The following essay was written in response to our Friends and Family prompt over on Tumblr where we invited our community to give their thoughts on the theme of the month!
If someone had told me 10 years ago that one of the most important relationships of my entire life would begin in an online gaming community, I’d probably have looked at them a little funny. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE gaming. Always have, always will. I grew up in the age of Duck Hunt and J.J. and Jeff (bonus points if you know who they are!). Some of the best memories I have as a kid are of the times I stayed up late on a Friday night to race Princess Peach against my brother’s favorite: Toad. Games are a big part of my life. Games, to me, are a place of comfort I can escape to when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the real stressors of life- work, college, kids, bills, whatever it may be. Give me a slice of pizza, a glass of red wine, and some time alone with Fallout: New Vegas and I’m a happy girl. But though I love to game, I never really got to share it with anyone outside of my family. My brothers were my teammates, rivals, and gaming buddies. And to be honest, it was difficult to find girls my age who loved games as much as I did. Most didn’t understand it or considered it a “guy” thing.
Flash forward to 2009. I hadn’t had time for games in YEARS. I had married my high school sweetheart while a junior in college, and had just given birth to our second child- while putting the finishing touches on my psych degree AND raising a toddler. Life was hectic, to say the least, and I was a bit lonely for companionship with people my own age. Babies are adorable but they don’t have much to say about the latest New York Times Bestseller, after all. Back then, we had just arrived at my husband’s newest duty station- a little town in Georgia- and I knew absolutely no one. That summer was hot, long, and lonely. I unpacked our house and spent any leisure time I had devouring books.
During the babies’ nap time one day, I stumbled upon World of Warcraft. At the time, PC gaming was somewhat of a foreign thing for me. The only PC games I had ever really played were Oregon Trail and The Sims. I loved them both, but had grown up gaming mostly on consoles. What in the heck was an MMORPG, anyway? With a 2 week free trial, I didn’t have much to lose- I downloaded and created my first toon that afternoon. She was a human rogue, so the first zone I ever set eyes on was Elwynn Forest. I remember how pretty I thought it was, with lush green trees and dairy cows roaming around. “This is pretty cool” I thought to myself, wandering the forest, vaguely wondering what in the world a ‘murloc’ was. I was hooked from the beginning and started to play during any spare little moment I could. The world of Azeroth was a nice break from bottle sterilizing and cookie baking. Looking back on it now, I was probably a little at odds with my new status as “Stay at home” mom. I had worked and gone to school my entire life and being “on the go” was all I really knew. Playing WoW became a safe, fun way for me to feel like I was accomplishing a little something that was all my own. I could kill all the things and turn in the quest and get the gold! Yesssss! I didn’t have a lot of time to play, but my time in game was precious and I enjoyed it immensely. For me, it relieved some of the pressures of being responsible for my two, beautiful little babies and running an entire household by myself while my husband worked long hours. After bath and bedtime, I’d curl up in bed with my laptop and go on my own little adventures. I loved it. Soon into my WoW foray, I discovered guilds. I still remember frantically researching the ones for my server online, searching for my perfect WoW “home”. I found it pretty early on and was excited to join. Luckily, my new guild mates were all pretty friendly and helpful, and I was very excited to have made friends I could relate to.
I have always loved the grab bag of personalities you get in a guild. Every single guildie is a person with their own interesting life experiences and situations, sharing this common bond- the love of gaming. I met other moms like myself, older gentlemen and ladies, war veterans (something close to my heart, being that I was married to one), teenagers, college students and even people from different countries. Every single one of them might be someone I passed by in the grocery store without even thinking about it. It’s easy to go about your busy life without paying any attention to those around you. The great thing about WoW is that you actually get to meet these people- and it’s a wonderful experience, for the most part. Of course there are grumpy, unhappy people everywhere you go (gaming communities have bad apples too!) but kind, happy people are in abundance and I am so thankful for that.
My early WoW days hold such happy memories for me- giggling over how silly our toons looked when we did “naked” guild raids, logging in on my birthday to find gifts from friends in my mailbox (chocolate cake, fireworks, and other silly but treasured items), staying up late on a Saturday night to hang out in Vent and chat about life. I loved my guild. I loved my life, especially the extra fun moments spent in my favorite game with some of my very favorite people. And during this wonderfully happy, new time in my life, I met the person this essay inspired. You might know who he is (he’s gotten pretty popular since I first met him all those years ago!) or you might just be hearing about him now. But long before he was the internet personality you saw on YouTube, he was just Griff- the night elf druid tank in our guild raids and one of the funniest people I had ever known in my life.
Griff has this way about him I’ve always joked as being “too cool” (I think he secretly loves this). He’s one of those people you meet who is laidback, relaxed, and isn’t trying too hard. At the same time, he is incredibly funny and nearly always in a good mood. We became friends pretty much right away when I became a member of the same guild he had also just joined in late 2009. We were the same age but had vastly different life experiences. Though we’d both just graduated college recently, I was married with babies and he was just starting adult life on his own. Still, we got along well and hung out occasionally. Mostly, he poked fun at me for leveling at a snail’s pace and I gave him silly toon name ideas (Griffypoo!). Over the next two years, I spent varied time in WoW and it continued to be a happy spot in my life. With the demands of my household, I couldn’t be on as much as others, but the time I did spend in game was always a lot of fun.
During 2011, my WoW adventures came to an end. My husband’s job moved us overseas and I just didn’t have the time to spend on games anymore. Gaming had also, unfortunately, become a small point of contention in my marriage. My husband wasn’t a gamer by any means- frankly, he just didn’t see the point in it and didn’t understand what I liked about it. Though I had never neglected our house or our kids for a game, he still saw it as a time waster and a somewhat embarrassing hobby to have. It still shames me now to admit it, but his comments stung and I began to distance myself from games. At the time, I thought it would help our fragile marriage, though I always knew in my heart that gaming was never really the problem.
I’ll spare you the ins and outs of what led to the end of my marriage, but I will tell you that by Fall of 2013, I had filed for divorce. My ex and I had been living separately for most of the year preceding the divorce filing, and I had a wonderful job that paid well, and the two little sweethearts that I love. Though life was better in a lot of ways, I was still in a lot of pain over my impending divorce. My heart had been broken and bruised, my self-confidence was in tatters, and I was overwhelmed at starting a new life on my own as a single mother- something I had never planned on. I longed for an escape during the evenings I spent alone after work, when my kids were asleep and I had no one. At the time, we were living in Alaska- the last duty station the Army had sent us to before I parted ways with my ex-husband. The winters were beautiful, but long and brutally cold. At this point, something inside me suggested I revisit the good ol’ Azeroth stomping grounds. It had been years since I last logged in and I had long since lost touch with every single one of my old friends in the game.
Back in game, I was greeted warmly by my old, familiar guild mates. The happiness I felt at talking to them all again was immeasurable- I felt crazy for ever leaving and sad about the time I had lost with people I cared so much about. Everyone had changed so much, and I was even more surprised to find out that one of my favorite guildies- the Griffter, himself- was practically an internet celebrity. YouTube? Machinima? What?? I had no idea what was going on or what a machinima even was. Embarrassingly, I didn’t watch much YouTube and didn’t even know there was such a thing as content creators. Yes, I may as well have been living under a rock.
Griff was as happy to see me as I was seeing him, and our friendship resumed immediately. I was beyond happy to be a part of the guild I loved and participated in every event I could- the guild birthday party, the classic “naked” raid runs, weekend night chats in Vent. A few things had changed, but I was so happy to be back.
Over the course of the next several weeks, Griff and I grew closer. I opened up to him about my failed marriage and the terror I felt at starting life over again on my own. He listened to me, let me vent my frustrations without judgement or negativity, and made me laugh when I was on the verge of tears-overwhelmed and exhausted after a long day. Whether we were on Skype, texting throughout an entire day and night, or running dungeons together in WoW, we were inseparable. Without realizing it, we had become best friends. He opened up to me about struggles I never even knew he had and we each taught the other a few different things about life. Though we were completely across the country from each other, we were closer than any two people could be. Talking to him was, and still is, the highlight of my day. At the risk of sounding cheesy, we have become a part of one another. I don’t believe that will ever change, and I have WoW to thank for it.
The past year has flown by, and Griff and I are now part of a different (though wonderfully amazing!) guild from the one we first met in. Gaming brought Griff into my life, and for that reason alone I know it will never be a negative thing for me. At a time when I was so sad and very lonely, I found someone I could talk to. At a time when I was feeling particularly unloved, I found someone who I loved and who came to love me, despite having had my heart broken and not knowing if I could have love again.
Through gaming, I found someone who has had a remarkable impact on my life and who has helped shape me into the woman I am now.