More often than not, when MMORPGs are talked about in relation to mental health, it’s not in a positive manner. Studies tend to focus on the problems that relate to playing MMOs excessively: addiction, social anxiety, and psychological distress, among others.
But there are millions of MMORPG players in the world, and nearly as many reasons for playing. As Ashe Samuels writes for The Ontological Geek, they can also be comforting when your options for comfort are limited.
Not everybody has steady access to cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or even a part-time job that can give their symptoms a little leeway. Building and stocking your mental toolbox is not a luxury — it’s a necessity to just live your life.
Getting to that somewhere better when you’re broke and sad and strapped for time is a rhetoric anyone mentally ill can relate to with gusto. For me, it means I’m tired. I’m always tired. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to succumb to the nigh-constant sucking of my energy and crawl into bed twice per day. Getting out of said bed can be even harder. Following through with my projects, my passions, can be the hardest damn thing around. When I boot up my PC and open up Final Fantasy XIV : A Realm Reborn or World of Warcraft these MMOs act the part of a complex and shiny placebo, inviting in my willingness to put reality on hold and rewarding me emotionally for doing so. Distraction is something I need to ward off grueling panic attacks and a little emotional investment without a lot of work can keep me from napping for two hours. Even taking on the avatars of a badass cat girl dragoon or a shapeshifting magician who garners the respect of nearly every character she comes across works as a salve for the raw blisters society has given me.
What works for Samuels won’t work for everyone, and self-medication is always a risky undertaking. For Samuels, though, MMORPGs aren’t a drug–they’re a point of connection and distraction during difficult times. For me, MMORPGs bring routine and a feeling of productivity even when I can’t seem to get anything done in reality.
In large enough doses, that can certainly become unhealthy – but as Samuels goes on to explain, there’s a lot to be said for indulging in fantasy from time to time.