WoW, Mental Disorders, and Coping Mechanisms

The other day a thread was posted on the WoW forums regarding suffering from anxiety and how WoW can act as a means of coping. It remained blissfully free of trolls and instead had people sharing their own stories of using the game and/or seeking help/treatment for their disorders.

When people tend to think of mental disorders their immediate thought goes to depression, and somehow they tend to equate depression as a “not serious” thing since the term gets bandied about so much on the interwebs. There’s also the issue that it’s very hard when not suffering from something to put yourself in someone’s shoes and think about what they may going through. There is a cognitive disassociation on the internet that I think many of us are familiar with. Most of you probably know it as “Gabriel’s Internet Fuckwad Theory.”

I’d wager a guess that 99.9% of people have had a mild anxiety attack in their lifetimes. That shortness of breath, panic, overall feeling of doom. You’ve been there, haven’t you? Most of us have. For some that’s an every day occurrence. You’ve also probably been depressed once or twice, no? Feeling the weight of the world crushing down on you, either giving up and just letting the sadness set in for a couple of days or instead snapping at everyone you see to vent.  Imagine that every day to the point where you can’t get out of bed. Sometimes associating with this is hard to do, but believe me when I say people suffer from all this and more on a daily basis.

Where does WoW play into all of this? That’s an interesting question. Many of my friends and myself who have what could be considered “Mental Illnesses” or disorders play this game and it could be considered as a bit of a coping mechanism. Nothing ever replaces therapy and proper mental health care mind you, but it pays when you can find a low stress hobby that allows you to escape for an hour or two a day.

It’s different for everybody, but as pointed out in the thread – WoW is a low risk game. Key word mainly being “game.” If you mess up in a heroic the worst your group will do is wipe. It’s not like being at work where if you mess up it could cost you your job. Things begin to get murkier as raiding is thrown into the mix, but it really depends on how seriously you take the game and yourself by proxy when playing it.

There are outside factors that can contribute to a stressful environment, don’t get me wrong. We’ve all had that LFD group with the people being incredibly waspish and snapping at each other constantly. But personally, I don’t tolerate bullshit. If I’m unhappy in a group I will drop. There are literally millions of other players in this game, so I don’t need to put up with the 10 or so percent that are looking to hurt people. More people should do this. It’s incredibly liberating to know you don’t HAVE to put up with it. If you walked into a McDonalds and saw two people standing at the counter shouting insults at each other, would you stand there and still try to get your coffee or would you turn around and go to the Dunkin Donuts next door? WoW is the exact same way – and more people need to understand that.

In terms of mental disorders I’ll come right out and admit I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is one of those disorders along with depression and Tourettes that still seems to be in “okay” zone when it comes to cracking jokes about it.

“Oh yeah I have OCD too, lol! I like to straighten up my bookshelf so it’s all in alphabetical order!”

I appreciate the desire to relate, and I would never judge a friend for joking like this. But there’s a common misconception about OCD in that all it involves is cleaning up and/or washing your hands over and over again. A lot of people with OCD are hoarders that live in filthy houses. You know that show on A&E/TLC about it? I’d wager a guess that 70-80% of those people have OCD.

To put things into perspective – when I go to bed I have a long ritual of things my brain wants me to do, and I would stand there and do them in a loop if the sensible other part of my brain didn’t chime in to tell me I was being ridiculous. If you want to think of it in more technical terms, it’s like there’s coding in my brain that doesn’t have a bracket closed, so the actions continue to loop over and over again. One of the more painful parts of OCD is that most of us are fully aware of how stupid/dumb we look and sound as we’re performing rituals or talking about obsessions.

Compulsions don’t come up just on their own. There’s usually always an obsession that goes along with it. Obsessions aren’t just, “Man I really want a burger right now. I’m so obsessed.” No, think – horrifying visions of death and disaster in your head. I regularly check the area near my heater in my bedroom to ensure I don’t burn to death in my sleep from something waywardly catching on to the heating coils that -aren’t even exposed.- Does that sound ridiculous? It kind of is. I know. But I live with it.

Initially my OCD played a huge role in how I played WoW. My screenshot folder was absolutely overflowing with screenshots I’d take out of paranoia that when I logged back in, my character would have lost a level. Or my bank would be empty. I’m also very slow about putting my auctions up so I can quadruple check that the amount I’m listing it for is correct. Again, I know how dumb this sounds, and yet, sometimes I still do the screenshot thing.

I’d wager a guess that lots and lots of people in WoW have some form of mental issues they’re working through. It probably manifests itself in different ways in game as well, but the important thing is that we’re not alone. I’m sure there are perfectly normal people who use the game as a coping mechanism for their own lives as well, and that’s totally fine. Mental illness still has a societal stigma attached to it where people consider it gross or weird, so I think that’s why so few people talk about it. And you know what? That’s okay in this game. Especially in WoW where you don’t have to be defined by your depression, or your OCD, or your PTSD. That’s part of the beauty of it all. People who want to be open can be, and the people who prefer to just enjoy themselves without thinking about it can as well.

Just remember that ultimately we’re all crazy people in a crazy world.


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