Massively Multiplayer Online games (or MMO's for short) are becoming quite common with games like World of Warcraft and Everquest II pushing PC gaming boundaries.
I've been there, many of us have. "This looks like a cool game; I will shell out the monthly fee to try it out..."
Six months later, you're sitting on 60+ days played, no more "real-life" friends, contemplating a divorce, and about to lose your job. Sound like an extreme case? It's not. It's actually common, and nearly prevalent in the genre.
With the explanation out of the way, let me tell you my story. This is not a second or third hand account, this is MY account, FIRST hand. Names will be changed to protect the innocent and guilty, and the game in question will not be disclosed.
It started a while back, new game, great graphics, and engrossing gameplay. It started off slow, a lot of soloing, or playing with "real-life" friends that started at the same time, questing, leveling up, getting new gear. Then, once you start to reach higher levels, it snowballs.
Joined a guild, had a ton of people on my Friends list, always had something to do, or someone to talk to. Moved up to a position of power in the guild, and started to form a governmental structure within the guild for the good of everyone. I had it all. When I logged in, guild chat would be filled with excitement, people were happy to see me, asking questions and inviting me to do things. It was AMAZING...it was like a drug.
Then it started to spiral downward...
I met "Suzy". She was a cute girl, a great gamer, and good to be around. Everyone thought so. Suzy was the life of the party, always having fun, laughing, and willing to do whatever. We all know that "normal" girls are a rare commodity in the gaming world, so it was a nice change.
Suzy and I started to get close. We spent a lot of time together playing, which eventually carried over to email, Instant Messaging, and then phone conversations. For some reason, Internet time seems to travel a lot faster than regular time. After knowing somebody for a few weeks, you get a feeling that you've known him or her forever, and your judgment seems to get very cloudy. "I've known her forever, she's like my best friend" is not an uncommon thing to hear after knowing somebody online for only a month or so, whereas in "real life" they would fall into the "acquaintance" category. So begins the problem...
Suzy and I had a lot in common, or so it would seem. It's really easy to have a lot in common with someone when you both spend the majority of your time playing the same game. What it really turns out to be is that Suzy was looking for validation; she has incredibly low self-esteem, and is not really happy about anything in her life. This low self-esteem doesn't carry over to her virtual world however, she gets the same warm welcome when she logs on, probably even more so being that she is female, and thus, it gives her an ego boost. However, when she logs off, it's back to the real world again. What better way to fix that, than to play as much as possible? And that's what Suzy did. She played in the morning, she played in the afternoon, and she played until all hours of the night. The only time Suzy didn't play was when she was sleeping, which was usually in the morning. You see, during all of this, a natural thing happened, Suzy lost her job. Instead of finding another job however, Suzy took that as a free pass to play more. The game became Suzy's LIFE, in no exaggeration of the word.
In the meantime, my relationship with Suzy was reaching unsurpassed levels. We would talk all the time and we got along great. The problem was, I was married, and through all of this, my wife and children were being neglected. Sure, I never missed work, and played with the kids when I got home from work, but once they were asleep, the game was turned on, and the world was shut out. I was back to being the "cool" guy, the guy who people listened to. And of course there was always Suzy waiting for me. For all intents and purposes, I was leading two lives, and the only one suffering in the end was my wife. I had it all, a wife who loved me and took care of my kids, and Suzy on the side, a million miles away to boost my ego whenever I needed it. Not to mention the countless others in the game who listened to the things I said, and showed utmost respect for me.
So what happens next? How do I turn back from this? Do I continue on this path, and hope I can maintain this standard? Do I tell my wife the truth and risk the demise of a marriage that had little to no problems? Do I clamp down and go for the divorce, fly out to meet Suzy and hope we live happily ever after? It's a hard decision to make when you're in that frame of mind. So I decided I would push it to the limit to see what would happen...
What happens if I fly out to see Suzy, hoping that I can just come back, blow it off and fix things with my wife? You must be thinking, that can't be a smart idea; this kid must be insane. However in the frame of mind I was in, there was no room for rational thought. I wanted it my way, and because of my inflated ego I thought I could pull it off. Tickets were purchased, on the intent of me just going somewhere. Let's say a "personal trip", I mean, I couldn't tell my wife the truth could I? I could turn it around on her, and make her think I just needed to get away; to sort my feelings out about her and our marriage, and then worry about the consequences later. She blew it off until the time came around for me to actually leave. And then all Hell broke loose. My wife, smart woman that she is, made it IMPOSSIBLE for me to leave the house. She grabbed her shoes and ran out right before I was supposed to leave, thus making it impossible to leave, as she knows I would never leave my children all alone.
So where do I go from here? Do I go back to the game? Try to fix my marriage? Would anything ever be the same? These are tough questions to answer...and what of Suzy? Was she really for me? Or was I just in the right place at the right time? Would Suzy latch onto anyone that was there for her own validation, or was it really just ME that she wanted?
The world may never know the answers to all of these questions. But in the course of all this I figured out a lot of things about others and myself. I realized that I do love my wife, as hard as it may be at times to deal with. I also realized I love to flirt, I love attention, and I get in over my head sometimes. I also realized that as much as your typical MMO may just be a game at its source, it is much, much more than that. It is a manufactured world, away from the stresses of real life. Within this manufactured world, things can easily be misunderstood. You can be made to feel like you're in love, like other people are perfect, and that you can live happily ever after with no stress or care. The problems arise when real life collides with MMO life. There must be a happy medium, and it is imperative to find it, because you will not only be hurting yourself, but many others in the course of your self-destruction.
This is NOT a tirade about how video games are horrible bad things. It's actually the opposite. It is a warning to people to be careful not to blur the lines between the real world and the virtual world. The media already portrays our beloved games in a negative light, making it harder and harder each passing day to buy them, to get more racy content put into them, and continues to put game companies into a negative light. People like me are partially to blame for this. Of course at this point, my wife hates online games, with an undeniable passion. Do I blame her? No, I don't. I blame myself. If I hadn't crossed the line, I might still be playing that game, or something similar.
Be careful, as what you see, isn't always what you get. Enjoy your games, and remember...that is what they are, GAMES. Don't make the same mistakes I did...