One of the first documentaries I watched is called In the Realms of the Unreal. It’s about Henry Darger, a recluse who, unknown to everyone around him, made a massive amount of art and literature about a group of girls called the Vivian Girls and their war against a hostile child enslaving nation. Darger is hailed as an “outsider artist”-someone who makes lasting art yet is completely out of the intellectual and creative class.
He also was mentally ill.
The reason why I mention him, is because for him, his mental illness manifested in many ways: in his art, in an obsession with the weather, in compulsive churchgoing. These things absorbed him, but kept him isolated. What worries me is that for many, MMOs are becoming similar coping mechanisms, and their grinding, rote gameplay acts on that and attracts people who should by many means be into therapy or dealing with issues.
A study referenced in this news article indicated that there may be a higher level of depression for both hardcore and roleplaying players. In my own informal experience, I’ve known at least 3 people suffering from forms of it in games, some very severe. I’ve heard of more, and I wonder how many other people can share the same response.
One of the three people I knew recently. She is an attractive, intelligent woman that is an excellent roleplayer who suffers from borderline personality disorder. It’s a form of mental illness that manifests in extreme mood swings and fear of abandonment, to wild degrees. One minute they are loving and caring, the next very bitter and hateful, often swinging from both extremes in quick succession. I fell for her and had to break it off because of this: the fears of abandonment and demands for time are too extreme, and even the slightest thing may be a personal attack and start endless fights. Medication can’t help it.
What worries me is that the sort of half-life an MMO gives can keep people hidden and isolated. The heartbreaking thing about Henry Darger is that no one knew him: he was so reclusive people couldn’t agree on even what he is like. While MMOs offer somewhat of a community, in many ways they are like what I would call a Darger trap: something that ensnares interest and isolates people from the greater world at large and hides any problems.
My first darksider post is this: while people tout virtual worlds’ benefits for education, they really don’t see that they warehouse a lot of people too. I think about that girl, and feel loss, because I had to leave her. The greater loss is though that no one knew why she acted the way she did, and I wonder how many people play like her: “I play this because I have nothing else.”