I always feel like admitting I’m into gaming is some kind of dirty little secret. I’m a mid-thirties woman with a young child – not exactly your stereotypical ‘gamer girl’ or ‘geek’ persona, right? Well, stereotypes suck, and I’ve never been very good at pretending to be someone I’m not.
Last year I wrote a guest post about how I got started with online gaming in a post for my friend DadGeek. It was a tentatively written piece about my discovery of World of Warcraft, a game that most people in my real-life social circle probably wouldn’t speak of out loud for fear of ridicule.
The thing is though, I really do like playing WoW, and it opened up new doors into the world of gaming that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed (as a mid-thirties woman with a child) to talk about openly.
I got started with World of Warcraft at a weird point in my life. I was pregnant, but due to the unknown factors around the medication I take for my narcolepsy, I wasn’t allowed to take them during my pregnancy. The doctors decided this would have a significant impact on my ability to work, so I was put on an extended leave of absence from my job for pretty much my entire pregnancy.
Now, I understand this mustn’t sound like it’d have been much of a hardship, but honestly, it was a pretty exhausting time for me. Exhausting and also really, really boring. My mind was unoccupied but also tired out, which is a dark combination for a creative person at the best of times. Factor in that I was also growing a small human for the first time and kind of terrified about it, and you might start to realise why I quickly began searching for ways to keep my brain on track.
Getting Started With Gaming
Anyway, one day, after a friend convinced me to give gaming a try, I downloaded World of Warcraft. I’ll admit, I was pretty sceptical about the whole thing; for years I’d laughed along with the tired old trope of WoW being for sexless nerds and sweaty loners in their geek caves. What on earth would a pregnant woman in her late twenties get out of titting around in a cartoon dungeon for twenty minutes or so?
Turns out, much more than I bargained for. I soon found out how wrong I’d been.
‘Never make assumptions’ is a lesson I learned the hard way during that year. I jumped into World of Warcraft with absolutely no prior knowledge or understanding of things like game mechanics, questing, guilds or dungeons, and honestly, I absolutely loved it.
From the very beginning, the sense of total immersion in another world spoke to me. That’s the whole design of the experience, and it hooked me from the get-go.
The more I played, the more I learned. There was so much more to this than just the nuts and bolts of the quests. WoW had a whole universe of storytelling; lore, characters and cliffhangers for me to dive into. I think I spent as much time reading into the history of this bold new world as I did actually exploring it.
It was a fascinating learning curve for someone with no real experience of online gaming at all.
Never Make Assumptions
As time passed that year, I grew eager to develop as a player and started to join in with raid nights with people in my guild. Still, I didn’t ever tell anyone from my real life outside of those in my immediate family; the fear of mockery was strong.
The raids were challenging and fun, and to be honest I still don’t know if I was any good at it. The point was, that I’d found something to engage my brain again, and that was a huge turning point for me at that stage. The loss of real-life power I was feeling was hitting me hard. But now, thanks to WoW, I could focus on something other than my ever-expanding body and the crushing tiredness I had to contend with each day. I was becoming part of a live-action storytelling experience, in which my choices in the game had a direct impact on my progress. It was something that gave me a bit of control back when I felt like my own was slipping away.
And then, seven months into my home-based pregnancy, my father died.
I’m sure I don’t need to go into how one of the most devastating life experiences a person can go through knocked me for six. For me, it happened at a truly Shakespearean moment; just two months short of my child’s birth, but whenever it happens, the loss of a parent is utterly fucking dreadful. It was rough, but that’s not the point of this post. After all the upset and the noise faded down, and all the people went back to their normal lives, I sat back down at my computer on the cusp of month eight.
My head was a mess. I’d been existing in a bubble in the weeks after it happened, not knowing what I was supposed to do. I remember I spent one night laying on the floor of the soon-to-be nursery room in my house. I was there for hours, just staring into the fibres of the carpet as the moon lit up the floor. I felt so empty, and so incredibly angry, like I wanted to set the carpet on fire with my tears of total rage. But I couldn’t, so I just lay there, entirely full of another person, and entirely without the one who I wanted back. My control was gone completely.
One day, sometime after the funeral, purely out of sheer habit, I fired up WoW once more and logged in to find everything just as I’d left it. Strangely enough, this comforted me. I quietly started playing again, and for that short window of time, I was able to detach myself from my grief. You have no idea how much of a relief that was. Grief is a cloud of clingfilm, sticking to you as you try to breathe. You have to find ways to poke holes in that fucker, or it’ll suffocate you.
World of Warcraft was the tool that helped me poke some holes into mine.
There’s Plenty Of Time To Be Emotionally Stable When You’re Dead
People say that video games provide an escape from reality, and that’s true. It certainly was for me. But what’s also true is that they provide you with a coping strategy, one that’s altogether much safer than many of the alternatives. Some people turn to alcohol or self-medicate to cope with the raw intensity of grief. Some people internalise it and then lash out at whoever’s nearest. Some of us can become so swallowed by it that we change irrevocably as people.
I channelled mine into my newfound gaming pastime, and I think it saved me from losing myself altogether.
After I gave birth, it saved me again. It helped me to cope when I needed to escape the grind of caring for a newborn; I used to wear my daughter in a sling on my chest and while she slept I’d have 45 minutes of questing at the computer.
When I struggled with the loneliness of being a new parent, it gave me an outlet to do something purposeful with my guildmates. Having online parenting friends is nice, but I didn’t want to spend any more time talking about nappies and sleep regressions than I really had to. Gaming helped me to stay in touch with my personality when I felt that it was beginning to vanish.
As time went on, I began to explore other games outside of WoW, and this year I got an Xbox One for my birthday. That’s right, at the grand old age of 35, I became a console gamer too.
Why Gaming Really Matters To Me
The bottom line here is that gaming rescued me from some really dark times by providing an outlet. Creative, visual and total extraction from the real world was exactly what my stressed-out and grief-ridden brain needed during that year, and gaming gave that to me. It’s something that makes a huge difference to my well-being and provides a cognitive stimulus on the days I can’t get my creative juices flowing.
I know there’ll be people who find this little hobby of mine embarrassing. I know, because I used to be one of them. But you know what, I don’t really give a shit anymore. Gaming has helped and continues to help me to navigate some of the most difficult emotional pitfalls of being a human being.
And that’s something I refuse to be embarrassed about just because I don’t fit into anyone’s stereotypical ‘gamer girl’ box.