In my article Time Out of Mind (Toronto, Ellen L. K. (2009). Time Out of Mind: Dissociation in the Virtual World. Psychoanalytic Psychology. 26 (2) 117-133) I discuss the tragic situation of a little boy named Timmy who escaped to an online world where he could pretend to have the support that he needed from his real-life family.
During the family interview Timmy appeared very quiet and said nothing unless asked a direct question. This was in contrast to his animated behavior with his mother and, eventually as he became more comfortable, with me. In my evaluation of Timmy I would describe him as mystified both by his own feelings and the emotions of those around him. He acknowledged to me that he gets “hyper”, more so at his dad’s house than his mom’s. He said that he doesn’t say a lot at his dad’s house and that it is hard to think of much to say when everyone is talking. He feels a “whole bunch of anger” inside sometimes but he is not allowed to express it to either parent. He gets mad at his mom when she wakes up crabby in the morning and gets tense about something small that he has done. He gets upset with his father when his father makes him do a lot of chores. He is aware that his parents are fighting about him and he is puzzled by it. “Why can’t they stop fighting and work it out so everybody’s happy?” he says. I asked him if he felt sad when his parents fought. He replied that he didn’t but that he usually just stayed away to give them “their space.”
Timmy also related that he spends a lot of time being bored and lonely. He gets bored at his father’s house when everyone but him is doing something else and he is not allowed to play computer games. He finds public school boring because they do the same things over and over and he doesn’t have time to spend on his own creative projects. His computer world provides the stimulation he is seeking but even there he can feel unhappy and lonely. He feels sad when he loses a fight on a video game and knows that he will have to “fight all over again.” Even on Toontown people seem to hate him. He tries to put it out of his mind but then he remembers it again.
As part of the evaluation I asked Timmy to draw a self-portrait. He drew a roomful of toys and computer games—including a game cube and controller, a bucket of Leggos and his computer. He showed it to me and then said, “I forgot to draw myself.” It was as if his own person had become lost in a world of cartoons and computer games, an escape from the real world in which he is constantly disrupted and moving between two very different households. Though his parents appear to be interested in his welfare, they are, in fact, more interested in their ongoing controversy than in their child. He finds them too often preoccupied with other things: his mother, with the computer and his father, “hanging out” with his present wife.
Toontown(http://play.toontown.com/playersguide/printchapter.php?printsection=1) provides a refuge for Timmy: a safe place where he can act out angry feelings and exercise control over what happens to him. It is a multi-player online game that lets you “live the life of a Toon.” You can create your own character, build an estate, play games with friends and explore amazing places. It is advertised as “always growing, always changing, and as wild as your imagination.” But we learn that there are evil forces at work in the form of Cogs– evil robot business types who have arrived to take over the town. Cogs can’t take a joke so the one way to defeat them is to crack them up with an arsenal of gags—seltzer bottles, cream pies in the face, anything that makes them laugh. Each player earns laugh points by completing certain tasks. The more laugh points, the stronger your Toon will become.
Need friends? It’s easy. Simply click on the Toon you would like to make friends with and a message will pop up telling you if that person is interested in being your friend. Is your Toon sad? No problem. Fill up your “laff” meter with more gags and your Toon will be happy again. It’s a cartoon world where friends appear at the click of a mouse and evil Cogs are defeated in Punchline Place, Loopy Lane or Silly Street.