Now people who know me in real life know me as an avid gamer. Now those who have read my earlier blog “Those Awkward Times When Game Consoles Understood Me Better Than People Ever Would….” have learnt about my experiences with video games and how they’ve shaped my childhood and my growth. Today I shall expand on that a little more and go in depth about my experiences with one particular genre of video games that over time has grown from a cult genre limited by access to high speed internet to a genre that has exploded in popularity and has become a staple for all games today. Massively Multiplayer Online games or MMOs have become a staple for gaming and exist in many forms from shooters to racers to fighters and RPGs. To night I shall focus on RPGs or Role Playing Games.For those who aren’t familiar with the term, RPGs are games where you assume a role of your choice (You can choose from a bevy of classes and races based on the said universe) and plunge fourth into an open world where you take on quests in your pursuit of power and justice all while attempting to unravel the mysteries and lore of the said world. Now games like this originated from Dungeons and Dragons, a pen and paper RPG where you looked through a massive instruction book that had a list of all the classes and races each with their different abilities, perks, strengths, and weaknesses. You chose your abilities and you rolled dice (not your conventional six sided dice, these were special set of seven dice with 6, 8, 10 and even 20 sides and each die was used depending on the situation) to see what values you started off with as far as base stats went (Attack, Defense, Mind, Dexterity, Vitality, Intelligence). These six status varied depending on what class you were using and certain stats were more beneficial to certain classes than others. Now every character had what was called a level and that level started at 1, at character can increase their level by getting experience points are obtained by doing a wide variety of things like killing monsters or or finding new things. Increasing your level allowed you to choose which one of these status you increased allowing you to have control over your own characters strengths and weakness. Every thing was handled with dice rolls, movement, attacking, defending, and opening treasure chests. Dungeons and dragons was played on a grid and quests and campaigns were created by a “Dungeon Master” a person who was responsible for controlling the monsters, placing treasure, obstacles, and traps and most importantly, regulating the game and making sure that rules were followed. The Dungeon Master has the option of using campaigns from a book or making them up from scratch. The direction of the campaigns were entirely up to everyone’s imagination and could go on for hours, sometimes even days.
Did I lose you? I’m pretty sure I did and to any non gamer reading this blog I apologize for anything you may have a really hard time comprehending. You won’t need to know all this stuff to enjoy this blog post but I thought it would be good to share some history on the genre. Now the most iconic examples of an MMORPGS (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) are Everquest and World of Warcraft. These games that have been responsible for several deaths and have been a catalyst in ending relationships and even marriages. Parents have even gone as far as shaking crying children who ruined their enjoyment of the said games. Why would people get so hooked to these games you ask? These games as I mentioned earlier are massive open worlds where you make your own character, choose their race and their class and venture fourth to take on quests and get stronger. You play alongside other real life people who have also made their own characters. The real hook to these games however are the fact that they never end and even after the main campaign there are so many things you can do. You can tackle dungeons with friends in an activity known as “Raiding”. You go through the dungeons fighting mobs of enemies until you get to the end boss and you fight them to. The point of this is to get really powerful items that you couldn’t obtain in the main campaign. There’s also PvP (Player vs Player) where you test your character against others. There’s so much to do in these games, the sheer size of the world, the lore, and the believablility are enough to completely detach a person from reality, sometimes in the worse way possible.
Now you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with Autism, It has a lot to do not just with Autism but other social issues and deficiencies that may isolate one from his or her peers. Now as I’ve mentioned several times before, people on the Autism Spectrum have a lot of trouble with actual human interactions. Though I have gotten better at interacting with people it can still be a struggle at times and talking to people I don’t know all that well in real life can be scary at times. When I enter the world of a video game however, a lot of that changes completely. Now in real life I’m simply Flemmings Beaubrun, socially awkward adult who is unemployed, broke, struggles with courting women, doesn’t always have an easy time making new friends, and can be rather anti social but in World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, and several other games like it I am Vangarth Helmgaurd, sworn protector of all that is good, fierce with the sword, had amassed a solid currency, makes a living out of kicking ass and taking names, has prevented countless atrocities, is strong, feared by many, has a really fast horse. I’m very talkative and I’m always looking for a raid to join. I play for hours and get engrossed in the said worlds.People in those worlds are some of the nicest people I have ever interacted with and if you screw up they won’t bash you or get angry, they give you tips on how to better use your character and you have ample opportunities to try again. When the game is over however, I have to go back to my life that is void of excitement, has a ton of impatient people. I have to go back to feeling at times that I just don’t have a place in the workforce and I have to go back to being broke and powerless within some of my circumstances. I have to go back to being socially awkward and I have to go back to struggling with women.
When you see it in that perspective it makes so much sense why people get hooked to this game. Reality isn’t always that great but there are some people who are so fed up with reality that the game is the only place where they can feel good about themselves and that’s where the addiction starts, that detachment from reality which slowly progresses to the point of no return. Now I have never allowed myself to get hooked to these games to the point where my well being is impacted but on days that I have nothing better to do I tend to pour several hours of my life in to them. Taking on quests and leveling and growing strong and stronger can be the perfect escape when I’m having a bad day or just flat out bored. I know I have to comeback to reality eventually but jumping into that world in order to focus on other problems takes a lot of strain off of my head. It allows me to come back to the real world refreshed and ready to tackle my real live problems once again. I love being able to interact with people with no hesitation and being able to easily form new friendships that can last a while. I love going on quests with other players who will never judge you or make you feel like less of a person. Now there are a few jerks in these games but they’re usually low in number and the good people severely out number the pricks.
For a while I tried to avoid these types of games be cause I never had the money to pay for the subscription fees that cam attached and the fact that I was still in school. When I graduated though, I realized that I was separated by great distances from a lot of good friends I had made in school. I started feeling really lonely not to mention I still had terrible luck when it came to talking to women and meeting new people. Finding work was also really tricky and I began to receive a lot of rejection emails from employers. I hit a low point and realized I needed something to consume a lot of the unstructured time I had required as a result of finishing school. Realizing I had a decent amount of money I obtained as graduation gifts and after seeing a bunch of ads for World of Warcraft I decided that now was a better time than ever not to mention they had a really great deal at the time that would allow me to get all of the expansions for a decent price. I entered in all my credit card information and the rest was history. After waiting for it all to download I finally jumped in not realizing what I’d be getting myself into.
The first few levels were some what of a chore and felt like a drag that consisted of the monotony of constantly losing and getting my ass handed to me. It was in those early moments that I saw the kindness of people in the game. I player who didn’t even know me healed my character while I was getting my ass kicked and even cast several high level buffs on my character that would jack up my stats for the next hour. In this moment what be came a chore became part of the thrill of the grind. I would continue to level my character and get stronger and stronger. Things truly began to pick up for me one Saturday afternoon where I had nothing better to do. I loaded up World of Warcraft, made an 80+ song playlist of awesome metal tracks that would go well with the game and from there chaos ensued. I got wrapped up in one quest that would turn into two and then into five, ten, twenty. It was awesome getting lost in that world and being able to solve problems and get praised for it in the form of experience, money, and a stronger character. I felt powerful and important for the first time in a while. From getting my first horse to getting upgrades in my armor class, the feeling of power was awesome.
I awhile later I looked up at the time and realized it was 10:30 pm. I was shocked, It was 12:00 a few hours ago and now it was 10:30. Going from complete darkness and just the light of my LCD monitor to being back in bright light was extremely disorienting. I felt mentally drained and felt as if I had been partying all night. It was like being in a bar/nightclub the entire night and walking out of their at sunrise with a hangover yet I wanted tomorrow to come quickly so that I could do it all over again. Tomorrow came and my summer began. This kind of indulgence would involve some pretty late nights that had me in bed at times that I hadn’t slept at since college. I realized that there really wasn’t much to lose because I really didn’t have much of a life post grad so I continued and continued while looking for work. Eventually I got a temp job and had to balance out my time so the hours became fewer but when it was all over the game pulled me back and I committed again.
Over the years I’ve been less active with the game than I was previously as I’ve been attempting to get out of my house more not to mention several life events and lifestyle changes prevented me from having as much free time as I did back then. I Still the play the game every now and then including several other games like it. If I could do it all over again I would, I enjoyed all the fun times I had in the game and I greatly enjoyed all the people I met and went on raids with. I’ve recently been playing Final Fantasy 14 which plays similarly to World of Warcraft and so far it has been an awesome. Going on raids have been some of the best moments of the game and I love chatting it up with people who live halfway across the country and sometimes the world. It’s a constant reminder that despite coming from different walks of life we’ll always have one activity that brings us all together in one place, a place where we can forget about the problems of the real world and focus on the ones in the universe of the game.
In my honest opinion, online games can be a great way for people on the spectrum and those with other deficiencies that may impair the qualities of social interactions to learn how to interact with people without the risk of inadvertently burning bridges. It’s a good way for them too learn to not give too much information and most importantly how to work together with people towards a common goal and learn to put their own desires and needs aside for the good of the team. There are good life skills to be gained from these experiences and at the end of the day it is a good way to have fun. Moderation is the key and it is important to remember that you have a life to come back to no matter how dull or crappy it can be. For parents of teenagers who like these games, monitoring is extremely important and if any signs of detachment from reality pop up then it’s important to limit their activity immediately until a source of the problem is found. It can always be something as simple as a bad day at school but if not taken care of the dependence on the game as a means of relief and self gratification can snowball faster than the colors on a chameleon. With the right amount of moderation and control, MMOs can do wonders for a child on the spectrum. Stay classy people.