It's always fun to indulge in WoW talk with fellow players, but our favorite interviews for 15 Minutes of Fame happen with people for whom WoW opens doors – whether as fun and frothy as indulging another hobby by crafting a replica of Booty Bay entirely out of Legos or as meaningful as being able to game in a non-threatening, non-judgmental atmosphere among like-minded friends.
This week's featured player exemplifies the power of WoW to energize and empower people's lives. MMOs can make wonderful outlets for disabled players, who find online camaraderie and 24-hour access amenable to their unique needs. Kalzedhan Hurenfal of Feathermoon-A US not only games "around" his limitations but in fact focuses his crosshairs dead on them: he's a tank with a diagnosed panic disorder.
Kalzedhan suffers from a handful of debilitating mental disorders that keep him socially paralyzed, homebound and unable to function in a productive work environment. Yet through WoW, Kalzedhan not only has been able to re-engage in relationships and personal achievements – he does it in the hotseat as a tanking Warrior.
Main character Kalzedhan Hurenfal, Dwarf Prot Warrior
Alt Tirrala, Gnome Frost Mage
WoW player since March 3, 2005
15 Minutes of Fame: So Kalzedhan, we understand you're faced with a small host of mental difficulties. What conditions have you been diagnosed with?
Kalzedhan: I suffer from several mental illnesses, to varying degrees. I have bipolar disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, post traumatic stress disorder and mild obsessive-compulsive disorder. I also have back problems that make it difficult for me to stand or walk for long periods of time. Basically, it boils down to being difficult to go to unfamiliar places or be around crowds of unfamiliar people, as well as having sleep and depression difficulties.
With those kinds of limitations, are you able to work or go to school?
I am unable to work and spend a majority of my time gaming -- sometimes up to 14 hours a day, but usually between six to 12 hours a day. I also run a pen-and-paper RPG called Harnmaster once a week or so.
Tanking is generally considered a fairly stressful position. How on earth did you evolve into this spot?
Well, first of all, Order of Twilight raids but isn't what I would call a "raiding guild". We are much more relaxed than most raiding guilds seem to be. How did I become a tank? Well, before I even bought WoW, I talked extensively with the guild master, Zanriel, and asked him what we needed. He said that we were short on tanks -- so a tank I became.
I like tanking, but I also love the other classes as well. I currently have one character of every class and one of every race on my Feathermoon account. If they ever release a new class or race, they better give me some new slots. I don't know how I could choose to delete one.
Many tanks have a hard time staying focused, calm and level-headed during encounters. What's your method of managing the chaos?
I focus on one thing at a time. If I am supposed to be keeping the aggro of a specific mob, my focus is there. If the DPS pulls it off me, I will try to get it back, but getting it yanked from me is not my fault if I am doing my job properly. I don't worry about what everyone else is doing. I trust that my other raid members are doing their job.
I keep an eye on my health bar, but I trust that even if it gets low, the healers are on top of it. I might pop a Shield Wall or Last Stand if it really gets down there -- but it doesn't come to that too often. There is a saying, "If the tank dies, it is the healer's fault; if the healer dies, it's the tank's fault; if the DPS dies, it's their own danged fault." I also use a lot of mods. I currently have 102 mods (plus their modules) installed. The mods help keep me aware of when I gain/lose aggro, what events are upcoming in the raid, where things are, etc.
Do any of your mental and emotional characteristics actually help you be a better tank?
My OCD I think does. I am obsessive about keeping my mods up to date and finding good mods, keeping my gear repaired, keeping stocked up on food, reagents, etc. I am usually fairly well prepared before the raid starts. I am also able to keep my focus and block out the extra stuff that can distract some people.
Do you have any tricks or routines to keep your anxieties from overwhelming you during a raid?
First, I joined a very relaxed guild. If we wipe, no one screams or swears at someone about how they caused a wipe. Drama is kept to a minimum. We like to work with our members, teaching them how to raid and going at the pace that everyone can keep up with. No, we aren't one of those guilds that hit Black Temple before the nerf. The experienced raid team had Karazhan on farm status and was venturing into Zul'Aman. The novice raid team was clearing Kara almost regularly. But that was about the extent of it.
Secondly, if things get a bit stressful, I practice my breathing exercises, take a drink of water. Maybe, I ask the raid to take a short break, or I might take an anti-anxiety med. If it gets too bad, I will let people know and see if we can find a replacement. I also have a very supportive wife (who I introduced to WoW), and she provides me with a lot of help when I need it.
What does online gaming allow you to do that you might not feel able to do or comfortable with in non-virtual space?
Interact with people, help people, accomplish things. With my disabilities, I am unable to work. Most people don't realize just how much of our sense self-worth is tied into our jobs. When people meet, one of the first questions someone will ask you is, "So what do you do for a living?" Answering "nothing" makes you feel like a complete failure in life.
But with being an officer in WoW, I can feel that I am doing something. I am helping out other players, coming up with guild event ideas, getting those achievements, etc. So I get a sense of accomplishment from WoW that I lack by being stuck at home most of the time.
How has playing WoW affected your life? What aspects of your life are better because you play WoW?
Because of my anxieties, I am cut off from people, so WoW helps me connect with other people. I can chat, make friendships, meet people from other countries, etc. It really help me not to feel so isolated. Isolation just makes depression even worse. I used to be very social and loved to talk to new people. I loved to debate -- religion, politics, etc. But my anxiety doesn't allow me to do that like I used to. At least in WoW, I can get a sense of being out among people while still being in my "safety zone."
Are there any situations in game that you specifically avoid?
Drama. The anxiety produced by extended or intense drama can trigger a panic attack. Thankfully, our guild is very low drama, and if I join a PUG that starts producing more drama than I can handle, I say goodbye and drop.
Yes, I am under the care of a doctor. I see a couple of them regularly. One of them has no clue about what WoW even is, but the other feels that WoW is good for me. She sometimes worries about just how much time I spend on it but overall is pleased that I am socializing.
Tell us about a time in game that was very difficult for you, based on your mental difficulties. What happened, and how did you handle things?
Well, quite a while back there was some major guild drama that resulted in some of our members and officers splitting off into another Guild. I had my own strong feelings about what was going on at the time, and I could see both sides of the issue. As things built, I found myself either not logging on as much, or soloing a lot more and just trying to avoid the situation as best as I could. The stress of it got to the point that I considered leaving the guild and seeking another guild. I even talked with my wife about whether I should continue playing WoW.
But we got through it. Things settled back down and I continued on with my guild. I am so grateful for the support of my wife during that time. It was a very rough patch. That is probably part of that led to my burnout several months later, when I didn't log on hardly at all for about three months.
What other games do you enjoy?
Other gaming interests: Oblivion, Fallout 3 (as soon as I can afford it), Civilization IV, The Sims 2, regular pen-and-paper RPGs like HarnMaster (I used to own a pen-and-paper game store).
Any advice for other gamers with any of the conditions you have?
For readers with anxiety or depression, there are guilds out there that aren't full of daily or even weekly drama. You just have to look for them. For those without this sort of severely limiting disability, remember that while this is a game and should be treated as such, it can also be fairly important to people for reasons that you are unaware of. Try to treat others with respect and give others the benefit of the doubt.