I hate to admit it, but sometimes I miss living in a false reality.
When people ask me what kind of person I was before being a Capuchin Postulant, I tell them all about my sales days, and my time spent at the poker rooms. They usually laugh or make a joke at this point in which I return with a funnier joke, and it's a wonderful story for them to tell others.
Sometimes I want them to ask me: "So what do you miss most about your old life?" For them it would be a surprise because it wouldn't be women, status, big paychecks, or anything tangible. What I miss the most was the chance to wage war with my guild, joke and laugh with a group of people whom I called friends (yet only saw a few of them in real life), moaned and complained with when we were frustrated, and shouted at and led when there was task to be done. What I would tell them is that I miss 4 years of my life spent "in community" with a group of 50-70 people from around the country (and in some cases around the world) as we got together to laugh, curse, conquer, argue, be inspired, share, and always with the intention of becoming better.
I've written many times about finding all these things in an online game, and I think the paradox that many people find with this type of community, beneficial or otherwise, is that to spend so much time in this way is to remove oneself from what is happening in the "real world." To spend a weekend on the computer is to spend time away from family/friends, to not exercise or move much, to not eat balanced meals, and to spend an "unhealthy amount of time" in front of the computer. The same exists with any other MMORPG (World of Warcraft, Vangaurd, Lord of the Rings Online).
And perhaps there are reasons for people to be worried at times. If someone is not mentally stable, they may have a hard time differentiating from fantasy and reality. Young children should not play these types of games in an environment where the parents cannot monitor what is happening. Games like these can cause people to lose jobs, loss personal money/property, improper sleep and eating habits, unhealthy social habits, and can lead to addiction for those who are prone to such things.
Taking all these things into consideration, I still feel a loss at times for not having the community of people I knew when I played Everquest. While the game held promise and the goals in the game were long-term, the part that mattered most (and the reason I sometimes spend $15 bucks to log in and say hi) is because of the people. It's all fun and games until you start meeting people on a real level, and begin to hear their stories.
I remember a 20 year old woman who had just developed Epilepsy. Since I'd had the condition for over 15 years, we used to spend lots of time talking about her fears, sharing stories about trips to the doctor's, not being able to drive at times...the game was merely a means of a support group.
I remember watching as our guildleader told stories about his newborn baby, and how the women in the guild would share their experiences and advice.
I remember learning about proper leadership during raids (large group encounters that could have 72+ players in one huge group). I remember lifting people up who'd never performed a task in front of such a large group, who were worried about failing. I learned to handle people who were overbearing, not paying attention, or simply did not share my point of view.
I remember the sense of loss for a player who'd died in real life, yet never seen the guy until a picture was posted after his death. I wondered if it was possible to feel grief for someone you've only met in an online game, and ended up realizing that it made you wish you had the chance to know the person even more.
I think of all these things, not the amount of time spent in front of a computer sitting on my ass. I think of how much I miss the time spent, and not the time I wasted. I recollect the memories of these things that happen on a computer screen, but they're not different than a memory from a bar or the beach. As wrong and unhealthy as it sounds, I want to relive the past. And that's why, every now and then, I really think about logging back into EQ.
Like an older man fighting mid-life crisis, I find myself at times wishing for the way things were. But on those rare occasions when I do log back in, I realize that only a few people remain from my memories. Those large numbers of friends have moved on. Some are playing different games, some are raising children, some are fighting a terminal illness, some are living happily and maybe haven't thought about this game since they left.I still keep in contact with some of those people who have also moved on. There's something they say that always give me something to contemplate: "Your decision to become a friar actually doesn't surprise me; I could see it in you years ago." I find it very reassuring, but some would find it very contradictory: How could someone who wants to live the life of God choose to spend their evenings in front of a computer instead of working at a soup kitchen, or helping at a homeless shelter. Instead of spending Sunday recuperating from a late night raid, why didn't I spend that time at Church? If I enjoyed community so much, why was I not able to do it in real life?
I've yet to figure out how He decided to make this all work, but I'm going with the flow. And while I can't explain the complexity of an online interaction to someone who's never even heard of these games, I can only live my life by reflecting on all the things I've learned. I continue to use what I learned from a simple video game in my ministry, and unfortunately I still continue to hide this huge influence from others I meet.
But like that man in his mid-life crisis, I miss the people I knew (even though some of them I never knew their real first name), I miss the great deeds we did (even though they don't seem so great in context of the real world) and I miss the time I spent with them (even though I was sitting alone in front of my computer.) And as those thoughts sink in, my desire to play leaves me...for now.
Perhaps after I'm dead and gone, someone will remember my time in Everquest and remember what I did. And perhaps while I wasn't a saint, I could get my old character canonized as the patron saint for MMORPG players: "Saint Severaen of the Faydark"
I finish with my head swimming in memories, and my heart heavy for a time now gone by.
(rather poetically, I looked online in the guild forum and in my old email box for screenshots of my time in EQ. I could find only a few, and only one with me -Severaen- in it.)