Lots of people talking today about Robert Kazinsky, the hunky British actor playing Orgrim Doomhammer in the upcoming movie, “Warcraft”. He made the comment that the game, World of Warcraft, saved his life, and they discussed it seriously without the typical making fun of gaming or gamers as a whole. Some of my friends said I should share my story as well, on how Warcraft saved my life too.
I started playing about halfway through “Wrath of the Lich King”. I’d always liked role-playing games, and had heard good things so I thought I’d try it out. I had three young kids, 5/7/9, all 3 diagnosed on the Autistic spectrum, busy job, and wanted a good game to escape to at night after the kids were in bed. My oldest is the most affected by Autism, and I named my first character after him as a way to fantasize about him overcoming all his limitations. My son Alex became Alexithorn, the night elf Hunter. I played off and on for a month or so, and was having fun leveling up and exploring. I remember my first time taking the boat over to Stormwind and seeing how many other players there were (remember, this was WotLK days so realm population was big then), I met some great people and joined a guild. Then came Christmas, 2008, when everything changed.
On Christmas Eve 2008, we got the news that my wife had breast cancer. Didn’t make for a fun Christmas, and while I don’t think I was online Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I spent some time during the holiday escaping into Azeroth, using the leveling grind to take my mind off things while we waited for those first appointments to get the plan together for beating the cancer. I confided in a few trusted guildmates what was happening, one of them also with a wife fighting cancer. They were there for me, and we became friends offline as well.
2009 was a bad year, no bones about it. My wife had surgery to remove the lump, then a grueling chemo regimen for about 6 months. After that, she had radiation to finish off the treatment in the fall of 2009. During that time, as husband and father, my job was pretty intense. I would get the kids ready for their school (kindergarten/2nd grade/4th grade), I would work full time at my job, then help get dinner and nighttime routine done for the kids. My wife would do as much as she could, but I focused on making sure she was able to have her time to recover between chemo treatments without worrying too much about the house and the kids. We had an incredible team of habilitation and respite workers through the disability programs we already had going with the kids, so that was a tremendous help as well. I also focused on keeping my wife’s spirits up, as mental attitude is half the fight when dealing with cancer.
During this period, I spent a lot of time in Azeroth. It became my place to go to escape from the world of cancer, driving to and from appointments, helping to change IV bags at home, the stress of work, everything. My friends helped me recharge myself so that I could keep the positive attitude in real life. I imagined that I could leave my worries and troubles in Azeroth, as my character was strong and focused on saving the world from one evil or another. The mobs in the game became an analogue to me for fighting cancer itself, and I could beat that in game. Of course, then I found the Crusader Bridenbrad quests in Icecrown, and I was a blubbering mess. For those who might not be familiar with them, they were done as a tribute for a brother of someone at Blizzard Entertainment who died of cancer, and are heartbreakingly awesome. Those quests are still amazing to me, and I do them on each of my alts that have been leveled up over the years.
I guess my point is that without World of Warcraft in my life at that time, I don’t know that I would have made it through 2009 in a functional way. The stress was tremendous, and I probably would have snapped by the end of that first year. I wouldn’t have been able to keep my spirits up enough to help my wife with hers, which could have changed the course of the fight. I have so many difficult memories from that year, but they are offset by the good memories I have from friends, questing, and raiding through Azeroth and Northrend.
We won that fight in 2009, only to have it come back as Stage 4 in 2011. We fought it into remission the by the next year, where it stayed until this past summer when it woke up again. We’re still fighting, and keeping up hope for the future. Warcraft still plays a part in my life, though I don’t play nearly as much as I did that first year. Friends came back for the assault on Draenor, and will probably be back for Legion. I’ll keep fighting the demon hordes online, giving me the strength to fight the demons in real life.
For the Alliance, and Lok’tar Ogar