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It wasn't long after my return to Azeroth that familial guilt, fear and the growing nuclear crisis caused me to return to the US, leaving behind my uncertainties, anxieties and favorite Penny Arcade T-shirt. Leaving Japan was the hardest choice I've ever had to make, but when I disembarked from the plane, I was met by men carrying Geiger counters. They were checking us for radiation. That sort of validated my decision.
Fallout 3 turned out to be the most therapeutic game I have ever played.
With nowhere else to go I moved back in with my parents and committed full time to World of Warcraft. I had never made it to endgame before but this time I did so with ease. I became an active member of a prominent guild. I joined an arena team. Those lofty goals I had gotten bored with were suddenly easily achieved and interesting. All I wanted to do was play. I gorged on my MMO meatloaf until I couldn't take anymore.
After a few months, after I achieved my goals in World of Warcraft, I had increased craving for a different game: Fallout. It may sound sort of insensitive and tasteless for me to want to play a game that takes place in a nuclear wasteland (in fact when I told a person about my desire at a party, he laughed awkwardly and walked away). Ignoring this odd feeling of guilt, I reloaded Fallout 3 on my computer. It turns out that it was the most therapeutic game I have ever played.
Around the time I started to play Fallout, I stopped being startled by the wind shaking the windows. I'm not saying that the game is responsible for my improved mood -- a lot of time had passed and I was starting to move on -- but I do think Fallout was an essential part of that moving on. I wasn't able to brave the radiation in Japan, but I could in the Capital Wasteland. In the real world, I had no control over what happened, but in New Vegas I was powerful. Most of all, nothing could hurt me as I confronted my fears.
I recently found out that facing fears through videogames is common. Sometimes when soldiers get diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, therapists use a technique called "exposure therapy," where a patient confronts a feared or traumatic memory. Recently, exposure therapists began incorporating virtual reality and of videogames into their treatment plans. In fact, therapists used parts of Full Spectrum Warrior to treat PTSD in 2005. The goal of exposure therapy is to create a safe, reliable method for sufferers to confront and overcome their fears and anxieties.
I'm not saying I was suffering from PTSD but I do think I was engaging in an amateur form of exposure therapy. Of course, the world of Fallout and the reality of Fukushima are different. Japanese society hasn't collapsed, malevolent gangs haven't formed, and there are no rad-roaches. In all the chaos after the quake and nuclear disaster, people didn't lose their humanity or kindness; in fact the opposite happened. Everyone in Japan rallied, doing everything they could to make the situation easier on everyone. Except me. I left.