WoW as a Refuge

If you’ve spent any amount of time getting to know your fellow WoW players, I’m sure you have realized that we are a diverse and interesting bunch of people.  One of my favorite features over at WoWInsider is their 15 Minutes of Fame series, where they profile WoW players from all walks of life.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what role WoW plays in my own life, and how that might compare to some of my friends and guildmates.  So, where to start?

Two years ago, I had just started working as a lawyer for a large, international law firm.  I had graduated near the top of my law school class, taken and passed the bar, and was excited to start a face-paced, challenging career.  As you may know, lawyers at large firms tend to work long and sometimes unpredictable hours.  A 50 hour week is normal, and 70, 80 or 90 hours weeks are not uncommon when things are busy.  I was young, healthy, and just starting my career, so I was willing to work long hours for a few years until I could move to a smaller firm or less demanding job.  I am also married and we just bought a house, so my free time was limited.  Thus, I raided only sporadically in WoW, even though I was a member of  a large guild.  I mostly limited myself to the occasional weekend run or late night pug.  I imagine that’s how a lot of people play: limited free time because of work and family, but with a lot of excitement for the game, trying to cram in as much as they can when they are available.

Well, about a year and a half ago, six months into my new career as a lawyer, I got sick with what I thought was the flu.  I stayed home from work for a few days, felt a little better, and went back to work to start catching up.  A few days later I got sick again, completely drained of all energy, achy all over, and unable to think clearly or focus on my work.  This pattern of illness and then hectic overworking to catch up went on for several weeks.  Eventually, I was consistently feeling sick and started to mostly work from home and cut back my hours.  Mowing the lawn left me exhausted for two days.  Trying to read a legal decision left me feeling foggy and confused, and it was very hard to keep up with my work responsibilities.  After about 6 months of struggling to remain working, I had to take a leave of absence from my firm, and I have been unable to work for over a year.  (In case you are curious, I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is very poorly understood, but for many people is quite debilitating even though we don’t “look sick.”)

There is much more I could say about my battle with a chronic illness, but for now, I want to focus on how WoW has fit into my life.  Once I stopped working, I was faced with a large amount of free time, and very little I could do to fill it.  Any kind of physical activity was out of the question, as even a short walk around the block or a trip up and down the stairs makes me tired.  Reading challenging material left me feeling foggy and confused, although I can still read lighter things.  Spending time with other people quickly drains my energy and requires time to rest and recuperate.  It was a long process to learn that I needed to limit my activity level to avoid making myself more sick.  So, aside from watching television, hanging out with my lovely wife and adorable dog, and occasional visits from friends, I don’t have much else to occupy my time besides WoW.

I’m still not really happy about the situation, and it’s certainly been hard to give up a lot of the things I had in my life.  I have always been competitive and motivated to achieve, which is how I ended up as a lawyer at a big law firm in the first place.  To limit my “achievements” to points in a virtual world in many ways seems like a real step back, and not the optimal use of my time.  I look forward to having my health back and working again.  However, I have had to learn over time that because of my illness, I cannot just power through my feelings of exhaustion and illness, because when I do I simply make myself more sick.

So, given my current situation, WoW has been a refuge.  It is a virtual world, yes, but it has allowed me to keep my mind active, to experience a sense of accomplishment, to work together with other people to complete difficult tasks, and to relax and take my mind off my symptoms.  Although my body is tired and my mind can’t concentrate like it used to, I still need to feel challenged and engaged in something, and WoW provides that. Writing about WoW on this blog has also been a great outlet when I have the focus and energy to complete a post.

Yes, there are times when playing WoW or other games makes me tired.  I notice it mostly when I am trying to PvP, where quick decision making is required.  My brain just can’t respond like it used to, and after a little while I start to feel more tired and unfocused than when I started.  So, I don’t PvP very much.  I enjoy playing Starcraft II, but a few competitive ladder matches really drains my energy for the rest of the day, so I only play about once a week.  Thankfully, leveling alts and doing achievements is pretty slow-paced, and have been a great way for me to fill my time.  Even PvE raiding is not all that challenging once you learn the fights, and I find that it doesn’t take much out of me to raid a couple nights a week.

Since I usually play WoW during the afternoons, when most people are working, I’ve realized that I am not alone in having a lot of free time.  I play with people who have been unemployed (or under-employed) for much longer than they would like, and are desperately looking for work.  I play with disabled veterans who are now retired.  I probably play with other folks who have chronic illnesses, but it’s not something that people generally talk about.  And of course, I play with lots of students and working adults who, like I did before my illness, are fitting some WoW time into their otherwise busy and productive lives.

Have any of you also found that WoW can be a refuge during a rough time in your life?