Why the World Needs Heroes

Recent events have been particularly devastating to me.  On Tuesday, two people were killed at Clackamas Town Center, a mall I had been to often in the first 30 years of my life.  Yesterday, 22 children and 1 adult were stabbed at a school in China.  And in Newtown, Connecticut, 20 children and 7 adults were killed by a shooter who then took his own life.  One of those adults was the shooter’s mother, a kindergarten teacher at the school.  This hit me rather hard, as for the longest time, I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher myself.

While the gun control advocates and proponents are duking it out, I think they are completely missing the point.  “Where did he get the gun?” is not the first question people ask when they hear news like this.  It’s “How could someone do something like this?”  And that’s the real issue, how can anyone’s mental health get to the point where something like this seems the thing to do?

I’ve talked about my own mental health issues on this blog before, how I’ve faced my fears and encourage others to make their dreams come true.  I’m fortunate that my mental health diagnoses aren’t as severe as others I know, that I’ve gotten the help I needed when I needed it, and that I have so many wonderful and supportive people in my life.  Not everyone is as lucky as I have been.  It’s incredibly frustrating to know that some of my friends (or anyone, for that matter) can’t afford the medications they need or the therapy that will lead them out of the darkness.  We, as a society, need to stop ignoring that mental illness is a real problem.  But it’s a problem that has solutions, and we need to make those solutions more accessible.  We need to remove the stigma attached to any mental health issue.  We all go through periods when we find it hard to cope, and we need to ask for help.  We need to provide that help.  And we need to realize that the same solutions won’t work for everyone, and encourage each person to keep searching for something that does work.  And when they find it, we need to not take it away from them.

Which leads me back to City of Heroes.  I know several people that got through the rough patches through playing and talking with other players.  I’ve read countless stories, blogs, and forum posts about how important this game was to people.  It saved the life of a good friend of mine, for which I’m eternally grateful.

Here’s a comment posted by Mercedes Lackey, that explains just how important this game was to so many:

I’m right there in the front lines of the movement to find CoH a new home. I’ve got pages of stories from players that would break your heart. People who are disabled, who are only free in CoH because they can fly. People who are shut-ins, either confined to their houses by illness or mental trauma, who were free to wander Paragon City as if none of that mattered. Parents of autistic children, who literally brought their kids back to a normal life by playing with them on their laps–and vets suffering from PTSD who found healing in being heros–game therapy is only now being explored for these conditions, and NCSoft yanked what was working for these people right out from under them. We shared all these stories with NCSoft. They were ignored.

City was much more than just a game. It is said, “if you put yourself in the attitude of prayer, prayer will come.” Well, people who played in City put themselves in the “attitude” of heroes…and they actually became heroes. Not the kind that stop locomotives, but the kind that raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity. The kind that would help out a fellow player with in-game cash–or real cash when they were hard up. The kind that stopped to guide a newbie around and show him the ropes (and how often do you hear about THAT in WoW?), who created healers just to run around low level zones and patch up the “babies” (getting no XP in the process, mind you). The kind who took time to interact with the little kid on player-mom’s lap. The kind who would stay up all night to talk a fellow player through a bad stretch in his life.

CoH wasn’t a game, not really. It was more like a city built around a theme park, full of (mostly) like minded folks who cared about each other–we went off into the world every day to make our living, then came home, and joined our friends in the park for adventures. So what if we had ridden the rides before? That didn’t make them any less enjoyable the 3rd or 33rd time around. Besides, the devs loved their game, and kept making us new ones! People who left the game 10 issues ago would never have recognized it at shutdown.

We’ve lost our home. NCSoft came in and bulldozed it to the ground, burying the characters we created and lived through in a giant unmarked grave. We have nothing left, and nowhere to go to. Our friends have been scattered to the winds.

Is it any wonder we are furious?

It’s been two weeks now since the game was shut down, and I’m still emotionally raw.  I downloaded and installed Champions Online, created a character, and entered the tutorial.  But I felt so lost.  I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going.  Granted, I don’t really have time to play, or to read the helpful posts in The Cape Radio’s forums on how to play, so it’s going to take me awhile to really figure out what I’m doing, but it’s just not home.  I’m still mourning the loss of my beloved City of Heroes.

Now, I’m not equating my devastation over the loss of innocent lives with the loss of a video game.  But my devastation at losing City of Heroes is no less real.  It wasn’t just a game to me, and the last day was roughCity of Heroes quite literally changed my life.  It’s been such a big part of my life for the last eight years, and despite the long stretches I was unable to play, it was always there to come back to.  Now it isn’t.

Yes, there are other games out there, and yes, I will be playing them.  But they’re not City of Heroes.  I can’t just “move on” and find a new place to call home.  Let me see if I can explain it in terms everyone can understand.

Imagine you have a really great friend, someone who you can visit whenever you want, and no matter how much time has passed between visits, he welcomes you with open arms.  And every time you visit, he’s having other people over, and invites you to join the party.  Some of these people are already your friends, some are strangers who become friends, some become even more.  And you all always have a place in his home.

Then one day, you’re told that your friend is terminally ill.  He even knows the day, the exact minute, he will no longer be around.  You search desperately for a cure, to no avail.  You try to spend as much time with him as possible before the end, or distance yourself from him thinking it will be easier to deal with his loss that way.  You do whatever it takes for you to cope with this news.  Then the minute comes, and he’s gone.  And his house is destroyed.  You can only watch as every trace of him disappears.

Yes, you still have the other friends you’ve made through him.  Yes, you’ve been invited to parties at the other houses on the street.  Some of your friends are already inside some of those houses.  But it’s not the same.  It will never be the same.

It wasn’t just a game.  It was therapy, a release from our mundane lives, an opportunity to be our ideal selves.  To be superheroes.  To express our creativity in so many ways.  Our friend’s house was filled with thousands of precious works of art, and while we saved what we could, so much of that is lost now.  We share our stories, our pictures, our memories, but that’s all we have now.

That’s part of the reason I want to make “real life” versions of the costume pieces that were available in the game.  To help keep City of Heroes alive, to keep expressing the creativity it fostered in me.  Perhaps it’s my way of paying tribute and giving back to the game and players that gave me so much.  Perhaps it’s my way of still being a hero, of bringing that feeling I had in game into the real world.

It’s so easy, especially in times like this past week, to feel helpless, like there’s no way we can ever hope to combat and win over the evil in this world.  Our reserves of cope are getting thin, and we wonder just how much more we can take.  But you know what?  This is exactly when we need to get up, put our underwear on on the outside, and take to the skies.  We are heroes, and this is what we do.  We never give up.  We may not be able to gather at our friend’s house anymore, but we are STILL heroes.  No one can take that away from us.

So I implore you, go do something heroic.  Make a donation to Real World Hero or your favorite charity.  Volunteer.  Help your friends and family who are having a hard time dealing with the tragedies, the holidays, or just life in general.  Be a hero to yourself and do something you’ve always wanted to do.  Only you can define your heroism, and only you can make it happen.

For some of us struggling with mental illness, our heroism may just be getting out of bed in the morning and facing another day.  It may be finally asking for help, admitting we need it.  It may be doing whatever it takes to never reach the point were we snap and do something awful to ourselves or innocent bystanders.  To keep fighting back our inner demons, to keep fighting to have a “normal” life, to just keep fighting.  Never. Give. Up.

Because you are my hero.  And you CAN fly.

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1 Comment

  1. Bruisefairy

     /  December 15, 2012

    Thank you Wondie, from the bottom of my heart, for being one of the mainstays of my escape for the last 8.5 years. You were always ready with a kind word and a smile and a virtual hug. There were days when I’d log in, feeling isolated and alone and when I’d chime in on The Cape Radio global channel you always seemed so happy to see me. That made a huge difference to my mood on those days and I don’t think I ever told you how much, so again thank you, for being wonderful you 🙂

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