This is something I wanted to get off my chest for the longest time, but I wasn't sure where to post it. I guess this is more psychology than gaming related, but I'm writing in hopes of reaching other former mmorpg addicts like me, so I guess this subreddit should be appropriate. If not, I apologize for a misplaced post.
Caution, very long post ahead!!
Is there anyone else out there who has quit mmorpgs for "real life" and later ended up regretting it?
I began playing MMORPGS shortly after the turn of the millenium. I was very young, I think around 13 at the time. I was a shy, nerdy kid who was severely bullied throughout middle school. I had no friends other than my classmates – who also were my bullies – and no courage/ability to connect with anyone in my age group.
In 6th grade during a computer science class, a Russian kid I was sitting next to (who also happened to be an outcast of sorts) introduced me to a fantasy rpg you could play in your browser, with other people from all around the world, no less. The year was 2001 the game was called Runescape. I was immediately mesmerized by the concept and began playing in earnest.
Though Runescape was fun, it was still very much in its infancy, and there really wasn't all that much to do. One of my RS friends was also an EverQuest player who invited me to join his guild should I move over to EQ. I remember spending the next mouth trying to coax my dad into buying me a subscription. My first real main was a Dark Elf Shadowknight on the Firiona Vie roleplaying server. It was tremendously liberating to embody a fantasy character that didn't share your physical and social limitations in real life. And since it was a role plaing server, no one wanted to know your real identity anyway. I was pretty mature for my age and could write well, so my most people assumed I was a young adult like most mmorpg players at that time.
In 2003, I tried Dark Age of Camelot and was swept away. The game felt fresh with its advanced PvP mechanics and streamlined combat in comparison to EQ, which was quite clunky and already showing its age. DAoC is where my mmorpg gaming really took off. I had a guild of my own and a lot of in-game friends who looked up to me as their valiant, dedicated guildmaster. Little did they know that I was a 15-year-old, bullied kid whose mental health was hanging on a string. By that time, I had made up a fake online identity and would introduce myself as a twentysomething civil servant. I don't know why I chose that identity, but it sounded cool and "adult-like" to me at the time. Ironically enough, I would end up working for the government after grad school (and hating every second of it, lol.)
I had such a great time playing DAoC that I can't even begin to describe. I particularly remember the late night PvP sessions where I would lead a full group of guildmates from one glorious victory to another. I had such good friends and they treated me with such respect. We had so many in-jokes, a whole culture of humor unique to our guild. When I was not playing, I'd always be logged in to my MSN messenger account, conversing with people I knew from the game. For whatever reason, everyone seemed very quick to confide me their real life details. Our Wizard was Andrew, a uni student from the England. Our Cleric was Kai, a coder from Sweden. Our Necromancer was Petri, a jobless musician from Finland who was also going through a divorce. I reveled in their stories while safeguarding my own. To me, they were my true friends, and the way they saw me was my true identity.
When I was online, I thrived. I felt like my life had meaning, a clear, singular purpose. Others saw me as good and important – sociable, skilled, competent. They would compliment me on being a mature, insightful person and a good listener. I am almost certain they all thought I was who I presented myself to be. All the meanwhile, my real life was in shambles. My grades had plummetted and my parents thought I had lost my life to my gaming. In actuality, if it hadn't been for my gaming, I probably would've ended up taking my life.
As I saw it, there was nothing for me out there. I saw other kids as stupid and predatory and my immediate social environment as the island from the Lord of the Flies. I had glasses, a thin frame and a nervous demeanor, and I thought no girl or woman would ever be interested in me. However, just by logging in to DAoC I could forget all about my miserable, real life constraints and just be who I really felt like I truly am. In the game, I was liberated, I was free.
In High School, things changed somewhat. I wasn't expecting them to, they just did. I guess a lot of it had to do with most of my former bullies either dropping out or growing up. I was left alone, and little by little, I started making friends among my peers. I was also starting to improve academically. Somehow, subconsciously, I realized that this was my one chance to establish a real life before it was too late. I also realized that choosing real life meant leaving my in-game identity behind by default. It was a painful, painful pill to swallow, but I gulped it down.
After five years of living in an online reality, real life sucked hard. I was no longer bullied, sure, but I still had a host of interpersonal, psychological and physical issues to work through. I was still a shy, nerdy kid with a scrawny body and a speech defect. However, rather than wallowing my fate, I buckled up and spent the next ten years in near continuous self-improvement. I changed everything – my wardrobe, my hair, my posture, my physique. I read like crazy, started cultivating a taste in music and visual art. I confronted my nervousness, first by working out and then by getting involved in public speaking. I entered college, did a study abroad, then applied for grad school in another country.
As of writing this, I'm a 30-year old guy with a steady job and a girlfriend. I speak and write in three languages. I have a trained, lean physique and regularly compete in triathlons and other endurance events. People say I'm likeable, socially skilled and confident. My therapist tells me that outwardly, I'm a model of success, and I guess that is partly true. On the whole, I could've done a lot worse.
On the inside, however, I feel hollow and tinny. I rarely feel like I'm being truly myself when I interact with other people, which sounds ironic from someone who's spent years lying about his identity in a virtual world. Though I've invested a great deal in improving myself, I still find my personality burdening, like a tortoise shell I can't crawl out of. I also find that deep down, I care very little about the "real life goals" such as money and career that seem to be of such paramount importance to our society. Often I really wish I could just find myself in a suit of plate mail armor, grab a broadsword and go on an adventure and forget about it all.
I occasionally go through phases when I find myself wishing I could just go back to playing an mmorpg again. My therapist calls these my depressive-nostalgic episodes, and I guess he's right. I learned a while back that Blizzard plans on launching a classic edition of World of Warcraft, and I literally spent most of that week fantasizing about playing again. I know it is my brain screwing with me, but at those times I genuinely feel I belong more to that reality than the one I actually physically inhabit. Like a fish out of water, I've been flopping through this thing called real life, trying so hard to grow legs, and now that I have them, I wish I could just go back to my pond and swim away in blissful ignorance. At times like these I truly feel like I've gained the world but lost my soul.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be if I had not stopped playing. Would I be as "outwardly successful"? Most likely not, but would I actually be happier? The rational part of my brain says "Of course not!" but deep down I'm actually not sure.
Thanks for reading.
TL;DR: I used to play mmorpgs for 5 years. I then quit and got a life. I am doing good now, yet I often feel unhappy and get intensely nostalgic about the though of playing again.
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