Anxiety and Gaming, Insights Into an Anxious Mind.
We’ve all heard of MMORPG’s right? WoW, FFXIV, Black Desert Online, the list goes on and on. Not to mention with all of the different play styles, what’s not to love right? Well, how about that one M word in MMORPG? No, Not “Massive”, that part’s actually pretty cool. I’m talking about “Multiplayer”. If you’re like me, just hearing that a game is “Multiplayer” is enough to make you start breathing heavy and sweating worse than that one time you actually left the house and went outside last summer (turns out climate change doesn’t equal climate control). Social anxiety is ever present, even while gaming.
Social Anxiety is a thing
It took me until I was in my mid-twenties to even realize that social anxiety was a thing, let along that I had it. Somehow I thought everyone felt a sense of dread at the checkout line when they actually had to talk to the cashier. That’s totally normal right? Yeah, my therapist didn’t think so either.
As mental health becomes more and more mainstream, it’s becoming increasingly common to hear stories about how anxiety can affect people’s lives. The gaming community is no exception. Rather, it’s almost expected. If you ask most non-gamers to describe the characteristics of someone who calls themselves a gamer, social anxiety is probably one of the top ten answers. Along with acne, living in moms basement, and stock piles of Mountain Dew (I don’t like it either, but admit it, I’m stating facts here). Regardless of whether it’s true or not, that’s the rep we have.
But how does anxiety affect gamers when their triggers are social interactions? Does loading up a computer program magically make their condition go away? Does the fact that they can choose their boob size and wear thongs that give a bonus to their armor make it all boner? I mean, better? Yeah, it’s gonna be a “No” for me dog.
It’s just a game right?
When I heard of World of Warcraft, I was nerdy kid who was big into fantasy and thought it looked like a cool game. I had no idea what an MMO was not to mention how many people were plating it so I didn’t think much about the fact that it was a “multiplayer” game. In reality I had played tons of games that were multiplayer and always played them solo without thinking twice about it. Imagine my surprise (and horror) when I logged in (after too much time in the character creation screen) with my new Night Elf druid to see dozens of people running around the same zone as me. It took me a solid minute before I could bring myself to move. What was this? Who were these people? Why are they here? Why is he just standing there dancing? I was overwhelmed to say the least.
After my initial shock, I started running around and pretending like I was alone and all the other players weren’t there until the unthinkable happened. Someone sent me a whisper while I was trying (and failing) to kill a MOB and asked if I wanted to party up and take him on together. I proceeded to do what any kid with diagnosed social anxiety would do, I promptly ALT+F4 and closed that shit down.
I was petrified because someone in game had offered me help. It didn’t occur to me at the time that the problem was that my reaction wasn’t proportional to the situation. Instead, I felt bad because now I wasn’t going to be able to play this cool new game I found. I imagined that person was telling everyone on the server that I’m an idiot and a noob (which would have been technically true). Eventually I mustered up the courage to log back in. I realized that none of that had happened and breathed a sigh of relief, but as I continued to play I was still constantly on edge afraid that it might happen again. All I wanted to do was turn from a purple lady elf into a bear without people watching! Was that too much to ask?
We’re here, we’re anxious, and we’re scared of your emotes.
My story isn’t exactly unique. There are probably hundreds of people out there with similar tales who just don’t share them because talking to other people is legit scary, and most people don’t want to make themselves vulnerable if they can help it. In our minds, everyone out there on the internet is seriously angry about the solo players in MMO’s. If I took a shot for article I read saying some version of “5 reasons [insert million dollar MMO game title here] is dead” the beneficiary on my life insurance would be a very rich person.
I recently read a thread on the Battle.net general discussion forum titled “People with anxiety shouldn’t play MMORPGS” that went on to say how “as a doctor” (of duchebaggery one can only assume) his recommendation is for Blizzard to create a special instance for people with anxiety so they don’t have to play with “normal people”. This was the whole reason I was afraid to continue playing MMO’s. I was afraid that the games would be filled with jerks like this. To my (very pleasant) surprise, every comment on that post was tearing that guy to shreds for his intolerance.
It gets better, right?
I finally took the plunge into the world of Final Fantasy XIV after much goading from my partner (yes, I know I’m about seventeen expansions behind). In FFXIV (in case you too have just emerged from under your rock), there’s really no opting out of some of the group content but I’m finding out it’s not as scary as I thought.
Sure, it helps that I’m playing with someone experienced who shouts at me from the next room how to dodge mechanics (or make fun of me when I don’t). Plus there are dozens of guides online to watch and help. But there are also some genuinely nice people that are happy to help. Or at least not scream at you because you accidentally res’d the wrong person (in my defense, I am not a healer and it was literally the first time I ever cast that spell before so I’m surprised I even thought about it).
What do you do?
Am I saying everyone with social anxiety should play MMO’s? Of course not. Nevertheless, the important thing is that it shouldn’t be ruled out. After all, there’s no rule about what type of person you need to be to play and enjoy a game. It’s a game and we’re all here because there’s something we enjoy about it. Personally I use fantasy games as practice for when my powers finally manifest. Hopefully that happens before I’m 40.
Before, whenever I saw that initial loading screen I would start thinking about how to completely separate myself from every other player. Now, I try and go out of my way to say hello at the start of every dungeon even though I still get a flutter of nerves every single time. And you know what? Instead of reporting me for being weird, everyone says “hi” back. Or does a chicken dance. Regardless, we all have fun.