Thursday, December 17, 2009

World of Warcraft - Kicking ass and taking names

Well not really. It's fun, but WoW has a pretty strong track record of causing a lot of crap for a lot of people. But for one person I met, internet gaming plays a massive (oh pun), positive role. Since this is a story instead of a video, I'm not going to set it up too much. 

Three years ago, Lisa Weissman was married, working full time as a payroll clerk, and an avid tennis player.

Two years ago, she started playing World of Warcraft, a massive online role-playing game.

Now, Lisa is single, jobless, and mostly just stays at home.

But it wasn’t the WoW. In July of 2008, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

WoW has certainly seen its fair share of blame as the cause of many social ills. But for Lisa, it was the opposite.

"The game certainly has a lot of positive attributes,” she said. “I know a lot of people are afraid of addiction, people are afraid of losing friends, but for somebody who is sick, it truly is a blessing. It's a way to still be in the world but not have to leave your home."

The 35 year-old New York resident has regressing remitting multiple sclerosis, one form of the disease she battles along with 2.5 million other people worldwide. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, the disease is two or three times more common in women than men, and 57,000 Canadians have been diagnosed.

Most of the time, Lisa needs a walker to help her get around. She has optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve, which leaves her blind in one eye and with 30 per-cent vision in the other. Her left side is mostly numb.

Lisa is also one of 12 million people who are celebrating the five-year anniversary of the online game by Blizzard Entertainment. She plays WoW one-handed, and she loves it.

"For days when I'm home, it's an amazing social source, I mean it has helped me tremendously to be able to interact with people,” she said. “It's certainly very good for people who are disabled. I have a lot of disabled friends on there; some who have lupus, some who have MS, and some who are in wheelchairs."

Lisa’s sister Michele Landau, 40, is also an avid WoW player. She remembers what it was like when she found out her sister had MS.

Before she started getting sick “she was always on the go. She would hop in the car and wherever she ended up, she ended up,” said Landau.

“It was upsetting,” said Landau. “More for the fact that I knew she was going to lose a little bit of independence and freedom. That hurt all of us, knowing she wasn’t able to do whatever, whenever she wanted to.”

As her health regressed, Lisa had to leave her job. Her husband felt he could no longer take care of her, and the two separated, she said. Her mom started to come over and help.

On Nov. 25, 2009, her mother passed away from cancer.  Lisa said the social web she had built up on WoW helped her tremendously.

"When my mom passed, I logged on and spoke to so many people who were so supportive, and who just opened up their hearts to me.”

Lisa’s life has gone through many changes. She may have had to stop playing tennis, but one thing she never lost was her competitive side. Her in-game character is a warlock named Dotee, and while she mostly plays to have fun and relax, it doesn’t mean she’ll back down from challengers.

"I remember one day when I wanted to be the warlock class leader, and the guild leader chose someone else over me,” she said. “He was like 'You know, your damage hasn't always been great.'”

Lisa did everything in her power to beat him the next time around, and the leader’s “ego was shrunk.”

“I was quite happy about that,” she said.

Lisa said WoW can be taken extremely seriously by some players. The competition leads some people to become demanding of other players, but Lisa said she has never been criticized.

"Nobody ever really got on my case. I think they were very taken back that I was blind in one eye, and couldn't see well out of the other and that I was still able to just play a video game. Nobody was going to sit there and comment,” she said.
But the case has been made against WoW, and other videogames, about of the risk of video-game addiction. Players often devote many hours per day to the games, sometimes to the detriment of real-life responsibilities.

Landau said that while she has met people with those traits in her own experiences playing WoW, that’s not the case for her sister.

“I don’t think she uses it as an addictive escape. I think she uses it more as a social thing,” said Landau. “It gives her an ability to help people. If she didn’t have MS, and she was able to get out and do things, she would be doing the same thing in real life.”

Landau said that while she is grateful her sister has found a way to continue to be competitive, expressive and social; the game’s developer could still do more.

“Blizzard should make an (in-game) companion in Lisa’s honour. I don’t know what she would like. Maybe a puppy.”

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