WOW… the World of Warcraft. An online world of Orcs, Elves and Banshee Queens (and now Pandas!) where people of different ages, cultures and backgrounds get together to loot, pillage and defeat major enemies. They build communities called a Guild where there are laws that govern the body, leaders in roles meant to keep the peace and newfound friendships that rival those IRL (in real life). To some, it becomes an obsession, an addiction that carries with it the same pain and loss associated with Meth, Heroine and Alcohol abuse. But for others, it’s their adventure, their community, the place they can go to be themselves without judgment or persecution and succeed at being the hero they’ve always wanted to be.
Then there’s the significant other, the friends and the family of the Gamer; the people who can’t wrap their heads around this alternate universe, can’t see why someone would spend hours in front of a computer talking to people who aren’t real, pretending to be something they’re not, finding such purpose in a world that simply doesn’t exist.
I was this significant other. I was the wife that felt that I took a back seat to this universe, the people within it. The guys in Minnesota, Hawaii and Scotland, the girls in Texas and Canada, they all had this hold on my husband that I just couldn’t understand. I mean, they were probably just creepy teenagers looking for something awesome to fill their days because they couldn’t make friends in school, right? That stereotypical geeky boy who goes online looking for the hot chick and ultimately finds Robert in Wisconsin pretending to be a 14/F/Madison looking to meet up and just “talk”. From my perspective, I saw these people, these characters, as the primary figures at the top of his list to not let down. They were the most important opinions, they were the ones that he went to when he needed to calm down, and they gave him the support and the ass-kicking he was looking for.
I began to wonder what I was doing wrong. How could I look more like a Night Elf? Then maybe I’d catch his attention. How could I show him that I was just as cool as these fake friends online? Then maybe he’d want to talk to ME more. Ultimately, I started wondering if I would need to leave in order for him to see the difference between me and the computer.
But then I remembered a conference I attended with the youth pastors and leaders of the church I was working for at the time (I was a church secretary, if you can believe THAT!). One of the speakers was talking about lifting up your spouse, honoring their passions and letting them be a whole person. He talked about how everyone has a tank, a reservoir ready to fill with your passions and your energy to do the things you love. Of course he was telling this story from a youth ministry perspective, but I found it quite profound on a personal level. Anyway, so we have this tank and we have to constantly fill it, because the things that we must do deplete our energy store – the things that exhaust you, make you angry or just all around frustrate you. I began to realize that, although I didn’t take the time to fill my own tank, this was what fills his; this world, this connection with others that shared his love of the realm. THIS was what filled his tank. And for a stay-at-home dad who wrestles constantly with his own purpose (who doesn’t, right?), this was one thing that he needed.
I finally sat down with my husband and laid it out there. I was frank, I was rude but ultimately, I tried to show him my heart without being such a girl. Let’s face it ladies, most of our male counterparts get super freaked out when we cry. So I tried not to. Unfortunately, when I’m frustrated, I cry… and I can’t stop. So I’m sure I cried a lot. But I also told him to keep his mouth shut and actually listen to me, not just my words. It went very similar to this (although, I’m sure I’ll be much more eloquent and less messy here…):
“When you hurry up and rush through spending time with me so that you can get online, you make me feel like I play second fiddle to your first chair. When I’m in the middle of managing a total meltdown from both kids and you’re off in your own world with your headphones on, somehow managing to block out the world around you, it makes me feel like you don’t care. When you spend every waking moment, especially while I’m home, online with these people you don’t even know, I feel as if I’m totally alone in this house, in this family and in this marriage. And frankly, it’s getting to the point where you might have to choose – me, or WOW.”
Yeah, I know… dramatic, right? Now, let me just make one disclaimer here, before I move on – we are an odd pair. We haven’t been together forever, but we have figured out ways to encourage each other’s strengths rather than constantly encourage the other to improve. That’s why I’m the bread-winner and he’s the stay-at-home parent (GASP – how un-Christian of me, right?). It’s just the way our cookie was baked. So yes, there are people out there who I believe are honestly addicted to WOW… but I also believe that these people may have already had a previous addiction that they have now replaced with WOW, are struggling with more than they care to address or are escaping a situation in which they feel helpless.
Why do I feel that way?
Because the husband told me so.
When I confronted him on the feelings I was having surrounding this game and his life in it, I didn’t take time for myself. I didn’t get out with friends; I didn’t do a whole lot of filling my own tank. But when he told me he was escaping, I felt broken. What could he possibly be escaping from? Of course… he was escaping me, not me because I’m a horrible person, me because I nag. Because when things are not going according to my un-vocalized expectations, I would tear him down; make him feel bad with words like knives. And his Guild, his community, didn’t make him feel that way. They busted his balls then gave him some gold.
It took a while to hash things out, but we ultimately laid down some ground rules – there’s a schedule and there’s a discussion. Always a discussion. There are three set times/days a week that are sort of non-negotiable, unless I give notice or there’s an emergency. Sounds crazy, huh? But hey, just because he doesn’t get paid for a job by an employer doesn’t mean the guy isn’t working. Anyway, so there are these set days – two raid nights and a Podcast. The other nights, we talk about it. If I’m tired and just want to zone out to some old episode of Dawson’s Creek (don’t judge me), he’ll go in-game – after our “family chores” are done. Kid’s are in bed, day is done, it’s his time. When I’m not tired and he’s not chomping at the bit to get in character, we’ll watch shows that we enjoy together. Sometimes he’ll suck it up and watch a girly movie that I want to watch, but we don’t talk about it afterwards. But most of the time, we’ll compromise. Sometimes, we’ll just chat about the kids or my job… he’s got some great insight into my form of crazy, so it works.
Do we still argue? Sure.
Do I still sometimes feel like second fiddle? More times than I care to admit.
Do questions still come to mind about girls? Yup… but that’s my insecurity, not his problem.
With these conversations has come a new understanding for my husband and actually a new appreciation for “alternative” lifestyles. No, I’m not talking about swingers (that’s another post), but this idea that community can exist inside of a computer. These people that he meets with online are real people. I’d venture to call a couple my own friends too. They have families, stories, hopes, hurts… they have their own tanks to fill, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own adventures to fulfill. And frankly, they’re just the same as me – finding their place in a world that tries to continually dictate to us what we should and should not do, who we should and should not be how we should and should not feel.
If you’re struggling with the thought that you might be a WOW widow, I’d be happy to talk to you (seriously, this isn’t a PSA, I’d be more than happy to chat). But I will also encourage you to seek external assistance if the situation is far beyond the average upset. And I’m not talking about your mom or your uncle. Sometimes our family looks at our lives with just as much conviction as we do and it can mean an even stronger view of what they feel might be totally wrong with our situation. For so long we’ve come up against people judging our lifestyle because he’s the man and should be bringing home that bacon and I’m the mom and should be at home nurturing the kids. But that’s not our strengths, that’s not what we’re passionate about… that’s not the way our life is working out at this phase. And I believe with every fiber of my carbon based being that Jesus doesn’t give a rat’s ass about who stays home – as long as we love each other, love our children, love our community.
And trust me, I’ve not met anyone who loves his community, who hurts for people he’s never seen face to face, who fights for justice for those with little or no voice, the way I’ve seen my husband and his Guild fight for (and with) each other.
Game on, friends.
What have you learned in your adventure as a gamer with a family or the significant other of an obsessed gamer (yes, our loved ones are obsessed… it’s okay to call a duck a duck)? How have you found ways to deal with it, whichever side you’re on?