Grieving as a Gamer How returning to video game homes helps grieving

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Grieving and death are infinitely uneasy for me to write about. However, words aren’t coherently forming to write about anything else. Since the passing of my grandmother, I’ve struggled writing articles (this one has actually taken a good week), but it’s not for lack of trying or lack of video games. Rather, I’ve been so consumed with returning to my Darnassian roots in World of Warcraft and to the Mass Effect world, that I’ve been hesitant to leave Azeroth and the Andromeda galaxy for very long, and I think I’ve figured out why.

Grieving comes in many different forms. As an American adult, I have had the persistent question “shouldn’t I be done crying now?” rolling around in my brain. The answer, frankly, is “no.” There’s no right or wrong way to mourn the loss of someone – be it a friend, family member, or pet. Heck, you might be mourning democracy right now with the state of the union. With my particular situation, I’ve found incredible comfort in Harry Potter and playing my favorite video games.

A Word on Death

When you’re thinking about having a baby, you start to see babies everywhere. Likewise, if you’re considering adopting a dog, they’re magically going to appear in every park and sidewalk. Similarly, when someone you know dies, it seems like death is suddenly everywhere. It’s as if the grim reaper is gliding around, casually swinging his scythe around innocent people.

This phenomenon goes something like this: First someone you’re close to dies, maybe a family member or friend. You’re grieving and trying to cope. Then the cosmos implodes, and you’re seeing memorials and obituaries on your social media for everyone’s dad, grandma, and friend. It’s painful and unfair and you just want to tell the universe to  eff off.. You know rationally that death is part of the cycle of life, but that doesn’t make it any harder. At this point, you’re aching for the familiar and unchanging.

Returning “Home”

Video game nostalgia hits us in the feels for a reason. We fondly remember the times we’ve played with friends, had novel first experiences (like glitching out Freya in Ulduar and pulling the entire wing), and security of returning to familiar music and questlines. It could be that nostalgia is putting on a pair of rose colored glasses, but I like to think it’s something more. When you’ve experienced a great loss, you need the familiar. It ground yours thoughts from drifting back to death and anguish over and over again.

grieving as a gamer

Darnassus, the druid capital.

Every few years, I’ll create a new druid in World of Warcraft, so I can experience the starting zone again. In that sense, Teldrassil is one of my video game homes. When our daily rituals are uprooted and we are confused and doubtful, we need hope and any semblance of home that we can hold onto, even if it’s a zone in a video game. This is especially true when, as an adult, you’re living far away from where you grew up. In a way, it makes perfect sense to return to our “video game roots.” Humans and many animals return to their birthplaces in times of grief or live change. (Salmon swimming back to lay eggs comes to mind for some reason. Probably related to reading Douglas Adams’ So Long and Thanks For All the Fish.)

New, but Familiar

Now that Andromeda’s come out, I’ve been spending time milling across the galaxy. Though my best pals Wrex and Grunt aren’t here, I’ve made a new Krogan friend in Andromeda. His “let’s smash all the Kett” attitude helps me feel, again, like I’m coming back home. Mass Effect, both the original trilogy, and now Andromeda, have a continual sense of hope and perseverance. With a turbulent outside world and disorienting life changes, heck yes, I am going to play a game that helps me feel like there’s a possibility, one day, several sentient species will live in harmony. (Cue The Doctor’s Zygon Inversion speech.)

I suppose what I’m trying to say, though this all may sound like incoherent rambling of a grieving granddaughter, is that none of us are truly alone in this world. Death is a sucky, sucky part of life on earth. There’s no way around it. But we have things that can center us in our grief and anger, even if those things are as simple as playing video games and feeling like we’re returning home.


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Deva is a fiction writer and actor who loves complex characters and dynamic storytelling. When she isn't writing or acting, Deva can be found gaming, reading, or playing with her cats.