My WoW life also met important psychological needs. I'd developed a group of supportive guild mates and we had fun hanging out in-game. There was lots of teasing and silliness, but also very earnest collaboration to improve teamwork and raid success. I'd worked hard to become a contributing member of this well-oiled team, and I found it really satisfying.
When some of my guild mates learned that I was a psychologist, they began to see me as a resource to discuss issues in their lives. These discussions covered problems in relationships, parenting issues, career development, and even interpersonal conflicts within the guild. I was pleased to be trusted in this way, and surprised that this kind of intimacy could develop within an online game.
For me, WoW was also a way to escape some recurring physical aches and pains. I found that I simply didn't think of my discomfort while I was playing, and so in a sense it was gone, almost as if I inhabited a different body while I played. What else can you escape through WoW? I knew of players who were in the midst of painful relationship setbacks and even divorce, while others were simply stuck, frustrated, and lonely. Some escaped dull, monotonous jobs, or boring periods of unemployment and inactivity. As a psychologist, I was suspicious of avoidance as a coping mechanism, but I came to see what a great solace it can be. Some life problems cannot be solved easily or at all - escaping them for a few hours may be the best we can do. My year of WoW play helped me appreciate the allure of such avoidance and the powerful instantaneous relief it can offer, while my experiences with players like Greg reminded me how lives can truly hang in the balance when people avoid basic life obligations and responsibilities.
I was particularly impressed with the intense excitement and vivid sensory experience of WoW play, which produced strong emotions in me. I seemed to feel what I imagined my character felt, everything from triumphant jubilation to dark despair, and these feelings often lingered long after I was finished playing for the night.
While I appreciated how rich and engaging my WoW life could be, over time it became clear that my habit was out of control. My online avatar was sapping energy and ambition from the rest of my identity. I thought about the game constantly; I played every available free moment, and I was up late almost every night. I began to avoid social events that would interfere with my raiding activity. While on vacation, I played WoW in my car near a WiFi hotspot so I wouldn't miss out on the night's raid. When visiting friends, I plugged into their ethernet after everyone was asleep in order to get my nightly thrills. My experiment had become an all-consuming passion, perhaps even an addiction. This shouldn't have surprised me, because I knew Greg and others like him. I just hadn't expected that it could happen to a supposedly mature 46-year-old psychologist.