The inspiration for this post sprang out of the destruction of my World of Warcraft raiding guild a few days previously. A group of friends that I’ve spent six hours a week, minimum, talking to and working closely with to solve problems in a game that we jointly enjoy. A game we couldn’t enjoy if we didn’t have each other to rely on day-in and day-out. It took twenty people to raid successfully in World of Warcraft when I started playing the end-game content during Wrath of the Lich King. Working closely with twenty people to master the mechanics of a battle for weeks on end draws you closer than most casual friendships.
What happens when these groups of closely-knit battle-hardened companions suddenly decide that they can’t play with each other anymore? I don’t know what else to call that situation other than divorce. A bit extreme you say? It’s not that traumatic? Spend ten years reliably sitting down with the same twenty people and experiencing the adrenaline surge of beating a difficult boss fight through precise coordination, and then get back to me after you tell the other nineteen people to kiss your ass. Let me know how that goes.
Divorce. I’ve been to this dance quite a few times. I’ve never been an invited guest, always the chosen onlooker. When intimacies turn to hostilities, the invited guests always look to the involuntary participants to pick sides. As Bartleby said yesterday I prefer not to.
I’ve never been the invited guest to a divorce because that was one of the ground rules I set for myself a long time ago, when I witnessed the first divorce. The divorce of my adopted father and my biological mother. This was the first time I was encouraged to pick sides as an involuntary participant, just a child of fourteen. I had nowhere else to go, so was forced to witness the folly of adults that should have known better than to let things fall apart as far as they did.
It’s easy. No really, it is easy, not the easy thing that really is hard (any kind of group effort in an MMO) Talk to your intimate relations. Don’t keep secrets unless they are secrets the others have already told you they want kept. Don’t betray agreed-to standards of behavior without talking out the changes first. Don’t close off channels of discussion unless you are prepared to never speak to these people again except in the presence of a lawyer.
But it never fails. Someone thinks they can get by without communicating something. Then that something turns to a thing that can’t be spoken of. Turns into a barrier between two people. Turns into a weight around the neck of the relationship. Turns into a wall preventing communication. Then the secret is found out and the accusations of betrayal begin.
These are adults, but they sure don’t act like adults. Adults that understand even the uncomfortable subjects have to be discussed, and discussed endlessly. This is the nature of being humans, like it or not. Talk. Endless talk. Talk that makes you want to cut off your own tongue or gouge out your ears. If you stop talking, you will eventually cease to be intimate with the other in question. That is the point where they become other.
Other rather than same. The outgroup. The other.
Doesn’t matter. It wasn’t done against me, because I fucking talked it out first. I understand ownership and value and don’t take it for granted. I resent being asked to lend weight to one side or the other of a separation when I have no clear understanding of the fault that led to the separation. I will not willingly pick sides when both sides seem to be at fault and there is no clear reason for the separation in the first place aside from childish insistence on having your own way in a relationship.
The closest I have come to divorce is quitting a job, being fired from a job. There are employers that I can’t speak to again because of what transpired between myself and them. Always it was something kept from me that required that separation, not something I failed to tell them. I am what I present myself to be, take it or leave it, warts and all.
I remained Dad’s friend after the divorce despite his actions. Despite the facts of his behavior that I had to drag kicking and screaming out of the woman who expected me to follow her without reason. She was a little bit crazy like that, my mom. A conflict avoided was a win in her book. As if she could avoid the permanent void created in her children’s hearts by simply not talking about the cause of the divorce. It’s not that I had a choice in the matter, dad didn’t want us children, he just wanted things to remain the same in the daylight as they were in the dark. The philandering. The silence. I eventually forgave him, because, what else can you do with family? You will have to see them again. That is a given.
I won’t willingly speak with the employers that betrayed my trust. They earned my enmity by keeping essential facts from me. One day those betrayals may cost them dearly, if that day of judgement comes. Most of them are probably dead already, personally safe from further judgments against them. They are the lucky ones.
Lucky like the stepfather, the Polk in mom’s name, who publicly betrayed everything the word father means. Safe from judgment by being dead by some other hands than mine. Saving me the trouble of having his blood on my hands. I should have thanked him for that, but I never spoke to him after the betrayal of that day. The opportunity to strike or to speak never presented itself. Mercy, after a fashion. Probably a mercy crafted by mom’s hands. She never liked conflict, evaded it at every opportunity. Her unwillingness to engage probably being the the first miscommunication in a long series of misunderstandings. But she’s dead now too. Beyond the reach of judgement.
So here I am asked to take sides in another messy divorce. A smaller, less life-altering conflict than the ones I’ve been in before. If I never log on to World of Warcraft again, a game that for me is like softball or bowling was to my father, it is the social connection that keeps me active among my group of friends. If I never play the game again I won’t have to talk to any of the participants of this messy break-up again.
On the upside, unlike family, I’ll never have to look at any of them again or have to listen to any of their excuses for their inexcusable behavior. So not quite as demeaning as the dissolution of a marriage is to the children of that marriage. The children of our in-game collaboration are the characters that we’ve worked so hard to level, over and over again, just to have the most powerful characters we could construct to bring to the next battle. Those children you can delete and no one will accuse you of murder when you do.
It might be a form of self-mutilation, if self-mutilation can be performed mentally. Investing all that time only to discard it by typing six characters and hitting enter? It ranks up there with self-mutilation in my mind. But it isn’t illegal to delete that part of yourself. That piece of your history. If only all mistakes could be erased that easily.
If I quit playing World of Warcraft I’ll lose those friends. I’ll lose those parts of myself and the parts of themselves that I’ve grown to love as part of the game we play together. I’ll make new friends. I’ll find other games to play, other ways to connect to the outside world. The other games and other friends won’t have fifteen years of history for me to bank on. I’ll have to start over.
So I probably won’t quit World of Warcraft. I probably will log on and play the game. I like the game, even after all this time. Probably because of all this time, not because the game has been mindlessly enjoyable. It wasn’t and it isn’t. It presented challenges, but it offered social connections, connections that are simply not present in most other games. Social connection is why I am still playing the game, and now that very social connection threatens to destroy any remaining pleasure I find in it. I’m tempted to delete all my toons and start over fresh. A fresh start, like I’ve never played the game before. Maybe this week is the week to download and log on to World of Warcraft – Classic. Play a game that I’ve never played before, but sure does seem like what I’ve been playing for the last fifteen years.
At the very least, I will have to log onto the voice chat service and have those discussions that have to be had before either calling it quits or picking a side. I still would prefer not to, but the post-mortem must be performed if I am to have any closure for this latest divorce. I’m beginning to wonder if closure is overrated.
The family asked “why did you go there?” after I wrote this. My guildmates in a game I’ve played for almost as long as my children have been alive, 15 years now, wanted to know why I wouldn’t willingly just pick a side in the diaspora of the guild. This is the explanation for why I try not to pick sides. I’ve been used as a weapon before and I won’t willingly go there again. My insistence on knowing the gory details of a conflict has cost me dearly, many times. I’ll still ask those questions, every time. It is who I am. Take it or leave it. Warts and all.
It is worth noting that both the leader of my former guild as well as members of the diaspora tried to tell me just how wrong the other side was. The guildmaster made it his duty to try to keep me from joining the diaspora by telling me just how bad the people I love and cherish like family really are. It should come as no surprise to anyone that all my Alliance toons are now back in my own guild (Frosty Wyrm Riders) for the time being. I need a bit of a break after that orchestrated trauma to my psyche.