I remember the first few years when MMORPGs were a going concern and how so many people back then used to justify their bad behavior in them by saying “it’s just a game.” I suppose some folks will always do that.
But a new piece on the BBC this week shows how wrong that idea is, has always been. It’s the story of a Norwegian named Mats, a young man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, who blossomed as an MMO gamer when he became wheelchair-bound. Though his parents say they didn’t really understand his passion for games like World of Warcraft until he was gone, he was busy the whole time leading a rich social life inside Azeroth as part of a long-standing guild.
“I think Mats was lucky to belong to our time, technologically,” one of his friends told the BBC. “In [his guild] Starlight he was a key member. If he had been born 15 years earlier, he wouldn’t have found a community like that.”
After Mats’ death in 2014 – his disease usually claims the lives of its victims by their early 20s – his parents posted a message for the “avatars” he’d interacted with and were slammed with a long string of condolences and love. His guild then pooled money so they could all travel from all over Europe to attend his funeral and eulogize him. They were, as his parents belatedly realized, a whole lot more than “avatars,” and their son wasn’t wasting his precious and short life in “just a game.”
I’m not crying – you’re crying.