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Virtual reality: Avatar inspires gamer to hit the gym

By Jacque Wilson, CNN
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Fri October 26, 2012
Marcus Dickinson, right, has dropped 45 pounds and toned up to become more like his online persona, Roc Wieler from "<a href='http://www.eveonline.com/' target='_blank'>EVE Online</a>." Marcus Dickinson, right, has dropped 45 pounds and toned up to become more like his online persona, Roc Wieler from "EVE Online."
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marcus Dickinson has lost 45 pounds and toned up to be more like his character
  • Roc Wieler is a retired colonel from the Minmatar tribes with an affinity for discipline
  • Dickinson blogs as Roc, in addition to creating 3-D artwork and music albums

(CNN) -- The world of "EVE Online" is brutal. There are enemies and alliances, death and destruction. Gamers fight for territory, profit and fame in a never-ending quest to top their opponent.

It's a bit like the real world that way.

When Marcus Dickinson first created his "EVE" character, Roc Wieler, the two had little in common. Roc was a retired colonel from the Minmatar tribes -- a stoic, physically imposing disciplinarian. Dickinson was a 230-pound Canadian with an affinity for bacon.

Over time, the line between fiction and reality has blurred.

"I'm a role player inherently," Dickinson says. "I take it seriously."

For Dickinson, Roc Wieler is a brand. The 40-year-old advertising director has a blog called Roc's Ramblings that he writes for daily -- as Roc. He also creates music albums and 3-D artwork. He even sells Roc-related paraphernalia to his fans through the blog and social media sites.

Brand loyalty is one of the reasons Dickinson first decided to shape up. During his trip to the 2009 "EVE Online" FanFest, real life hit him smack in the face.

Walking into the convention, he didn't feel like Roc. He felt like a stereotypical geek, surrounded by other stereotypical geeks.

"We were all just a bunch of pathetic losers," Dickinson remembers. "We paid good money to fly all the way to Iceland and instead of enjoying Iceland, most of us spent all our time sitting around playing the video game we already played back home."

"Something snapped inside me, and I realized I wasn't being true to my brand. Why can't I be this character? Why can't I look like this? He acts and talks like me because he is me. I'm the one who gave him life."

Why gamers are a great fit at the gym

Roc's Rules
#137: Do your best or do nothing.

#260: If it was easy, I wouldn't be here.

#350: Sweat is fat crying.

#391: If you're tired of starting over, stop quitting.

#422: Don't be upset with the results you didn't get from the workout you didn't do.

For years, Dickinson's wife, Farah Iqbal, had been bugging him to go the gym. When he returned from Iceland, the pair joined on a trial basis. The first month was hard, Dickinson says -- his knees hurt, his feet hurt and he could barely run a mile. But he kept at it.

He executed his fitness plan as seriously as Roc would execute a mission. He told himself his weight loss was a matter of life or death.

"If I do not make these changes today, and every day going forward, I will die," he says. "I know it sounds tragic but that's what it took for me."

So he made the changes. He got up at 5:30 every morning. He did leg workouts that made him collapse. He pushed himself until he vomited. He did fitness programs like P90X and Insanity. He ran a half-marathon.

Dickinson also changed the way he ate. Iqbal remembers a trip to visit friends in Montreal when Dickinson created a grocery list for their hosts and made all his own meals.

"It was almost embarrassing," she says of the grocery list creation, "but you know what, I got over myself. Because he's on a path that I support."

Dickinson now eats 3,000 calories a day -- mostly lean protein and vegetables -- to sustain his body-building lifestyle. "Five years ago if I was eating 3,000 calories a day, it was because I had bags of Doritos in front of me," he says with a laugh.

He's rigid about his lifestyle. He doesn't eat dessert or allow for cheat days. It's a struggle, but one he embraces as a sort of real-life challenge.

"He always had this attitude of not giving up, but now it's extreme," Iqbal says. "He's become very well-focused -- or stubborn -- with (the) journey he's on."

His laser focus has paid off. Dickinson now weighs 185 pounds and is only 14% body fat. He can squat almost twice his weight and dead-lift 450 pounds.

"I'm closer to looking like Roc than I've ever been," he says.

Dickinson realizes he sounds slightly schizophrenic. But if you think about it, he says, all guys have fantasy lives. When they read comic books, they envision themselves as caped crusaders. When they watch James Bond, they envision themselves as suave womanizers with oodles of money.

"Superman, Vin Diesel -- we want to be them so badly," Dickinson says. "The difference is you'll never be Superman. You're setting yourself up to fail.

"The reason Roc worked was that he was a fantasy hero of my creation, so I was already part way there. I just had to get the physical."

Iqbal says she keeps her husband from crossing the line between fantasy and reality. She's not a big fan of Roc -- she prefers her men balanced, with a feminine side. When Dickinson slips into Roc's deep voice with a "Hello, darling..." greeting after work, "I'm like 'Oh, shut the hell up,'" she says.

"I have to remind him that it is a character."

Still, Iqbal encourages him to blog and play "EVE Online" as much as possible because she knows his fans are eager for more advice on how to get fit. Plus, there's that other side benefit...

"If I said to him, 'This is affecting our relationship,' I know he would (stop)," Iqbal says. "But I don't want to -- he looks yummy!"

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