Coping After War with MMOs
One of the most enduring images of gamer culture is that we're all basement-dwelling lazy cretins who subsist on a diet of Cheetos, Hot Pockets, and Mountain Dew paid for by the blood and sweat of our mothers (and the tears of noobs crying over their corpses). It's only partly true— Hot Pockets, Cheetos and Dr. Pepper are a mighty tasty meal.
The reality today is that many of us have homes, families, cars, and jobs. The average gamer today is 30-35 years old, more likely to wear a suit and tie to work than to live with (or off of) their parents, and he or she is likely to come home and put the kids to bed before logging in to his or her game of choice. In fact, many of us wear or have worn the uniform of either the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force, or Army (HOOAH!) to work every day—and gaming is not only a major stress release, but a means of socializing and support when stationed in areas far from home.
Just a few months ago, I read a great piece by Kat Mahoney on gamegeeksmedia.com about how, as a military wife whose husband was deployed, it was her World of Warcraft guildmates, fellow military spouses, and other military veterans within the WoW community who helped her through an especially tough time during her husband's deployment. In my own guild, we currently have a member deployed to “the sandbox” who checks in from time to time on our guild forums when he can, and speaking only for myself, I know that when I was deployed, it meant the world to me to have that contact with people back home to get through some of the rougher patches of a deployment, so I make sure to watch for his posts and let him know I'm thinking of him and waiting for his safe return.
Contrary to the image we seem to have among non-gamers, we gamers are a pretty social bunch, at least among ourselves: the Entertainment Software Association's 2012 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry states that 62% of people who play video games today play them with others, either in person or online and that 11% of all video games played are those that take place in a persistent universe. When you consider that of the list of the top twenty highest-selling games in 2011, six were MMOGs (five were MMORPGs, the sixth was Starcraft 2), eleven percent becomes a pretty significant number—and I know that in my own life, as a permanently and totally disabled veteran who finds myself struggling with the VA system on a variety of issues ranging from getting the healthcare I need for cerebrospinal polytrauma (a very fancy way of saying my mama lied about how hard my head is and my back could only be more messed up if it was broken) to getting compensation and benefits sorted out properly, gaming is often a lifeline. Whether I just need to take out my frustrations on some poor pixellated NPC mob, or whether a guildmate can hear the tension in my voice and asks me what's wrong, sometimes it is just the fact that the game—and the guild—is there that makes all the difference in the world.
Because I cannot drive, I spend much of my time at home by myself, which is one more reason that games, especially MMOs, can be such a lifeline to veterans like me who may not be able to get out and about the way the average person can. I have a great roommate (also a gamer) and good friends, so I'm not a shut in, but my roommate works in the healthcare profession and so a twelve hour shift becoming a fourteen hour shift is not at all unusual for her. With my ample spare time, I hone my skills as a healer/DPS in my game of choice. Due partly to my previously mentioned difficulties with the VA and VA errors that have affected my financial stability (but mostly to the fact that the game is fun and interesting), I'm currently very fond of Funcom's latest F2P offering, The Secret World, but I've probably played just about every game that's come out since about 2003... and many of my dearest friends are people I met through gaming (including my two closest friends, who live nearby in my city).
There are a lot of comments being made in the media today about video games, gaming, and gamers that I feel portray games and gamers in a negative light. These articles choose to overlook the studies which show the multiple benefits of gaming, they choose to overlook the fact that the military has been using video games as a recruitment and training tool for years (in fact, we used a digital rifle range simulator as a tool one day years ago when I was in basic training), they choose to overlook the ESA fact sheet released at E3 last year, and most importantly, they choose to overlook the experience of thousands of gamers, particularly those of us who are or have been in the military, for which gaming and the socialization and support we get from our fellow gaming community members can be essential to our quality of life.
What the journalists writing all of those articles may not understand about me as a gamer is this: I may not be able to log in to games that require a subscription for a time, until I'm able to get the Veteran's Administration to correct the error affecting my income, but when they do, and I can resub, I know that those games—and those guildmates and friends—will be there when I can. And far from making me do anything monumentally stupid or violent, it gives me something to look forward to and I find it tremendously reassuring that there are many people out there on the 'net who look forward to seeing me log back in to continue our adventures in a few months.