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Aussie blogger brings Movember mental health series to WoW blog

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

Pitched battle in a frantic Battleground feels a little like Armageddon if you're on the wrong side of the wave. Depression can feel the same way to those struggling in its iron coils. Winding together entertaining and informative posts about both is popular blogger Gnomeaggedon, whose WoW blog (which has been tackling PvP topics since the summer of 2008) is working through a special month-long series on depression and mental health for the mustachioed Movember men's health movement.

You wouldn't think someone who's struggled with depression himself and mental health issues in his immediate family would be a big fan of the emotional highs and lows of Battlegrounds. It's one of the questions Gnomeaggedon toys with regularly: "Kind of related to your interview with Lady Erinia -- is depression caused by excessive video gaming, or is video gaming 'self-medication' for depression? I know in my case, my depression began when I was a child. I had no idea, and things like that weren't discussed in my family -- so treatment came 20 years 'late.' And where WoW was an escape from the difficulties of life (as alcohol, etc., had been in the past), most people assumed I had a (stereotypical) problem with gaming."

With a backlog of years' worth of posts about being a gnome mage, the PvP lifestyle, and scattered plugs for the awareness of mental health issues, Gnomeaggedon has left an indelible imprint in the WoW blogosphere. We had a cozy email conversation with the Aussie player to explore his enthusiastic support for Movember, how many fellow WoW players -- people you play with every day -- are likely to be touched in some way by mental health issues, and how "cleansing the debuff" of mental illness can make such a difference in people's lives.

Gnomeaggedon
Main character Gnomeaggedon
Guild Streakers
Realm Aman'Thul (US Oceanic)

WoW Insider: Let's set the stage first with your background in World of Warcraft. How did you get started playing WoW? Were you a gamer before then?

Gnomeaggedon: I started a few months after the release of vanilla when a copy of WoW was gifted to me by my friends. I wasn't really a computer gamer on any regular or dedicated basis at that point; however, many of the friends that introduced me to WoW we're the same friends that I played D&D with for the previous 25 years.

Maybe the better question is why they got me playing WoW, which was to maintain the Friday night at the pub lifestyle -- a few quiet beers with mates interspersed with copious quantities of meaningless chat (Barrens chat, anyone?) -- without the need to risk life and limb drink driving home at 3 a.m. It also had the advantage that I was doing this from the comfort of my home, where I was still spending time with my (then) wife and later child.

And so you were drawn into the game and even began blogging about it ... How did your blog turn into somewhere you felt free to discuss mental health in such detail?

I've been WoW blogging now for about 3.5 years, and mentions of mental health, particularly depression, or difficulties in real life have never been taboo. Mental health is a part of life, so it's not surprising that aspects of this would creep into discussions about my real life hobby of WoW.

[Where] my series of posts on my experiences with depression differ is that they were based on the theme of Movember. Memes are commonplace in blogging; in this case, the meme was Movember. From memory, the first post I intended to write was the relationship between depression and WoW, but I felt it needed some context, and that context ultimately became the focus of the series.

One of the intentions of Movember is to normalize the discussion of the taboo topics of depression and prostate cancer. While the gathering of donations to support programs for men's health is important, bringing the black dog out in the open, building a support network built on the whole of society rather than behind closed doors is the first line of defense.

Briefly, a little more about what Movember's all about?

From the Australian Movember website: "During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men's faces in Australia and around the world. The aim of which is to raise vital funds and awareness for men's health, specifically prostate cancer and depression in men.

"On Movember 1st, guys register at Movember.com with a clean-shaven face and then for the rest of the month, these selfless and generous men, known as Mo Bros, groom, trim and wax their way into the annals of fine moustachery. Supported by the women in their lives, Mo Sistas, Movember Mo Bros raise funds by seeking out sponsorship for their Mo growing efforts.

"Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November and through their actions and words raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men's health."

Gnomeaggedon Can you tell us a little bit about your own experience with mental health issues?

My history of depression goes back at least 30 years. I suffered unaware for 20 of those years, believing suicidal thoughts, low self-worth, lack of enthusiasm for life were the normal human condition.

By pure chance (or maybe the ongoing efforts of my friends to keep their mate alive), I discovered my state of being was not normal, once I realized that, once I realized that there was an illness that could be treated, my life changed. Once I stopped beating myself up and targeted the depression, I gained the power to defeat my foe.

So 10 years ago, I acknowledged my depression and sought treatment. I went from being a suicidal, substance-abusing, single no-hoper to a successful, life loving, married father.

Unfortunately, my wife also suffers from mental illness. The stigma around it prevented her from seeking professional assistance, which in the end meant the end of our marriage for the sake of our son's mental health. We are still very close, and I am her strongest supporter in her battle with mental illness. Our marriage wasn't bad -- neither of us are bad. It was the black dog in the middle of the room that was the problem.

I think my greatest fear prior to getting treatment was that to do so would mean giving up who I was -- I wouldn't be the same person, the one loved by my friends. In reality, the only thing I gave up were the chains around my life.

Think of living with depression like trying to play WoW while covered by every debuff in the game. You can do it, for a while, but if you copy those decurse and cleanse abilities from your spellbook to your tool bar and use them, you will be more likely to survive, more likely to win. Just as in WoW, where you can expend more mana in healing that you would if you just decursed, so it is with depression. Cleansing the debuff means it takes less energy to enjoy life.

Gnomeaggedon over Stormwind
Has the depth of content on Gnomeaggedon about depression and mental health changed the way you approach the blog and the things you're willing to discuss there?

No, my blog is still primarily a WoW blog, but I think like most WoW bloggers, it is a prejudice-free zone (whatever those may be), and mental health is no exception. I have always been the sort of person to share my failings. I'm not afraid of failing; to be so would be to fear learning. If someone benefits from the sharing of my life lessons, then that is pure win.

Has writing about those subjects on a WoW blog turned away a significant number of the gaming readers?

I'd suggest the opposite. Most of the commenters on my Movember posts relate to the posts I have written about my personal experiences with depression, the impact on my friends and family and the impact of other's mental illness on myself.

The thing to consider is if one in five people experience mental illness at some point in their life, that means that it likely that:
  • One person in your instance group has experienced mental illness.
  • Two people in your 10-man raid have experienced mental illness.
  • Five people in your 25-man raid have experienced mental illness.
This is only the people that have experienced mental illness first hand -- and everyone is affected by mental illness, whether directly or by association. Therefore, there is a damn good chance that everyone you know has been directly or indirectly effected by mental illness.

Who are your readers? Are they WoW players who are interested in depression, or are they people struggling with depression who've arrived based on that content and look past the gaming references?

WoW players primarily, if not exclusively. I'm a gnome mage, writing about gnome mage experiences and WoW in general. The Movember related posts are just a diversion from my normal silly subjects. I don't have any professional experience in health care; I'm just a blogger writing about personal experiences, whether that is in game or in real life.

If a reader were to read my posts and find they strike a cord in their life, then the first thing I'd suggest they do is go see a medical professional, call a support line, visit sites (such as beyondblue) that can provide appropriate guidance. I'd recommend that for people that recognise themselves or loved ones in the posts, the support networks are there to provide support for those suffering directly as well as those suffering indirectly.

Tell us how you WoW. What's your current playstyle? How much game time do you get on a typical day/week?

I play WoW anywhere from six to I-don't-want-to-think-about-it hours a week. Historically, I have engaged in most the aspects of the game: questing, instances, raiding, AH farming, etc. -- anything except PvP -- up until a couple of years ago. These days, PvP is my primary activity. Once I got over my fear of in-game death (beaten into me through years of PvE, but relatively irrelevant in PvP), I discovered the joy of not knowing what was going to happen next that you can only really experience in PvP.

Many of my blog posts revolve around the joy that any WoW player can get from BGs, and this is something that has recently fermented in the guild, which has gone from three nights of raiding (and no official PvP) to two nights of each. The biggest issue experienced these days is playing through the tears of laughter when we hit the BGs.

Battlegrounds with Gnomeaggedon
When you're not at the keyboard playing WoW or blogging, what are you doing?

Smelling the roses, spending time with my son, wishing someone else would mow my lawn, supporting my ex-wife through her mental health challenges, working.

Thanks for sharing, Gnomeaggedon, and here's to helping send Movember forward with a push from WoW Insider!

Grow your own Mo Bro for Movember:

And read more from Gnomeaggedon at Gnomeageddon.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from a player battling Alzheimer's disease to Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn), gaming industry insider Liz Danforth and El of El's Extreme Anglin'. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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