Free for All: The healing ability of instant access

Recently I received a diagnosis from my doctor that did not make me happy. While it was far from a death sentence, it was still pretty heavy news. Immediately I went into information-gathering mode, scouring the internet for other people's stories and possible outcomes. If any of you have gone through this sort of thing before, you know how this type of research can actually have the opposite effect on you, only making you feel worse.

So, I decided to stop it. I had my medicine, I knew what I had to do, and I decided to concentrate on ending the speculative thinking. Worse case scenarios are just that, and life is filled with them. Worrying about what might happen in 40, 20 or even five years is sort of a waste of time. Yes, you must be prepared and need to make plans to cover any possibilities, but thinking about all those possibilities can cause stresses of their own, making the situation worse.

I had enough of it pretty quickly. I'm not a down person most of the time. I wanted to forget about it for a while, so I sat down and loaded up a game that I had been missing lately.

Click past the cut and see what I discovered.

First, it's important to note that, while there are always people in worse situations than our own, stress is stress. If you are having marital difficulties, feeling overwhelmed with bills, or just having a crappy day at work, you still have to deal with that stress appropriately or face the consequences. Stress can cause many health issues, and it's easy to see how. Ever notice how people cook for someone who has recently lost someone they love? If we allow it, a stressful situation will starve us.

So despite the fact that my diagnosis was, luckily, not nearly as bad as some have received, it bothered me. I had to deal with the situation and had to make sure that I was honest with myself. I had gathered information, decided what I needed to do, and wrote it all down.

Then I wanted to rest. I wanted to escape a bit. So I loaded up Wurm Online.

"I immediately laid out a tiny shack and fence to keep myself safe, gathered together some tinder, and made myself a warm fire as the sun went down."

I remember how I felt when I first discovered the Massively Wurm Village island. While there were a few buildings on it, it was a relatively blank canvas, nothing but scorpions, mountain lions, lava and woods. I immediately laid out a tiny shack and fence to keep myself safe, gathered together some tinder, and made myself a warm fire as the sun went down. While not the most graphically intense game out there, Wurm has an ability to charm almost anyone after dark. It gets very dark in Wurm, and having a lit fire can be a source of real comfort. I remember having no idea why I wanted such a remote location, but I liked the seclusion. It took forever to get to the island, but it was well worth it.

When I logged in this weekend, it was as though I hadn't seen the village since I first landed. Perhaps my recent in-and-out play sessions didn't allow me to take it all in, but the village has grown. We not only have dozens of buildings but many members as well. I can log in at almost any hour and there is usually someone on, banging away at a fence or anvil.

It was so good to hear that artificial wind. A few small droplets of rain fell from the sky, and the sun glimmered on the water. Far away I could see the mainland, mountains rising behind. Normally, logging into Wurm fired off every synapse in my brain, and I immediately got to work on a project or idea. But this time I just stopped for a while and enjoyed it. I said hello to everyone but just sort of looked around and enjoyed this make-believe home we had all built, all of us from different parts of the world. It felt almost like returning home.

Normally I frown on players who take a little too much out of their game. Of course, I am often talking about hardcore players who approach these games as work or as a second job. They seem locked into the rhythms of the game just as they would be locked into the rhythms of the office. There are rules they follow and "proper" ways to play. I've always been bothered by this, simply because I never understood the point of clocking out from a job you hate just to clock into a job you hate set within a fantasy world.

"Retirees often feel sick or down when because they miss the rhythms of the workplace, and I imagine that for some players the game represents a continuation of that rhythm."

Later I realized that, for many players, that rhythm is stressfully reassuring. They are used the harshness, to put it simply. Retirees often feel sick or down when because they miss the rhythms of the workplace, and I imagine that for some players the game represents a continuation of that rhythm. Perhaps the reliability and repetition is worth the price in stress?

I've also met many players who are disabled in one way or another, to varying degrees. I know people who literally have a hard time leaving their beds much less their houses. For them, the game is a way of life -- no, it is a life. I have never had an issue with players like this simply because I cannot fathom being in that situation. If my current diagnosis is any indication, I would be curled up into a proper ball in the corner if I had received a far worse one. I guess it bothers me when players just take it much too seriously and forget to get any pleasure out of it at all.

Free access, or at least free basic access, to games can help people relieve stress. I believe this. While many of us might chuckle at the idea of worrying about a simple 15-dollar-a-month subscription, consider this: After I walked out of that doctor's office, I was 1,100 dollars poorer. While I was prepared for the situation, the last thing many people would want to do in a similar situation would be to spend more money. Money woes add on stress to the already stressful situation, and escape is even more needed.

A free game can provide some of this much-needed escape. While paying $1,100 was not a lot of fun, consider someone who might have to pay tens of thousands of dollars per year in expenses. Imagine being a gamer who no longer had the ability to pay his rent, much less pay for a boxed game.

I already appreciated the ability to play games for free before my trip to the doctor, and I had already spoken out on the need for free or very cheap and accessible games for those who might be disabled or very poor. Gaming should be for everyone. After my trip to the doctor, however, I have grown to absolutely love the idea of a free, virtual Garden of Eden for those who might need a break.

Sometimes, it's just nice to hear the sound of virtual water lapping the shore.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!
This article was originally published on Massively.