Real life wasn't offering me anything better which made it even easier to put it on the back burner. Instead I poured myself into the little projects I'd created in my new virtual life. My museum devoured countless hours, endless resources and much of my husband's sanity. I even did odd jobs on the side; a wedding dress here or a trenchcoat there. I looked for any excuse to ignore the real world a little longer.
With fewer reasons to log in every day and my real life starting to have tangible benefits, I noticed Galaxies' flaws even more distinctly.
That changed when an interview came through. The phone call left me ecstatic. Now I had a job and an income. The stress that had plagued me for months began to melt away. Bills were getting paid, food was on the table and my unemployment was a thing of the past. Thrilled about the prospect of beating my depression, I rushed to tell my new friends all about it, but they weren't there anymore.
People were logging into Galaxies less frequently. Events were vanishing from the calendar and cantinas were almost vacant. The population had dwindled to the point where seeing another person was a novelty. As fewer and fewer friends bothered to come online, the mundane tasks I'd once taken joy in became tedious. No one approached my vendors or asked for my clothing designs. Harvesting ceased being a chance to explore and became another pointless chore.
With fewer reasons to log in every day and my real life starting to have tangible benefits, I noticed Galaxies' flaws even more distinctly. Bugs that I'd ignored since launch seemed more prevalent than ever. Not only had the game's delicately crafted hold over me begun to fade, but my desire to keep the illusion alive had dwindled. It didn't feel like there was anything left to keep me engaged.
Eventually, I just stopped logging in at all. My subscription lapsed and I'd begun to wonder why I had been so engrossed in the first place.
I didn't understand what had changed. I tried a few other MMOs assuming I'd find my niche, but I couldn't capture the same feeling I had when I first played Galaxies. New mechanics, new worlds and better graphics seemed to have no impact on my interest. Even playing with the tightly knit group of friends I'd made couldn't keep me interested for long. Something was missing and nothing I did seemed to help.
I assumed it was the games at first, but soon I realized what I was looking for wasn't possible. What I was playing hadn't fundamentally changed; instead, I had. My life wasn't something I felt the need to escape from anymore. It was that need that let me overlook the flaws and gaps in Galaxies and that helped me to fill in the blanks when a quest giver was telling me to punch another 50 thugs into submission. Without that, my character was nothing more than more than a picture on the screen. It wasn't the game that kept me from becoming immersed; it was the fact that I didn't have to hide from my problems in someone else's digital skin anymore.
I still play MMOs but my expectations of them have softened. Nothing will ever capture that feeling I had with my first MMO because I'm not in the same mindset. My life is no longer a mess that I'd rather ignore and my time is better spent in a number of other, theoretically more productive ways. Still, the impact it had on my life stayed with me. Part of me wants that strange symbiosis between borderline depression and virtual perfection; to lose myself in both a game and character like I did back then. Tinged with nostalgia, it remains an intoxicating mix.
Fortunately, the rest of me is content with a regular paycheck.
Jeff Davis has spent way too much of his life being someone else. Despite this, he still writes on his blog at www.basementdwellinggeek.com between occasional museum openings and killing 10 rats.