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.