Yesterday, I finally received a print copy of Quora's 2014 Anthology where one of my answers was selected! Seeing this in print is surreal. No amount of Internet awards can replace seeing your name and your story on paper in a hardcover book.
Let me tell you a story:
When I was 14 years old, I fractured my spine playing hockey. It wasn't bad enough for surgery, but it was a fracture nonetheless that required me to take a year off the sport, wear an itchy Velcro back brace to school, and when the pain got really bad, I was given Vicodin.
I had nothing to do for about 6 months except sit around. At the end of 8th grade, me and my closest friends (about 7 of us) had had a falling out. I hadn't made any new friends yet. I started high school a loner, and with this injury happening near the beginning of the school year, I was pretty much stuck in my bedroom with nothing to do.
I started playing World of Warcraft.
In addition to this, it wasn't until I turned 18 that I found out that I have Celiac Disease. So every single day, I would wake up, run to the bathroom, stay there for about 45 minutes, come out, try to eat breakfast (wheat), feel sick again, run back to the bathroom, my mom would come by, "Cole, we have to leave for school!" / "Mom, I don't feel well!" She would urge me to come out, I would yell no. Some days, I made it to school. Most days, I didn't. I was constantly behind on my work. I was always the kid who had to take the make-up test. I felt sick all the time. I weighed less than 100 pounds all the way until I was a senior in high school, and even then I capped out around 105. I saw doctors monthly. I had every exam under the sun done—"He probably just has Irritable Bowel Syndrome." Research shows that Celiac Disease left untreated also ignites feelings of depression. I wandered around my school most days wishing I were someone else, often times wondering if I should just save myself the trouble and end it all.
And then I'd log online to play World of Warcraft and one of my gamer friends would say, "Cole, stop being an emo pussy bitch, realize that high school sucks for everyone, sack the fuck up, hit Level 60, and let's go pwn some Alliance players. Life isn't that bad."
My relationship with my parents and family throughout high school was extremely strained. They often attributed it to my playing World of Warcraft. Since no doctor could figure out why I was so sick all the time, they assumed that my behavior was entirely the result of this video game—not, in fact, the chemical issues that were the result of my eating an "All American diet" that was subsequently making me very, very sick. They blamed everything on the game. Poor attitude? World of Warcraft. Bad grades? World of Warcraft. Not doing exactly as I'm told? World of Warcraft. My parents insisted that this video game was nothing but a distraction and poor use of my time. They refused to acknowledge my dreams of becoming a game developer or a professional gamer. They said it would never turn into anything of value.
When I was 17 years old, I became one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America. I had the most-read Mage strategy and entertainment blog on the Internet with ~10,000 daily readers. I was a freelance writer for a World of Warcraft walkthrough guide website making $50/article. I was in talks with the owner of the blogging site I used called GameRiot about becoming a salaried writer (before they went bankrupt, RIP) since I was responsible for so much of their traffic. My guild leader offered to sponsor me and my team so that we could go compete on the big stage in 3v3 arenas. All the kids you see today making money as video game entertainers, vloggers, live streamers, etc., that was me in 2007 when nobody believed that one day this would become a huge thing, and a way to make money doing what you loved. I was an entrepreneur.
My parents didn't agree, and made me get a job working at the local ice cream store, Coldstone, for minimum wage. I made 3x more writing about World of Warcraft as I did scooping ice cream.
To say that World of Warcraft has destroyed so many kids lives is a faulty statement. I met a lot of people playing that game, and I can tell you first-hand that their reasons for playing far outweighed whatever the game was doing to their lives. My guild leader Sik played all day because his parents were Orthodox Christians and wouldn't let him play on the school's football team. My friend Neophyte played because his parents had abandoned him as a kid and he lived in a foster home, and had a lot of trouble making friends. My friend Teeku played because he was an outcast at school and didn't know where he fit in. My friend Cachexic played because he had social anxiety and felt more comfortable socializing with people online (Cachexic was my mentor and one of the most talented players to ever play the game.) My friend Ez played because, although he was the captain of his hockey team and extremely popular, he found greater satisfaction in making friends online and all working towards the same goal (his guild was the first guild on Wildhammer to clear the dungeon Blackwing Lair). My friend Maull came back to the game when he got injured during basic training for the army. My friend Relt played because he was dealing with cancer and going through chemotherapy. My friend Swampcamp played because he had a family, worked all day as a programmer, and wanted something of his own to play before bed every night. My friend Zeal played because he'd moved to Hawaii with his wife and newborn baby daughter, and one day came home and found them both dead on the floor of his living room—the wife had taken both lives out of post-partum depression. Zeal said he'd rather fight for something online than join the rest of the bums at the local bar and drink himself to death.
That said, yes, many of us took the game way too far, but if you look at our society, that's how we treat everything. We want our violinists in the practice room for 8 hours a day. We want our athletes training non-stop. We want our students studying as much as possible. We want all A's, top scores, bigger, faster, stronger. We want everyone to be the best—and then at the same time, when someone close to us actually tries to walk that path, we get upset. We tell them they're addicted, they're obsessed. We tell them they need to find "balance." We tell them not to kill themselves for it.
I treated the World of Warcraft the same way my parents asked that I treat my studies, classical piano, hockey. And what happened? I became one of the best. But since it was in a video game and not a more socially-acceptable medium, nobody cared.
To say that World of Warcraft ruins lives is to, quite honestly, not know anything about the game or the community. This game is the reason I made it through high school. This game brought millions of kids out of their shells (for better or worse). This game introduced me to people I'd never have met in my white, wealthy, suburban bubble.
This game expanded my view of the world, and made me realize that I wasn't alone.