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The Warcraft Post

October 29, 2010

This won’t be the last one, but it’s the first one.

When I was sick, I played Warcraft a lot.

I played a warrior. I chose that class for two reasons. First, because Chris and his best friend from high school Bryan wanted to play human characters and if I played a druid, my first choice, I’d have to start out in another zone. My choices were limited to human classes: paladin, priest, warlock, mage, and warrior. I rolled a warrior because, I thought, “How hard can it be? You whack stuff with a sword.”

How was I to know? For the 99% of people reading this post who don’t play Warcraft, playing a warrior is, or was at that time, hard. Fun, but tricky.

I slowly slipped into obsession. At first, it was because I was dying, and Warcraft offered me that middle ground between what I wanted to do, slipping out into the woods and curling up for the long sleep, and what I had to do: laundry, errands, dinner. Later, when I knew what was wrong, Warcraft gave me an escape, where I could go and not think about cancer, about what I was going through, about the slim chance I would survive, about the greater chance that it would all have been for naught. I had a magic sword, and I stood toe-to-toe with monsters and dragons and, with the help of my friends, killed them.

The great thing about my character, Evita, a warrior, was that I was unkillable. It was my character, the tank, who faced the monster, the Boss in game parlance, and took his beating, and did not die.

That’s what I thought about during everything. “Get your chemo fighters ready,” they told me. “You can beat this thing, but you need your imagination!”

I had more than an imagination. I had a magic sword and shield, and I used them. I used them when I felt the cancer creeping through my body, and I used them when I felt the chemotherapy chasing it into submission, and scorching the earth when it fled. It wasn’t the warmth of Taxol, of FEC, I felt coursing through my veins. It was the healing spells of my friends Kianamoon and Corinn, and most especially Aericora who kept me alive during the hours upon hours of play, when I was too sick, too tired, too miserable to so much as speak to my family or friends, but I could play Warcraft.

Later, after I’d been declared “cancer-free,” the warrior stopped being fun. I’m sure there were many factors, not the least of which was that the toll of my treatment, the surgery, the chemotherapy, and the radiation, slowed my reaction time, and I was not as good at playing as I had been. More, so, I felt that it was no longer time to face down the demons. It was time to heal, in life, and therefore in game.

I finished leveling my second character, Camelia, a druid, and healed. The first thing I learned is that you can’t heal if you are dead, so I learned first and foremost to heal myself, and for the two years of recovery it took for me to get over cancer, in the privacy of my own thoughts, I kept the healing spells going. My imaginary magic fiery sword and shield of survival had been replaced with the sparkly green glow of health. Even now, I am surprised every time I look in the mirror, that I can’t see it.

Beyond the obvious metaphor, however, what I really gained from Warcraft was a community.

I do have a strong cancer support group, full of typical breast cancer survivors, lovely post-menopausal women, grandmother-types. They’re great, and if you need grandmothering, as I do, there is not a better place to be. I tried attending a group of young cancer survivors, but they were all about activism and rallying around the cause, and, while it’s a great cause, and one that I have surely benefitted from, it’s never going to be my cause.

But attending support groups takes time, and I found I would rather just stay home and play Warcraft. The truth is, people do not play Warcraft all the time unless their real lives suck beyond the telling.

For the better part of four years, the World of Warcraft has been where I fit in. We don’t talk much about our problems, but we all have them, and that common bond brings us together as surely as standing together to face down a fire breathing dragon. Addiction? Depression? Obesity? Illness? It doesn’t matter. I’ve had the opportunity to become friends — really, truly friends — with people I would never have been able to get to know in my real life, where almost everyone I know not only went to college, but went to an elite private college and graduate school.

My real life friends. You are awesome, you really are, and I love you, but you could not understand what I was going through. I was going to die and leave my children with nothing but the memory of me dying from cancer and ignoring them to play Warcraft all the time. I know you wanted to be there for me, but you just couldn’t. It was beyond your capacity.

The people who were there for me were the guys, so many of them, living in their mom or dad’s basement, unemployed, too depressed and too uneducated to get a job. The dish washers. The artists and actors who the world sees as waiters. The students, about to fail out of college, about to drop out because their parents need them to work and pay the mortgage. The addict, homeless, playing Warcraft on a laptop in his car off of a jacked wireless connection. The teenage kids, so many of them, fat, bad at sports, acne-riddled, too smart to fit in, some of them terrified to tell their parents they’re gay, but they tell me, because I’m safe, and all I can say is “OMG don’t tell creepy strangers on the internet stuff like that” but what I want to say is that it’s okay, and I do say it. The single mom working as a stripper to pay her kid’s private school tuition. The other cancer patient, the one who died, the one whose son occasionally logs on to her account and breaks my heart every time when I see she’s come online. The veterans, some in wheelchairs, all of them just looking for a place to go, to be with people, when going out in public is nothing but a cruel reminder that they can never look at life the same way again.

People often ask me about the lessons cancer has taught me.

Cancer didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. Cancer taught me to recognize my strengths.

Warcraft has blown apart the bars of the prison I used to live in, a prison of class, of privilege, of education.  It’s like the Sermon on the Mount, writ large, with lasers!  “But the people who play computer games…” my real life friends have said.  “Exactly,” I respond.

From → Warcraft

  1. this is a fantastic post.

  2. Barbara permalink

    Amazing post, ER.

  3. Nina permalink

    Really interesting post, ER. Thank you.

  4. Wow, you really can tell it. ❤ you.

  5. i loved this one. i have two brothers who are big time gamers (at least one of them is big on warcraft too), and this was a fascinating insight into that part of their lives. beautifully done.

  6. Thank you Evi, for this post. It made me so happy. ❤

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