View the Project on GitHub misslivirose/unsound-mind

The Psychological Impact of Creating yourself in the Metaverse

I have always been an extremely defensive person.

When I played World of Warcraft, I played a dual-specced Protection and Fury warrior, which meant most of the time I was throwing myself into the heart of a conflict with the goal of inflicting rapid damage, or taking as much damage off of our “squishier” friends as possible. I continue to play this role in games when I need to choose a class earlier on: being a “tank” and absorbing damage is what I do best.

It’s not hard to reflect back on why I became a defensive person. Both of my parents are defensive people, and I mirrored that naturally throughout my early childhood. There were plenty of opportunities for me to defend myself: I remember having to defend my gender on the first day of kindergarten, when my classmates couldn’t believe that I would have the audacity to wear pink shoes and have short hair. I had to defend my knowledge to teachers, starting in Pre-K and going straight through college. I had to defend myself to classmates who didn’t think “girls” could solve problems, be successful in computer science classes… the list goes on, you get the picture. I often joke that if I weren’t working in the tech industry, I would be a lawyer.

Being a tank (or off-tank in a large enough group) means that your job is to build yourself up so that you absorb as much damage that enemies throw at you as possible. Your moves aren’t designed to hurt the enemy, your moves are designed to make the enemy see you as the biggest threat.

Psychologically, playing a tank IRL is really fucking hard.

Human beings were designed to identify threats to their lives. Our brain is a constant prediction simulator, and it really likes to explore the paths that are most likely to result in a negative outcome for us. In the past, that’s what saved our lives and got us to today. Today, it means that we’re chronically anxious.

As an “IRL Tank”, I’ve developed unhealthy coping mechanisms for managing perceived risk. I don’t always know when I’m tapped out and need some healing - and if I wipe out, it’s pretty likely I’m going to take a few other people out (emotionally) with me. I can also get so focused on the task at hand - fighting a threat and keeping all its attention on me - that I might miss the fact that I’ve pulled an extra mob, and made my fight harder for me and the rest of my team.

Tanking takes confidence. It’s a role where you step into responsibility to take care of others by being a sponge for the hardship that the world presents. Of course, it’s an insufficient and limited metaphor for the roles that we play in life, but it’s a powerful one that resonates with me due to how attached I got to that particular form of my identity.

In my early twenties, I needed to be Aistra the Explorer, the Night Elf Warrior who traveled around every region of Azeroth and fought many hard-worn battles that lead up to a 10-boss raid on the Icecrown Citadel and fall of Arthas, the Lich King. Away from my keyboard, I was in a transitional stage of life, learning how to be independent and figure out how I was going to view the world around me; how large I would make my world.

One of my flaws as a tank is that I over-dependend on my healers and support characters. I rarely watch my health, chosing to instead focus on my rage so that I can be prepared to jump or sprint into the worst of the fight at a moment’s notice.

Video game tanks don’t need to recover from the stress of being the focal point of a battle. Humans do.

Throughout the course of my life, playing video games and creating identities within these different digital worlds has gifted me an introspective tool with infinite payoff. The metaverse, in all its forms, has allowed me to step into different states - one where I’m powerful, one where I’m attending meetings with blue or pink hair, one where I’m focused on problem-solving, one where I’m forced to get comfortable being the weakest link on a team. As our digital world becomes more immersive than ever, we are continually faced with a wider range of scenarios to explore, so that we can discover and create a role in our most important reality that is authentically and deeply “us”.