consult with approach finding their niche as a chore or a limitation.  My experience has been otherwise, I have found that I still have a generalist practice, which I will always want as part of my business plan; but in addition I have managed to diversify what I do so that all parts of my work become more interesting.  So don’t be afraid of finding your niche, it is ok to have interests and passions, and your entire practice and you will be the better for it.

The other reason that this trip is happening is because I get to be my own boss.  I worked a few hours more over the past few weeks to make some room for the trip, and I have even managed to find ways to mix business with pleasure.  Not only is the trip tax deductible, but I am getting to be on the forward edge of the gaming industry and gamer culture.  And, some of the CA psychotherapists I met via social media over the past several years and I are finally going to get to meet in person, and eat dinner together overlooking the Pacific.  Good times, good colleagues, and things that engage the mind and soul!

So don’t be afraid to follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell says, but don’t be afraid to do the extra footwork it takes to follow it.  The work is daunting, sometimes tedious, always time consuming:  But the payoff is huge.