I Finally Understand The Appeal Of Escaping Into A Video Game To Cope With Stress

For most of my life, I never quite understood escapism. I knew how powerful video games could be, how seductive and wonderful their worlds were, but I never quite understood the idea of wanting to melt through the screen and leave the real world behind.

After I’ve had string of rotten luck and high stress, among the most intense in my life, that has changed. I get it now. I get why folks want to fade away into the digital and why it can be so tempting to lose yourself elsewhere.

For example, I recently got very sick, and during that time, I buoyed myself with Final Fantasy 14’s latest expansion, Shadowbringers. My reward was an RPG campaign that was one of the best I’ve played in a long time. That was my first real taste of how powerful it was to push real-life worries away with a game.

Sure, at previous times in my life, I’ve done this type of thing in small bursts. Played Counter-Strike when I was mad. Played Total War or strategy games when I needed to think a little.

Then, this past weekend, during one of the hottest heat waves in New York City history, my apartment became unlivable. Temperatures rose to heights of 36C, and I had to stay elsewhere.

When I arrived in temporary homes, there were games. Fire Emblem: Three Houses, with its tangled tactical webs and charming characters, greeted me side by side with the friends who took me in. And I felt it, truly felt it for the first time: That desire to melt into the screen and leave everything behind. Goodbye Brooklyn. Hello, Eorzea. Hello, Fódlan.

I’ve always thought of escapism as a dirty thing, even irresponsible, and in some ways, I still do. It’s a temporary plaster on a problem. A way to ignore, to mitigate and arguably defer responsible action. One more match, one more level. Anything to avoid reality.

Yet, as my body truly and genuinely failed me, as I travelled from doctor to doctor and fled my home due to the high heat, escapism made more sense. Sometimes, things just fall apart, and one of the ways that people can deal with that is to put buffers between us and the bull.

Fight a boss and actually achieve victory, command an army and actually have some sense of control. Video games can offer us a very particular solace when everything is crumbling: They make us feel like we have power again.

In becoming a teacher at the Garreg Mach monastery in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I regained some sense of agency. Even in a simulated space, in a far distant and fake world, that is intoxicating.

And that’s what escapism is: An affirmation that you can have control, that you do matter, and that with some effort and trust, there is a path forward.

Of course, you can go in too deep. You can lock yourself in your room, play games and never turn around from your monitor to get back to solving the real-world issues that inspired your retreat into games. You can wade through dialogue trees with fake people instead of having necessary conversations with real folks.

There is always such a thing as too much. That’s why I didn’t see the value of escapism before.

But I think now I can understand the ways that it can be healthy, at least in the short term. Sometimes, things go bad. Sometimes your body breaks down, your house isn’t safe, your mood dips low and everything seems murky.

Screw it, go run your farm in Stardew Valley. Beat up Nazis in Wolfenstein.

Just make sure to come back again, I guess. Complete the quest, slay the whatever, solve the puzzle. Then come back and solve what you gotta do here.


Comments

    "Then, this past weekend, during one of the hottest heat waves in New York City history, my apartment became unlivable. Temperatures rose to heights of 36C, and I had to stay elsewhere."

    In Australia we call this "summer"

      Would love it if the hottest our days got was 36C honestly!

      Hahaha I was laughing at that bit too. That's juat a nice mild late spring day over here. Lol.

    I'm shocked this didn't end with a link to a go-fund-me page.

    ...instead of having necessary conversations with real folks.
    Right, so it's parts like this I take issue with during these sorts of articles... Where the author tells everyone else what is 'necessary', etc. Despite it actually being subjective, and different for each individual, and not objective in any way at all.

    What one person sees as 'necessary conversations with real folks' simply aren't necessary to a great many others, people who are primarily introverts are an especially good example.

    Meanwhile the moment they play a game more than the author might, it's suddenly a problem for no other reason than because they say it is.

    If you stop to REALLY think about it... Of all the conversations you have with 'real folks' how much of it is genuinely pointless bullshit that is truly no more meaningful than a conversation with an NPC in a video game?

      All my conversations at work feel like I'm talking to npc all day

      Well I'd say most of the conversations I have with my friends don't mean anything really. they can fascinating or learn something new but, are often just joking and coming up with witty comebacks. I'd say it's less the content of a conversation than many people simply enjoy being around particular people.

      You do you of course. If you don't like hanging out with people that's fine. I just hope this provides a perspective you may not have thought about.

        I'm very much in agreement with the "you do you" mentality, I'm all for people doing pretty much anything they want as long as it doesn't interfere with or harm the lives of others.

        My issue is that with comments like the one I highlighted, the author is declaring what is necessary for everyone, not just themselves. Based on nothing but a personal opinion along the lines of "Well this is what I need, therefor it clearly must be the same for everyone else."

          Yeah it is a problem. I just figured I might bring a perspective that may not have been considered.

      I see where you're going with this, I am not a particularly social person either and truly value, would even say I actually need my personal space and time.
      But I think here she meant conversations SHE feels are necessary. I don't think she was trying to tell you what you should or shouldn't do.
      But then I could be wrong. I often am!

    Escapism takes many forms. Working in the garage, sitting in front of the footie / soaps, 50 Shades of Grey, going to clubs. Gaming really isn’t any different from any of those, and like them, they can involve partners, friends or whole communities.

    It’s really anything that takes you from the general mid boggling dullness of work, whether it’s in an office or a home. Never wanting to escape from that sphere of life sounds... nice.

      Yep. The fact that Heather couldn't understand its value until she herself had experienced stress points to a lack of ability to empathise. Or she just couldn't think of anything else to write an "article" about.

        It's actually pretty alarming that someone who writes about video games for a living didn't get the escapism aspect of them before.

        I mean I know I'd argue the escapism aspect of video games is probably their core value.

          Why would Heather need to understand escapism she isn't a journalist shes an activist lacking self awareness of epic proportions just like her activist buddies all over games media, not that these people only do activism sometimes they do good articles.

          hey guys i understand escapism and vidya gamez now... still not going to apologise or acknowledge the valid rage i have been farming for years by injecting my political dribbling into your hobby and insinuating anyone who doesn't agree with me is a bigot. It's an encouraging first step but still a ways to go.

            Umm...ok.

              you seem confused, if you want ask a question maybe i can clarify something for you.

          Also, power fantasy. Hits those notes she mentioned about exerting control when control is a scarce commodity in real life.

          I know when grieving, I've dived deeeeeeep into the escapism hole for such reasons.

    This year I properly got into Final Fantasy XIV for the first time. I started playing my character around March and it was a nice new thing to do in between working full time. I was living in a house I really didn't like too much with a housemate I didn't know and my relationships at the time were going through some serious strife. In April my primary partner of one year and I decided to break things off to look after our respective mental healths. Three weeks later my other partner of six years broke up with me as she had come to the realisation that the relationship wasn't what she wanted anymore. In May I was sent an email asking my housemate and I to vacate the property as the landlord wanted to undertake serious interior renovations. I had just moved in in January.

    In the space of five months I had been uprooted several times, moving to my new house, losing two of my long term relationships and becoming single for the first time since I was 18, and then being asked to move again.

    I had turned to drinking heavily and my depression was at an all time low. It felt like I had lost complete control of my life and nothing was going to make it better. But in this incredibly tumultuous period I had FFXIV. I had my Elezen dragoon knight, Arienne. In Eorzea, she was me. Arienne was an opportunity for me to have a version of myself I had control over. I felt my progression as I levelled up and made my way through the main story quest. In this world I could actually be okay and powerful and grow when everything else felt like it was falling apart. I met friends through Discord servers and through my FC. And most importantly I had something to do with my time that felt constructive and simple to me. It made sense.

    It was something I could dedicate my time to and work towards when all I'd be doing otherwise would be sitting around and stewing in my own bad thoughts.

    Since then my ex partners and I have maintained our close friendships. I've just moved out to my own place that I love and I've sobered up. I don't think I would've gotten through this entire ordeal without something like FFXIV to keep me grounded. Having that outlet of control and structure adjacent to chaos and uncertainty was so incredibly invaluable to me.

    Sometimes it really helps to just disappear for a while when you have no more stamina left to worry about your own life. To keep you okay until you've rested long enough to pick yourself back up and keep on moving.

    Last edited 29/07/19 9:53 am

    I'm a bit outside the box, being nearly 70 yrs old, with various ailments that inevitably brings (after working AND partying hard for decades), and now living alone with scattered friends and relatives, I find enormous comfort and fun in just firing up my (admittedly topline) rig and drifting away into gaming worlds for a few hours. Hoping my physical and mental faculties allow me to continue this pastime for many more years, but my headshot count continues to dwindle, might be time for Animal Crossing as my fps efforts are approaching Octodad competence levels!

      I'm really looking forward to retirement for this reason. Lots of worlds of RPG fantasy to explore, etc. Many pretty worlds. Many different stories.

    7 years ago I had to move for a while into a shitty shared apartment. My room was tiny but had a big window that exposed it to the whole inclemency of the afternoon sun. It was literally hell. In the worst days, I lied on my bed put a towel with ice cubes on my chest and played Super Mario Galaxy 2 (one "feature" that was never talked about the Wiimotes is that once you had gotten used to them, you could achieve all of the motion range with very minute hand movements, so when you're near-comatose with heat they're superior to normal controllers). I credit it with allowing me to keep my sanity on days when I was ready to transform into a psychic ball of malice and hatred for a world that allowed such heat to exist.

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