I spent the majority of my waking childhood doing one of three things: reading books, playing soccer, or playing video games. It was a simple existence in which I put fun, fantasy, and anything surreal ahead of the mundane and every day. As a child, I was indulged; my wild imagination a wonderful thing that was fostered and encouraged by pretty much every adult I encountered. My mind danced with thoughts of magic, adventures across improbable landscapes, and a life of constant adventure and excitement.
This mentality continued into young adulthood, but my fantasies became more elaborate and vivid, opening up new vistas of possibility and entertaining strangeness. The books I read were more sophisticated, their language and concepts twisted and unreal, feeding my desire to experience the impossible. The games I played evolved with graphic engines, creating more realistic representations of monsters, castles, and the prior’s nonstop siege of the latter. I was able to indulge my insatiable imagination more than ever. Even my soccer became a calculated game of strategy; the physical exertions of the sport had become trivial and I enjoyed analyzing the war-like breakdown of an unfolding game just as much as I loved scoring a goal.
In college, I was free to indulge to an almost ludicrous extent. While still in high school I had been limited by my parents influence and observation. On my own, I could flood my mind with weird and archaic literature and play copious amounts of games to the maximum extent I could absorb them. I was not just free, I was unchained. My mind went into overdrive, seeking to experience any bit of fantasy I could get my hands on (or mind around) and I would often find myself reading a book, watching a movie, and playing a game simultaneously. I loved the freedom of overindulgence despite the mental and physical ramifications.
My success in college was simply a byproduct of this fantasy-lust; I just so happened to study a field that benefited from mental flexibility and rampant creativity. I actually enjoyed reading the things I read and writing the things I wrote, which I am sure not many college students can say with a straight face.
I never stopped to think that my obsession with fantasy was unhealthy for my development and perceptions. I always considered it normal, just a hobby like any other. I knew many who were as fanatical or even moreso, and figured I was a functional, social being somehow unaffected by something that consumed me so wholly.
The effects were subtle. I did not devolve into a schizophrenia where I thought I was actually a wizard casting spells in my cubicle. I did not dodge imaginary dragons while driving my car. I didn’t even consider myself particularly fantastic, despite constantly being awash in the genre.
I did however build a massive repository of expectation, preconceived notions, and overly exaggerated perception. Any time an adult described something to me, I gathered every tiny piece of information about the topic and began to construct my imaginary idea of what this thing would be like. With emotions I aggrandized what it would actually feel like, expecting it to be as obvious as cold water on a hot day. With events, I expected wondrous celebrations; wildly yet surreptitiously planned and executed. Sensations were not spared either; I always imagine alcohol to taste like candy, having a job being a daily adventure in a hip environment, and various achievements literal milestones that I could tangibly see, touch, and remember with pride.
This doesn’t sound bad. I had very, very, very high expectations for things. This meant I had a powerful curiosity and tried almost anything I could. Exotic foods, various athletics, even sources of altered states, when the opportunity presented itself. I was not out of control, but I was certainly hedonistic for a period, in an attempt to reach that exalted pinnacle of emotion that I had built in my mind. In college I played the role of hedonist to an extreme at times, hoping to get a brief taste of what seemed so ordinary and accessible to others.
When I didn’t feel these things, I was confused. For a bit, I considered myself a sociopath, incapable of feeling the gamut of the human psyche. But one day, I had an epiphany about my life and all my experience. If I remember correctly, I was reading the introduction to Walden for the 4th time. I had not not felt the various emotions and sensations I sought, I had felt them in a way completely polar to how I had expected to feel them.
I had been in love, I had been truly angry, I had felt spirituality, pride, honor, grace, humility, aggravation, embarrassment. Unlike physical pain and pleasure, these feelings were impossibly ethereal, only felt in wisps and tickles. A lifetime of fantasy immersion had made me brace myself for these feelings hitting me; instead they tapped me one the shoulder and passed right on by without me even noticing.
The result: a general disillusionment. I am nowhere near unhappy, in fact I love where my life has meandered and am proud of the things I have accomplished thus far. I have big dreams and am taking steps to realize them, and feel, for the most part, satisfied. But I am admittedly two dimensional in my emotions, mainly because I never felt what I thought I should feel, when I expected to feel it. I had to force myself to say, “Oh, so that is what X feels like”, where “X” equals any emotion normally recognizable by a person.
I had to spend some time realigning what was reality and disconnecting it from what fantasy had taught me was reality. While this sounds absurd, it was actually quite difficult, and I still find myself underestimating certain emotions and events. I didn’t walk at my college graduation because the entire event seemed washed out and banal to me; to this day I could tell you why I thought that. I also had to acknowledge that I have experienced many, many things that I had simply overlooked, and take time to appreciate them for what they are, not what they might be.
I would say that fantasy ruined my mind, but that would be an oversimplification and overreaction. It certainly altered my judgements and made me expect more than I think is reasonable for the world we live in. But it also taught me to never take anything for granted, and instilled in me a sense of dedication and stoicism that I might not have had otherwise. Because I “missed” many emotions and feeling when they first manifested themselves, I have developed a very placid demeanor; it takes a lot of consistent frustration to push me over the edge. I am passionate, but only to a certain extent, and I do not easily get carried away.
All this as a result of many hours of Tolkien, Asimov, Lovecraft, and Sierra, Blizzard, Bioware.
I do not regret it, as with all of the above confusion about the world comes a few, dominating positives. I find fun in the mundane, by being able to project frivolity and fantastic scenarios on what would otherwise be a total snoozefest. I also have high mental dexterity; I attribute my problem solving skills and fast-thinking to the years of synapses firing over which monster to take down first. I also have developed an immense database of historical and folklore knowledge that often aids me in conversation and in writing; both of which I find myself doing quite often.
I only write this because I know there must be others like me out there who have not come to terms with why the feel (or don’t) the way they do. Others of my generation who played just as many games, read just as many books, and otherwise smothered themselves in science fiction and fantasy surely must have similar sentiments to mine.
If so, fear not. There really is a wonderful world out there, filled with amazing scenery, people, experiences, and yes, adventures waiting for you to discover it. There is sorcery abound in human interaction and pure magic in a lover’s touch. As much comfort as there is in your digitally or scholarly created worlds, they will not serve you indefinitely. I do not suggest complete removal of the thing that has defined you and that you love so dearly, just an active recognition of which world is actually real.