When psychotherapists begin working with gamers and exploring their in-world experience, it can be a bit overwhelming. So much new language, trying to imagine virtual worlds that you’ve never seen. What’s a raid? Why would someone go on quests? And aren’t guilds something that artisans used in the Middle Ages to control the market? I’ve often encouraged therapists to take the time to use the free trial membership on WoW or other games in order to immerse yourself in the virtual world (and hopefully have fun!) for a little while.
But one thing that can get overlooked in the exploration of the technology is the exploration of feelings, and one reason that this gets overlooked is because therapists inadvertently trivialize the experience of feelings experienced in-game or in social media.
Let me give you a real-life, non-game example to start. I went to Connecticut College with my friend and colleague Susan Giurleo (she’d never say this, but Susan was definitely the more organized one in college 🙂 ) and we went on to live the next two decades with no real contact. And then Twitter stepped in, and we resumed contact. When I read her blogs and posts I was happy to discover that we had a lot of similar and overlapping interests. We made a time to meet for coffee via email, and I was excited and nervous to see her for the first time in a long while. Those feelings, of happiness, discovery, excitement and nervousness were all real feelings happening in real time to a real person via a virtual world. We’d reunited virtually and this has had a real and positive emotional impact on me.
You may still be inclined to dismiss the emotional impact of virtual worlds. “Sure, Mike, you had real feelings, but Susan was a real person that you have had real face-to-face contact with in the past.” So let me give you another example. I recently had the opportunity to email Chris Brogan, and in the course of that mentioned my knowing Susan. Shortly after that I “heard” them talking about me on Twitter:
Two lines of Twitter, and as I read them I noticed myself smiling, well actually beaming. That’s real pleasure I was feeling, from feeling recognized and introduced. And I’ve never laid eyes on Chris in the virtual world.
So virtual worlds create real feelings, and we need to remember that when working with gamers.
I’ve written before about the face behind the screen but it bears repeating. Gamers are people, and they have feelings. Even if the stereotypes were true (and they’re not) that gamers are autistic, people on the spectrum have feelings too. Gamers get excited when they down a boss, upset when someone says something racist in guild chat, and happy when someone whispers them that they did a good job or tells them a joke. There is a world of real feelings in those virtual worlds, and we need to pay attention to them.
So do you ask adolescents about their facebook friends as well as their classmates? Do you ask gamers about how they get along with their guildmates as well as their roomates or partners? Do you explore their relationship to their raid leaders as well as their parents and other authority figures? If not, you are missing a whole lot of significant information, and it is only an ask away. Gamers may be reluctant to talk about their in-world feelings and relationships because of past disinterested receptions, but don’t imagine they don’t have them.
The next time you are checking out Facebook and see an old friend, or read a political post, notice if you are feeling happiness, excitement or anger.
The ask yourself, can I tell the difference between this and a “real” feeling.