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The Flyjin and the Fallout

David A. Graham | 3 Apr 2012 12:00
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It was March 15, 2011, four days after the Great Tohoku Earthquake crippled northern Japan, three days since an explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power plant spread radiation for miles and two days before the US expanded its recommended evacuation zone even further.

NHK, Japan's national news channel, was pretending everything was under control, while Western news outlets were, as usual, predicting the apocalypse.

NHK, Japan's national news channel, was pretending everything was under control, while Western news outlets were, as usual, predicting the apocalypse. My family in the US was pressuring me to leave the country and I was attempting to convince them -- and myself -- there was nothing to worry about. Trying to ignore my fear, I looked around desperately for a way to occupy my mind and found videogames. It's been a year now and games are still helping me cope.

I had been working as an English teacher just south and east of Japan's hardest hit areas. The past few days were a blur of terror, uncertainty, confusion and sorrow. Trains were barely running, the city had rolling blackouts, we couldn't find bottled water anywhere and to top it off, all of my classes were cancelled until April. I had a lot of time on my hands and a lot to avoid thinking about. So, on March 15, I turned to a source of comfort I had abandoned years ago: World of Warcraft.

At the time, I thought I was just looking for something to occupy myself, a way to hide from the world and a place where my brain could hibernate while I tried to cope with reality. After playing it for a few months, I came to realize that it might have been more than that. While it was engrossing and the perfect waste of time, Azeroth was also familiar.

The years following the September 11 terrorist attacks saw television shows like Friends and Law and Order spike in popularity. Shows that had been around for years, which had been losing viewers, were suddenly thriving again. The ratings for Friends jumped up 17% from the previous season. The same tired dialogue and reused premises were exactly what the masses wanted. People were craving something comforting, something they had seen thousands of times before. They didn't want anything remotely innovative. Basically, people wanted media meatloaf.

So, fast forward to March 15, 2011. The nuclear crisis in Japan was getting worse by the hour. The pressure and reasons to leave what had become my home were growing by the second. Confused and frightened, I turned to my massively multiplayer meatloaf, World of Warcraft.

While reality had become unrecognizable, WoW was still familiar, it was still predictable. Most of all, it was safe and comfortable. Sure, the Cataclysm damaged Stormwind and Deathwing was flying around causing havoc, but beyond that, little had changed. People in general chat were still horrible to each other, I was still sent on dull quests to kill X number of whatever and leveling to endgame was still tremendously tedious. What I found boring years before suddenly sounded incredibly appealing and I started playing again for the same reasons I stopped.

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