I wanted to do something. I told my mom, who quickly told the cashier, who called security. Meanwhile, the woman just stood there, not saying a word. When she opened her mouth to speak, the guy swung at her. Without even thinking, I rushed toward them. I didn't hear my mom call me, and struggled against her when she held me back.
Rage poured through me. I wanted to help. Without being told, I knew what he had done was wrong. The woman needed a hero, and my instincts told me I could protect her. My mom just held me and hugged me. I started crying, not because I was hurt, but because I couldn't help someone in need.
Growing up, I tried to help people when I could. I was never big enough to take down bullies, but that didn't stop me from trying, usually at the cost of a bloody lip or a bruised ego. Unlike the movies, it was usually a thankless endeavor. There was never a kiss for doing the right thing from the girl being picked on; never a handshake from the nerdy kid getting beaten up. My only satisfaction was in knowing I had done the right thing.
As I grew into my body and hit college, my years of being an athlete and deep voice only made my real-world "tanking" more effective. (Being 6'2" and 220 pounds had its advantages as well.) I learned that bullies one on one were nothing, and simply standing up to them was usually the hardest part. Thankfully, I only got into the occasional quarrel, even when I was a bouncer or head of security for concerts on campus. I specifically remember hanging out at a local bar one night with some friends when a fight broke out right next to us. Without thinking of my own safety, I pulled my friends who were near the fight around me and put myself between the fight and them so they wouldn't get hurt.
In the MMOGs I play, the same scenarios are pretty familiar - only there, I'm applauded and thanked for it. Guild members look up to me and respect me for my "talent" in tanking, which has earned me a position as a guild leader and a main tank in raids. When I hop online, I'm usually caught in a flurry of tells from friends across the server who need a tank for one quest or another. Even if I did jump online just to do some soloing, how can I turn down someone who has sought me out among all the other tanks on the server? There is nothing better than joining a pick-up group and seeing the cheers, thanks and "woots" from five to 23 other people.
Some people play videogames to escape real life or be something different. I use my MMOG tanks as a larger-than-life, sword-wielding, shield-smashing, ass-stomping version of my real-life self. In the games I play, 23 people count on me to protect them. It feels good to be needed.
Jeff Palumbo is currently employed by The Escapist for his skills in brand management, a passion for gaming and the ability to make flaming hot apple pie shots.