EverQuest Let Me Be the Hero Mental Illness Wouldn’t In Real Life

It’s easy to see online gaming as a just a hobby, but for me it was a chance to be something that the real world often almost always denied me because of my mental problems; the chance to be needed and appreciated.

I have always felt a bit different. I could never really put my finger on it. I just knew that things were off. I would get sick over small things, such as organizing my back pack for school. And, I mean really sick. Vomiting and extreme anxiety sick. The same way certain people get sick over flying in an air plane.

I found myself not wanting to be around other kids, I wanted to be left alone. Even around my own family at times I felt extreme anxiety. I started making up excuses so I would not have to attend family gatherings. I remember my mother telling me a story of when I was in daycare. She said I refused to take naps and participate with other kids. I would just stare out the entrance window waiting for her to pick me up. They eventually just put a desk out there for me so I could at least do school work. This went on for an entire year.

I always felt like I was being watched or judged by others. I never felt comfortable except maybe when I was performing on stage for theater. I suppose it was because I wasn't myself; I was playing a character. I absolutely loved being on stage and in control. Control. It's just one word, but for me it's the world. There is no worse feeling than not being in control of yourself. Like being trapped in your own mind.

I have always been an avid gamer. I love video games. Some of my fondest memories are of watching my brother plays games, then switching off and he watching me. We would give each advice, and help each other. It was like being part of a movie that we were controlling. I had no worries when playing. I could escape the real world for a few hours. I didn't have to be in my own skin.

It was around 2000 that gaming changed my life. Slowly, we had started to pinpoint what was "wrong" with me. Extreme social anxiety. Bipolar Disorder. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It's scary to find out there is something wrong with you, and there is no quick easy fix. I still struggle till this day in fact. Still, even though I knew what was wrong, which brought some relief, I continued to be very unhappy and depressed.

In an effort to try and rekindle my friendship with a high school buddy, I agreed to go over to his house one day and watch him play a game, EverQuest, a then-new fantasy role-playing game with multiplayer. He explained to me that it was unlike anything I have ever seen. I remember watching him log in for the first time. He showed me around a virtual town called Freeport and pointed out that everyone I was seeing walking around were real people. I was blown away, I had no idea there existed a game where you could actively play with others from all around the world. He asked me to make a character and play for a bit, I remember looking out the window and watching the sun go down. Next time I looked out, it was coming back up. I had played all night and didn't even realize it.

Everquest is both easy, and complicated. It's an online world, where you can create your own destiny and make your own mark. You can meet new friends and battle dragons. All with other real people. Simply put, it is an online, 3D, virtual Dungeons & Dragons game... that never ends. Today after 16 years it remains one of the longest running MMORPGs.

I bought my own game and created my own account to begin my adventure. The early levels were very rough. I died a lot, but I also learned a lot. I met friends who also were leveling-up their characters and we helped each other much the same way my brother and I would help each other growing up. In most video games, when you reach maximum level the game is over. In EverQuest it is just the beginning of your real adventure. To take on monumental tasks that you cannot possibly do alone like fighting massive dragons you have to rely on others. Most importantly they rely on you.

While my real life was in shambles my life in Norrath was flourishing. I had joined a guild — Basically, a giant group with equal goals and a place to talk and hang out. I was really growing into my character. I was very good at what I did. Yes, I was probably spending way too much time in the game, which hurt my relationships in the real world. But, in this online world I didn't have to worry about such things. While most people my age were hitting the clubs and bars. I was joining groups in EverQuest for all night experience grinds and collecting loot. All while having so much fun chatting with friends and new faces.

How many people can say they have been friends with the same group of people for 15 years? I can. I have formed friendships that will last for the rest of my life. Because of EverQuest I have friends with equal interests and hobbies. They accept me for who I am, not for what I am, or what is "wrong" with me. My best friends in the whole world is someone I met 15 years ago in an online world, and while I have long since left the world of Norrath to explore and conquer other online worlds I will always remember the world of EverQuest. Most of all, I will always remember how I was treated; like a real person. Not as something broken or something people felt sorry for and treated different. I was "normal."

It gave me an online world where I didn't have to be myself. I was sought after for my ability to support groups and the guild. People wanted me to be in their "lives." I was able to slay dragons and accomplish tasks with like-minded people, all within the safety of my own home. I was in control of my own destiny; I could be a contributing member of a society. It was something no one would ever call me in the real world. It's pretty weird to think about some of my best memories have been in in virtual worlds, but, if the feelings I get from those memories are real does it matter where they come from? Is it any different from remembering your first car ride or your first pet? I don't think so. I am happy to a part of these online worlds. They gave me a tool to become something I have never thought of myself in real life; useful.

Editor's note: The byline on this story is a pseudonym.

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