Lost in Digital Space
Life transitions like changing school or family problems can make a young person a prime candidate for Internet addiction. Somehow, the virtual world is so much more attractive than RL3. However, when you stay too long in a virtual world, you get further and further from real happiness. Jane found this out the hard way.
I was introduced to MapleStory by a friend when I was 15 years old. She told me about this game that we could log in to play together. I thought that would be interesting. We went to a LAN café, I logged in, and started building my character. It was hard learning how to explore, attack, and even do simple things like jumping and picking up items. But it gave me a lot of satisfaction whenever I levelled up. I made lots of friends on MapleStory.
MapleStory was very relaxing for me. Whenever I was on Maple Island or Victoria Island (these are places in MapleStory), I would forget all my troubles in RL. But the moment I logged off, it was like the real world would come crashing in on me. And the clock, which always seemed to stop when I was in MapleStory, would race in doubly quick time as if to make up for all the time I had spent logged on.
I would find that I was late for school, late with homework or late to go home. That year was very tough for me. I had been put into a new class. I didn’t know anybody. Nobody at all! Other girls may be able to make new friends easily, but I can’t. So I pretended.
I pretended I knew the lessons, so I wouldn’t have to ask anybody. I pretended that I was okay being alone at recess time. I pretended I didn’t mind whenever the other students got together in groups. The loneliness was very painful. At times like these, I would plan where I wanted to go next in “Maple World” after school. I would daydream about the next quest I wanted to undertake.
After school, I would rush to the LAN café. If my friends were there, that was fine. If they weren’t, I just logged on by myself. I was never lonely when I was in “Maple World”. I found it easy to talk online with friends who were logged in on “Maple World”. Whenever things got unbearable in class, I would skip school for the day.
I remember the first time I played truant. My heart was pounding hard. I was prepared to face the music when I returned home that evening. But nothing happened. My grandfather sat in front of the TV as usual and my mum came home late from work.
So I skipped school again, and again. On average, I think I skipped school about thrice a week in Secondary Three. Of course, my results suffered. I felt bad because I did not want to make my mother sad. Ever since my father left us when I was young, she has been working long hours to support my grandfather and me. I am her only child, so her hopes are pinned on me. But although I felt bad, what could I have done?
Then one day, she called me from work. She yelled that the school had called her about my absenteeism. That night, I promised her, with utmost sincerity, that I would not miss school again. I tried hard the next few weeks. I really did! I was attending school purely for my mother.
I understood absolutely nothing of what the teachers were teaching, because I was too far behind in my studies. Things were worse now because I could tell that my classmates were whispering rumours about me behind my back. It became so unbearable that I started skipping school again.
I focused all my energy on MapleStory. I was quite high up in the levels by now so I spent more time chatting with online friends in the guild and guiding newbies. I also started playing another game called Audition. My mum cried and nagged, but I would just stand there and take her ranting. When she was done, I would go to bed.
I think I would have just continued with this behaviour if my school hadn’t signed me up for TOUCH Cyber Wellness’ programmes. The counsellor taught me about setting goals, scheduling daily tasks to reach my goals and limiting my time on the computer. I thought goal setting was for perfect people, but he said that everybody can set goals. Goals need not be about getting As in all subjects. In fact, if we set goals this way, we would be discouraged very quickly.
So, my first goal was to make friends with one classmate that week. TOUCH also assigned two tutors to help me with my school subjects. What a relief! There was no way I could have caught up on my own. After the tuition, the ladies would spend time talking with me. I really enjoyed that. I’d been feeling lonely for so long that it was nice to chat with real-life people, much better than online friends.
Most importantly, my mother was happy. And that made me happy. At first, my mind kept straying to MapleStory and wondering what my online friends were up to. But I was so busy chasing my new goals and making friends with my classmates that I really didn’t miss logging on. Then, after a while, as I figured that it’s more important to have real-life achievements and friends, to me, it was not worth logging on anymore. So I stopped.