Saturday, February 7, 2009

Killing Yourself in Cyberspace

Like most adults I know, I get up five mornings a week to work,  go to the grocery store a couple times a week, go to the movies a couple times a month, and also like most adults I know I've contemplated suicide once or twice in my life, looked at the gulf of meaninglessness and hopelessness and cruelty and violence and wanton destruction and depravity and corruption that sometimes seems to define life on earth (not to mention misery, sorrow, regret, terrifying acts of god,  and coming from a screwed up family). What's the use, who cares, why go on with it, we think.  But most of us sleep on it (sometimes after lots of wine or beer), wake up, and do continue.  We find, or create, a reason to go on.  We look, as they say, at the bright side of life.  Or, failing to find a bright side, we create one, or pretend there is one.  Especially if we have children we pretend there is one.  

But what if you just don't see a bright side.  What if you find yourself surrounded by people who seem to hate you, more, want to kill you?  Say you run away, you jump off a cliff into the ocean thinking to end it all, only to find yourself still alive.  The drop not as steep as you had thought, the water  kind.   Surrounded by cliffs, you'll never survive a swim half way around the world, so what do you do?  You really wanted to die.

You press the x key, which makes you sink to the bottom of the ocean and you wait there, very still.  

After a minute or so bubbles start coming from your mouth, you are choking, you are taking in water, your health is declining rapidly and in bright red letters:  -400, -800, -1500. It is alarming, but this is what you want.  You are watching yourself die. You are killing yourself. You make a final jerky move and then you're dead.  You've drowned yourself.

There are a couple of good reasons to kill your avatar or let yourself die in WoW.  You always resurrect in a graveyard near where you died, and sometimes if you are trying to get to a difficult place where there are lots of monsters, it's easier to kill yourself and resurrect in a graveyard that is nearer to the place you are trying to reach.  Another reason to kill yourself is if you have fallen into an ocean surrounded by cliffs and it will take you 45 minutes to swim to a place where you can safely climb out. It's quicker to kill yourself and start over.

It's just a game, right?  

Right. But I felt really creeped out watching myself purposely kill avatar recently.  It felt deeply unnatural, even though it was just a game, even though I knew I would resurrect.  In those minutes sitting there watching my avatar die I couldn't help but think of the people in my life who have killed themselves and never resurrected, and the others who threatened it but haven't yet gone through with it.  What perceived hatreds, what monsters, what cliffs too high, what love too lost, what hope too frayed, what waters too deep to keep that finger pressed on the x button, no resurrection in sight.


  1. these games seem like such an interesting parallel process to life and you're the perfect person to notice, and then write about it. i look forward to your conclusions about the effect these games have on humanity in general and you in particular.

  2. Oh, Sheryl. This is so powerful. Keep with this.

    I think that they key for suicide prevention is to sleep on it. Especially if alcohol or drugs are involved, but sometimes it's hard to sleep on it when you feel so very sure and so very brave (read uninhibited) and simply must do it right then. Thankfully, we usually pass out.

    "What if you are surrounded by people who hate you and want to kill you?"--I think about this a lot. In movie war scenes or rape scenes or general "horror" scenes I immediately think that I would most likely kill myself, jump off a cliff before someone else had the opportunity to hurt me.

    And maybe this is an issue of vulnerability. If I'm going to be hurt anyway, I'd rather hurt myself than give someone else that power. Understandable horror movie victim behavior but perhaps carries over into my real life. Exactly how much power over me I am willing to give others, in the fear that they will use that power to hurt me.

  3. Video games mimick reality but always give us a chance to start over. To start a new life. We can't do this so easily in our lives (or we convince ourselves that we can't) and that's why video games are so important. It is especially important to people who prefer the virtual lifestyle because you are almost immortal. You can be resurrected.

    But who would really want to be resurrected in this life? To come back to work, eat, sleep, etc? In Belize we call this "the life of the living dead." You are alive physically but numb mentally, emotionally, and psychologically because all you know and experience is the surface of life. You have no time (or you chose not to give yourself time) to reflect, rest, and enjoy your life on earth. So, you look forward to the end.

    Sheryl, great reflection and this is definitely the beginning of a longer piece.

  4. This is really interesting, Maryam. This "life of the living dead." This could be an element of Belezian culture that you could really make into something that ties in with your emotional life.

  5. I love this connection, Sheryl. Between the video game life and real life. It's weird how if you play video games long enough, you start to feel like that little computerized blob is an extension of you, or that you are a god of your own self, puppeteer-ing your every move. That moment of contemplation as your patiently waiting for the video to "kill" you is very powerful....