I started roleplaying in WoW soon after my mother was diagnosed with cancer back in 2005. I went back to the US for a few months to help take care of her during those initial stages of her illness and found myself really upset and bored and having a lot of feelings that were difficult to sort out. Roleplaying in WoW was a break from all that -- something I could do with people without having to leave my mom all by herself, something that wasn't at all related to terminal diseases, medicine, or visits to the doctor for more radiation and chemotherapy. It was something that was all my own, it helped offset the loneliness of dealing with a terminal disease, and it gave me a bit more strength at a time when I really needed it.
Getting paid to write about roleplaying was a blessing that came along a bit later. I was reading WoW.com (then called WoWInsider.com) every day religiously for a few months, when an idea sprang into my mind, "Hey! I could write this sort of stuff." The editors here happened to be thinking, "Hey, we could use a few more people to write this sort of stuff," too. They posted a call for applications, I sent in some example articles I had in mind, and the rest is history.
That was a time when I was really growing a lot through my experiences in WoW, and I had a lot to say about them. I wanted people to understand that this game, and roleplaying within it in particular, didn't have to be just something you did to kill a few hours. It could be a fascinating challenge, one that stimulated your mind in the same way that sports could stimulate your body. WoW had the potential to make your life better, if only you could approach it with the right attitude.
I was studying for a master's degree at a Chinese arts college around the time when I started playing WoW and writing for WoW Insider, and when it came time to write my thesis at the end, I chose to write about how playing games could be an artistic experience. I drew a lot on my experiences of roleplaying and writing about roleplaying to formulate my ideas, and when I finished I felt like I had something really special to share with others. I wished I could share it with more people who didn't understand computer games, and show them what good could come from playing them.
When I first started emailing back and forth with my future wife (then just a good friend of a friend), she told me about some young people she was teaching in a special class she held every week. Every time they had 2 minutes to take a break, they would whip out their PSPs or other gaming machines and start playing. It bothered her that they seemed so disconnected from her and what she was trying to teach. After I shared my master's thesis with her, she learned how to engage the kids and talk with them about their games. She joined with them and asked them key questions about the games, and found over time that these games weren't just something the kids did to kill time, but challenges they could overcome together as part of their social bond.
Most people play WoW for the same reason. For me in particular, the social connections I made while roleplaying were key in helping me answer a lot of the tough questions that had been bothering me for years. By roleplaying a female character, for instance, I finally started finding answers to the age-old question of "what do women want?;" and by roleplaying a character with serious doubts about the existence of a Higher Power, I found myself not only growing even deeper in my own faith, but increasingly able to understand people who viewed religion as something to be feared and hated. Both women and sceptics used to scare me a bit, but by roleplaying such characters in the game, I was able to replace this fear with a kind of personal knowledge that let me relate to those people, even though they were different from me.
I've written about a lot of different roleplaying topics in "All the World's a Stage," but my favorite ones have always been those that touched on some of those deep questions. Roleplaying has taught me so much about human nature that I'm convinced it is a great way to spend your time, and I think I'll be promoting it in one form or another for the rest of my life. I will certainly play tabletop roleplaying games with my children (once I have them), and I will try to make roleplaying an integral part of their education, as well as a family activity we can use to learn about one another as well as the world around us. Perhaps even computer games like WoW can play a similar role one day, especially if game developers learn to focus more on the creative connections between people.
Even though I still love roleplaying, and I love WoW, it seems as though it's time to say goodbye to it, at least for a while. Ever since my mother passed away in August, I've felt that a chapter of my life had closed with her. I no longer need to fill the hole that her cancer opened up in our lives -- my life is full of family and friends now, and this makes it harder to find time to get together with people online, especially for hours at a time. I find with everything going on these days, there just isn't as much time or energy for WoW anymore.
I'll probably still continue to play WoW now and then, but on a much reduced scale. My guild mates will see me only rarely as I just pop in for a little while at a time, and I probably won't get enough roleplaying experience in the forseeable future to be able to write about it very effectively. I'll miss it, but I'll also be super busy with work and family.
One day, perhaps there'll be more time to play WoW and write about it once again, but in the meantime I wish my readers and fellow writers here at WoW.com the very happiest of adventures. Writing here at this website, in this column, about this topic, has been one of those mind-opening experiences that taught me many things.
On top of that, everyone here at WoW.com has been absolutely fantastic to work with (and have often covered for me when I got busy and couldn't make a deadline, especially Michael Gray), and my readers here have left me with lots of new ideas as well as encouragement. My article about the passing of my mother and its relationship to my roleplaying experience received about 240 comments, and almost all of them offered warm support in one way or another. Just reading all those comments was probably my favorite moment as a writer on this site.
My best wishes go out to all of you, and I hope we may meet again!