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How “World of Warcraft” helped me through my divorce
My marriage was falling apart when my son begged me to play. Who knew a computer game could teach me so much?

Real Families is a personal-essay series that celebrates the surprising and ever-shifting nature of domestic life in the 21st century . If y ou have a fascinating, original story y ou’d like to share, email Continue You can also post y our essay on Open Salon and tag it “real families.”

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For those of you without boys underfoot: “World of Warcraft” is an online computer game where players log in to explore a world of grim forests, mountain ranges and jungles crawling with purple Undead, among other creatures. Quests earn treasure, skills and opportunities for ever-moredifficult quests. Death is frequent, but adds up to only a brief pause in play. “Resurrection” begins in the shadow of an angel hovering to spooky music. Then you run to the spot where you were slaughtered, click “accept,” live again and play on. “WoW,” as it is known, is not for moms, especially ones who think computer-based games are only slightly less harmful than crack cocaine. It is not necessarily for people with jobs or old houses or novels-inprogress. Playing can suck up entire afternoons. At the end of a session, all I have to show for my time is a shoulder twisted by keyboarding and a virtual knapsack filled with ruined leather scraps (you can loot and skin your prey), copper coins and frayed pants, depending on my adventures. “WoW” is definitely not for someone facing the end of three decades of marriage. Yet I am all of these things as well as a Darkspear Troll mage, with my home in the Barren Lands, a savanna populated with livid pink TRexes who wear blue necklaces and matching earrings. I am Level 21 (out of 7 0), just high enough to get out of the newbie playpen and die suddenly as I stray past cave bears or mega-spiders. Beside an occasional game of “Pong” played when I waitressed as a college student, I am not a gamer. My son — 9, intensely social, a reader

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of Greek myths and Marvel Comics and deprived of even a Game Boy — is the one who proposed spending his allowance on a “WoW” installation disk and the monthly subscription necessary to play. Another summer, I would have enforced the ban on computer-based games. Too many times, I’ve seen formerly healthy, interesting, friendly boys grow fat and sullen in front of a screen. My husband and I treasured our son’s bright interest in the world, his delicious combination of bravado and intensity that makes little boys such delightful creatures. Until my husband delivered the 10-minute fatwa: He wasn’t happy, had never been and wanted (or already had) the younger girlfriend. Without warning, I joined a great and storied company: the Unwanted. Summer had just begun. When my husband and I decided to have children and buy a house, we read all of the how-to books. Now, faced with divorce, I headed to the bookstore, struggling to map the terrain of lawyers and therapists and single parenthood. At 14, my daughter is old enough to imagine life post-parent. But my son is still in that time (I remember it well) when you cannot imagine living without your mom and dad. That summer, my son forbid me to swim beyond the crest of the waves when we visited the beach. At night, he would sneak into my bed, pressing his feet into mine. He examined me for signs that I was falling apart. So when he asked for “WoW,” I surprised myself by saying yes. To play, you create an avatar from one of two factions: Horde or Alliance. The Alliance has more beautiful avatars; the Horde more interesting ones. I selected a Horde troll, since I could have tusks like a wild boar. Tusks, I reasoned, would be a useful feature to have in the life I found myself so unwillingly leading, as a divorced, almost 50 mother of two. In many ways, “WoW” was weirdly evocative of what I faced in life. I was newly alone and, like my avatar, dependent on the skills I had, not the ones I wished for. At each turn, I seemed to be facing new dangers. Often, I died. But I rose again and again, finding within myself a bedrock strength that even this calamity did not erase. My son and I learned “WoW” together. While he commandeered the keyboard, I sat beside him, to help him choose a path. “WoW” has rightly been praised as a game developers’ masterpiece of landscape. The flat expanse of eastern Colombia, for example, is similar to the Barren Lands. Darnassus looks like a nighttime version of Muir Woods, if only someone had installed glowing purple lights and slime creatures. My son has a generous, intuitive spirit. Though I’ve done my best to seem normal, like a weather vane he reads my moods. For weeks, I walked like the Undead through the routines of family life. I felt as gaping as the creatures in Undercity, a “WoW” metropolis, with their chests ripped open to expose neon-colored hearts. During the miserable months of August, I felt suffocated by the heat and loneliness, abandoned in some game cul-de-sac the developers had forgotten to populate. Then my son would invite me to play, his voice shiny with intentional cheer. I would find myself with his arm curled around my neck like the tenderest, toughest vine. His fear of what was happening to us moored me to earth. The end of love is a voyage to an unknown land, with mysteries and dangers that I had to learn to navigate. No wonder explorers need to write accounts of their travels. If the story goes untold, then it is just a lot of pounding down unnamed trails, with no real reward. So here are my “WoW” lessons, thanks to my son: Adversity earns experience that levels you up and gives you more power. I don’t advise you to head heedlessly into an unexplored place; monsters can smack you down without warning. Read the rule book first. On the other hand, exploring can lead you to a particularly choice piece of treasure. Caution and adventure can be compatible, in other words. Flying is always a good idea. Watch your health and mana, the “WoW” term for spirit and magical power. But do not conserve these endlessly, since spending some can lead to great rewards. Repair your armor. Drink water. There is always a king at the center of the castle or the depths of a cave and it is a good idea to talk to him. Help

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other players when they are in trouble. If you are lucky, another player will help you just when you need it. I hate seeing my children hurt. But I’ve also seen my son reveal gifts that had, until my “WoW” summer, been hidden to me. My son ministered to me, in his way and with his tools. Yes, it was via a computer game, that mixed bag. He sat with me and hugged me and helped me fire-blast Scarlet Hunters and retrieve crates stolen by Dustwind Harpies. Through these wild characters, all the gore and running, with the shrill shriek of Decayed Morlocks in my ears, I felt his love. I was never, really, alone. On many afternoons, a little boy carried me. More Robin Kirk




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Jack Acid
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Meanwhile, Your ex-husband had a real life with another actual human being. I think he probably picked the better road.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Max level in WoW is 85 I am Level 21 (out of 70), Unless you haven't played in years, the max level in Wow is 85. The max levels are. The last three are expansions. Classic = 60 Burning Crusade = 7 0 Wrath of Lich King = 80 Cataclysm = 85
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Well said

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Bravo to you. I can't tell you how closely I can relate to this article. I have a son who was 9 the summer my husband issued the same "fatwa." My son has been begging me for years to learn to play WoW. Now, 18 months after my separation, as my son pieces his new world together, maybe WoW can be a a new way for us to connect. Thanks for a great article!
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CeresWednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm

WoW can be very beneficial I have a form of autism (PDD:NOS) and for the first 17 years of my life I basically talked to no one and had zero friends. It was such a nice discovery that in-game I have no problems at all with all my social anxieties that burden me in real-life and I managed to create quite lasting friendships there. Admitting you play WoW is often cause for mockery, and many think it's just kind of scheme to keep you addicted, but whatever that, the experience of playing together with people of your choosing can be rather wonderful and for me it's worth all the evenings when I stayed inside playing.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm

inspiring As a long-time player of WoW, I have read many articles about the game but this one was the first to stir my heart. Your advice is good too! :) @Jack Acid: First of all, she started playing WoW after the divorce. Second of all, if you aren't familiar with WoW-type games, you will not understand how they can bring people together instead of isolating them. I will not bore you with the details since you seem uninterested in learning before speaking.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm

My name is Morally_Bankrupt and I'm an altoholic. My family plays WoW together. We have fun, though we do laugh at how we must look, the three of us lined up in a row, madly clicking buttons and cursing loudly whenever our dungeon group wipes. Level 85 troll shaman Level 80 undead warlock Level 80 blood elf paladin Level 47 blood elf priest Level 42 goblin mage and a few other toons too!
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 3:01 pm

That tapped something The image of a little-boy-arm, thin and soft yet firm with love, sharing with you and supporting you. That was a very strong image. I'm glad that you had a son who is so wise and so kind.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I read this intending to sneer At losers who play videogames all the time. (OK, I still will but later.) But I've been where you've been, Robin, though it was in a era when the video games were a lot lamer and less intoxicating. A divorce is always brutal, and the harshest and most brutal are the "fatwa" kind you describe -- the abandonment of a faithful spouse, and often children, and a home...for the shallowest and most selfish of reasons. If any words ever drive me to sheer head-exploding rage, it's the rewriting of history encapsulated in the phrase "I never loved you..." Yeah right. You were pretending for 10, 15, 18 years. I imagine that could drive someone to murder or suicide, or alcohol or drugs, so if all you did was hole up and play some overpriced video games, you did OK. I suppose I would still rather have read that you taught your son how to fish...or went backpacking with him through a National Park. That you built a clubhouse for him, or worked on some Boy Scout badges. Things are that are real and tangible, that would give him solid realworld skills and sense of accomplishment. I think it's a little scary how many young people are growing up entirely immersed in the world of some game or another -- and that you (as an adult and parent, as well as some other posters here) can actually say things like "yeah I met a lot of great people and had social experiences through playing a video game." NO YOU DID NOT. You likely NEVER MET any of those people in real life...never talked about anything that actually EXISTS. You were playing with them, but playing with shadows....playing "role models"...pretending. That's fine up to a point, but in gaming, there typically IS NO POINT beyond the play. You are never real people, together in real space, experiencing the unfolding of real time together. You've also sort of taught your son that when things are tough, and you are depressed and hurt, it's a great idea to bury yourself in a fictional universe, where fictional problems are solved by even more fiction. Rather than to make new friends, enjoy new REAL experiences, learn actual stuff (in a universe where you can't "fly" or be magically reincarnated) and in your case, date and form a new relationship. If I seem harsh (and yeah, I'm old and no, I don't much like gaming; it bores me to tears) it's because I've seen too many young lives wasted in front of a glowing screen. Our daughter sheepishly admits she wasted about 4-5 years of her life gaming -- mostly WOW and some Star Wars sort of game that is similar -- and that in that time, she avoided making serious decisions about her life, her education, her job (waitressing) and her boyfriend (slacker loser who was never going to marry her or have kids). Today, she's got her head on straight and is finishing college -- at age 33. But losing those 4 or 5 years was a huge bite out of her young life that was entertaining at times, certainly addictive in some aspects, but more importantly, lead to NOTHING of permanence or value...not even real flesh & blood friends you could actually call or have a beer with. I hope you've moved on, and gotten past the pain (and I hope your exhusband is roasting in hell and has sixteen kinds of painful venereal diseases), but I can't help wonder how you'd be different -- and what you might be writing about -- if you'd instead read your son a book every night, instead of gaming. Or sat out and watched the stars. Or learned to play a musical instrument. I don't know. I'm just saying. There has to be more to human existence that staring glazedly at a glowing screen for 4, 6, 8 hours at a time -and don't even get me started on the health consequences.
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Busy Body
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Blood Elf Mage--Level 85 I am a 60 year old engineer and attorney and am most certainly one of the oldest players of WOW. I play because it is fun and I constantly marvel at the user interface and the love that the developers put into the content. I think that this virtual world technology will be some of the most important for the 21st century. I have played with parents and children questing from time to time. I think it is a wonderful way for them to bond and to see each other through a new filter. I have to agree with several of the posters though, WOW can be too much of a good thing. Its not called "World of Warcrack" for nothing.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Congrats on being a rare exception But sorry, I've seen first hand (and second hand through many, many "WoW addiction" sites) the damage done when playing the game gets out of hand. Lost jobs, relationships ended, massive weight gained. And the game is such a pointless waste of time with sad graphics and no real goals after you initially "beat" it. At least something like "Final Fantasy" eventually releases its death grip on your mind. Long story short: sorry, religion and t.v. - your "opiate of the masses" status has been usurped.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Submission Procedure These little personal-interest essays on Salon, is there a process these go through before making it on the website, or are they published as soon as the writer hits "send"? These community college writing exercises tend to be of unpublishable quality, this one in particular. Maybe her husband left her for a writer who doesn't use the template in the back of the "Essay Writing 101" textbook.
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Karl L
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm

@Laure... I'd love to hear you explain to me how losing contact with all humanity by reading terrible novels is a good use of time, but spending an evening helping a friend work through the details of expanding their small business isn't? Oh, that's right, it's because while we were discussing his legal and marketing issues we were killing digital dragons. And obviously you were only recommending that people lose themselves in *good* literature. Got it. I've spent many hours playing WoW. And since I'm like most other middle-class Americans, without WoW most of those hours frankly would have been spent instead either reading or watching movies, by myself, not interacting with any human beings whatsoever. Instead, with my headset and microphone I've talked to and developed casual but multi-year friendships with dozens of real life people from all over North America (and yes, I've actually met a few, as they've passed through my city). I've talked at length about endless
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topics with them, from issues with their children to decisions about whether or not to leave their jobs and pursue their PhDs. I've congratulated them on marraige and helped through the pain of divorce too. All while pushing buttons and pursuing the death of digital bad guys. But it's ok. I see where you're coming from. Life would be so much richer (and dare I say romantic?) if we all just spent our leisure time dreamily staring into a sky full of stars and accomplishing nothing but warming our souls with the mystery of the cosmos.
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CeresWednesday, January 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

RE: the_pair Just because you don't like it is no reason to imply WoW can't be enjoyed in a healthy way. Just like with television, someone who absentmindedly watches rv the whole day is hardly someone to envy, but doesn't everyone watch tv often? That's not seem as something unhealthy.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Beautiful Story Very touching. Ignore the assholes who's mothers didn't teach them to keep their pieholes shut instead of reflexively spouting their cruel bullshit at every opportunity.
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Hissing the Golden
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm

You were married for 30 years and have a 9 year old And now you're head over heels in mommy-world? Maybe that's part of the foundational problem. When most couples are looking forward to getting some relief from mommy-daddy-world, you just can't get enough being your 3rd grader's best friend. Kinda of makes me wonder how fucked up the first 21 years were. Or were you running around the world having drunken orgies in the midst of a terrorist firefight while penning your Federal grant paperwork for a research grant to write a feminist novel about the headhunters of Borneo? Life can be pretty boring after all of that.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Just a word of caution I love WOW and thought it was a great game because it took my mind off my precarious situation - unemployed and then going on disability. I got so hooked that I barely got any sleep and I basically stopped doing anything else. After a year of non-stop playing I quit playing the game. Having said all this I thought it was a God sent during my difficult times and it seems to be the same for you. Enjoy those moments as they will become great memories after the storm has passed.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 6:33 pm

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Great article Great article. You sound like a great person and a great mother. Ignore the mean letters - maybe they're jealous you are such a good writer. Or just can't resist kicking someone when they're down. I found it very moving. Also very threatening - I write novels and if this is what's on offer out there I start to understand why people aren't buying fiction so much any more. Finally, I love it that you have found this incredible connection with your son. As he grows and needs to separate from you in the next few years I hope you'll both be able to negotiate this with grace. Therefore, as your online good fairy I wish you, in the years to come, a loving fun boyfriend, and your son a wonderful group of real life friends.
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Reality-Based Lefty
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Awesome I'm not big on these divorce pieces, because it's never clear what the real story is about why you and your husband split up -- less so when it's so one-sided, and you're both educated. But that was still an awesome piece. And I enjoyed it. Keep writing.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 7:36 pm

WoW family time It seems like nothing brings out the vicious like people saying something positive about video games! Ignore them. People hate that which they do not understand. Thanks for the beautiful article. And congratulations on finding a way to connect with your son, especially during a difficult time. I also have the pleasure of sharing WoW with my family. Although my father, my brother, my sister and I are spread across three different states, we get to "see" each other for a couple of hours every week, as we work together to battle the "mobs" in Azeroth. My sister and I are closer now than we have been for years. I've also delighted in getting to know my oldest nephew, who also occasionally joins in. None of us is "addicted". All of us have full lives and other interests outside the video game. We have plenty to talk about besides ou mutual game experience. But WoW has given us another positive way to be a family together, even as adults, even across timezones.
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Jam today...and tomorrow
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Been there, done that... ...The fatwa, the boy, the game, and I, too appreciate what it did for me. When my ex dropped the bomb, my son was about the same age, and heard about WoW from a friend. We tried it, and the first hour I played was the most fun I'd had in years, and well worth the cost. I've played almost since the game was released, a lot, at first, and less, now. My son and I played together, in the beginning, but he has since moved on to other games. When first divorced, I was pretty traumatized. I had moved to a new town, knew no one, and didn't have the confidence or psychological energy to deal with it. Over time, I developed in-game friendships, and despite what one other poster said - yeah, they are real friendships. We visit in one another's homes, have meals together, talk outside of the game, etc.

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Eventually, my confidence boosted by my in-game relationships, I was able to get out of the house and find other, local friends. I play less, now, and spend more time camping, crafting, etc. My son also worked through similar issues, and eventually gave up most of his game time for sports and girls :-) He uses some of the team and leadership skills he learned from gaming in his non-gaming life, too, which is a nice plus. So, I say, good for you! I wish you both the joys of gaming, and of "real life." The two, despite the claims of some in this thread, are not incompatible.
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