Confessions of a 30-Year-Old Gamer

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The author's avatar in the online video game World of Warcraft

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I'd started playing MMOGs six years ago, shortly after my son was born. The kid was great from the moment he popped out. My lady and I were not. She was hospitalized with pregnancy-related heart problems. I was fired by a small alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia. In those days, we lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Delaware. Paychecks floated into our mailbox randomly. We ate take-out more then we cooked. Our rent was habitually late. We spent many hours home together with a new son, and when we weren't looking, the walls closed in on us.

It was at that point that I retreated to my old haven of video games and purchased Everquest, the forerunner to WoW. The dude at the counter rang me up and laughed as he said "Picking up Evercrack, I see." I didn't fully get the joke until two years later. By then I was playing the game 16 hours a day. I'd gained 30 pounds. I didn't have a job. The end came one weekend when I played a marathon session, which I only interrupted for trips to Dunkin' Donuts. I quit, lost the weight, and put my life back in order. But when WoW premiered in 2004, it promised to be the MMOG that allowed you to have a life. The game even gives bonuses to players who don't log in for periods of time. Its loading screen features quotes like, "Moderation in all things, even World of Warcraft."

I played two characters—a hunter named Longaxe, and a shadow priest named Salaam. When I brought Longaxe, from his meager starting zone in the quiet forest of Tendrassil to the capital city of Stormwind, I felt like I had actually gone from Wisconsin to New York. The people were of all races, from gnomes to dwarves to regular old humans. Vendors sold cheeses, meats, cloaks and hats. Monks would train you in the art of swords. Giant griffins ferried you to smaller far-flung towns. WoW's art style is cartoonish, and each of its many worlds more fantastical than the last, so it always amazed me that, on an emotional level, I believed it.

But there was something else about it, something I really didn't want to admit. I asked Paul Sams, the Blizzard COO, why people played WoW and his answer was simple, if a bit depressing: "How often in your everyday world do you get to feel heroic?" he said. "How often do you get to step into a world and do something big and meaningful? People need an escape from ordinary life. It's just something people need."

What's implicit in that, however, is a sense of defeat, an admission that for the denizens of Azeroth, our normal lives just aren't good enough. This is why most adults who play WoW are ashamed, and, on a scale of morals, rate their hobby only slightly above porn. We ourselves razz those who are ultra-accomplished in WoW, asserting that they are either kids with no responsibilities, or more likely, dudes who can't get laid. This unspoken envy only conceals a potentially darker truth—that we've all come to accept that WoW is fundamentally better than our real lives.

That conclusion, of course, can have unfortunate consequences for people in our real lives. Shelly Quintana, a 30-year-old New Jersey housewife and mother of three, is one such person, but she isn't taking it lying down. A native of New Zealand, Quintana has been married for 10 years, but she says her husband has spent much of their marriage cruising through games like WoW. "He's excellent with the kids, but our relationship is nonexistent," says Quintana. "I'm completely torn—he provides for us, and he works really long hours. But at the same time I believe he owes me some companionship."

Quintana enlisted the Internet, of all things, to strike back. She started the website, which features a blog that chronicles the travails of "gamer widows," women whose husbands are more interested in building up their character in-game than building relationships with their wives. Quintana's site simmers with sexual tension; a comic strip that she draws tells married gamers to cut off the PC and "push some real buttons."

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