It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites deliberate on a single burning question. Then, we ask your take.
This week, in light of current happenings, we Ask Kotaku: What’s your game of choice for spacing out from reality?
In order for me to free myself from reality’s brutal grip, I need to completely shut off my mind and give myself over to something primal. Beats. Rhythms. Anime girls. What sort of game combines all three of those things?
That’s right, Madden 21.
Wait, no. It’s Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone for the PlayStation 4 or Project DIVA Mega Mix for the Switch. These games feature a couple hundred of the software singer’s greatest hits with four difficulty levels to tap along to. I’ve poured dozens of hours into each game, to the point where playing them on “hard” difficulty is autopilot for me, though I can still bump up to “extreme” mode if I want to actually pay attention.
Any good rhythm game fills the reality-escape role, but it’s normally Miku or the very best PlayStation Vita game, Japan-only vocaloid game, IA/VT Colourful. If I cannot be found in reality, I am probably one of those places, and do not wish to be disturbed.
I don’t really go to games, or any art (cue sound of can of worms opening), to escape reality. Especially these days, when everything is so much, I want media that helps me think about my world in new or useful ways, rather than things that help me escape from what I’m experiencing. Games like Fall Guys and Fortnite have inspired me to think about proximity to others’ bodies in a time when another person hasn’t touched me since the spring. I’ve felt drawn to survival games like This War of Mine and The Long Dark as I think about mutual aid and subsistence. This will certainly shock none of my coworkers, but I’m not very good at relaxing.
The Division 2 has become my main game when I just want to shut off my brain and mindlessly relax. I can just load up a random mission or that new Summit mode and spend hours mowing down a bunch of nameless enemies, collecting tons of colourful loot drops, and filling up a bunch of XP meters and challenge bars. It’s satisfying to complete things and get stuff, even if most of what I get is garbage loot and most of what I complete are challenges I don’t care about.
Today, I crave control, like many others, as the world of 2020 seems out of control. And while things feel a bit better in a post-election November, I expect I’ll still be grinding away in The Division 2 on days when I need to escape from the chaos.
I don’t have a “go-to” game. It’s more like I go to whatever game I’m currently playing if I need to pull the eject cord on reality (something I’ve frequently had to do this year). However, I am more likely to use a video game as an escape — as opposed to continuing my doomscrolling or just staring out into space — if it’s something that can be played in short digestible bites. Part Time UFO, the crane-game gig economy simulator, or any one of the fifty ‘leven picross games that came highly recommended after my picross blog are the most recent examples. In the rare case I find myself without my Switch, there’s a game on my phone, Woodoku, that I play to occupy my time. Woodoku is Sudoku meets Tetris in which you earn points by using differently shaped blocks (think Tetrominos) to either fill a 9×9 square or a 27 block-long line. I was obsessed with that game for much of the summer, before Picross came along and stole all my free moments.
I don’t have one game of choice for this, really. It’s more that for me video games have always been escapist entertainment. Is it so different from TV? For the better part of a century many people have turned to the “opiate of the masses” to enjoy a brief respite from the stresses of daily life. That notion’s always defined my relationship with games, too.
That’s not to say I don’t have favourites. Classic Doom, Dragon’s Dogma, Bionic Commando, Final Fantasy XII, and System Shock are all games I adore and enjoy revisiting. And when I play them, yeah, it usually feels pretty escapist. But the same is also true for whatever game happens to juicing my dopamine receptors at any given time. Escapism really is my key motivator for playing. (Well, and habit.)
Maybe that’s one reason I adore “immersive” single-player experiences above all else. Games that actually succeed in substituting their reality for my own — occupying my moment-to-moment attention to the point that I begin thinking about what I’ll have my character do next, start formulating long-term in-game goals, etc. — do the best job of granting me the oblivion I seek. Put another way, those games are particularly good at putting me in the pleasurable mental state known as “flow,” which is key to blissfully whiling away hours accomplishing virtual feats. (In the past I often got this from competitive games, too.)
I actually have very mixed feelings about if video gaming is “good” for me — it absolutely isn’t on the physical health front — but I’ve also mostly accepted that games are one of my key coping mechanisms, and there are many worse ways I could seek such catharsis. I’m writing this at the end of a very stressful week, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go try and lose my mind in some virtual world. I hope to be gone for a while.
This probably won’t surprise anyone but it’s Destiny 2. In college it was Modern Warfare. Later I fell hard for Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer. And then for a time it was Dota 2, but I quickly realised that fifth circle of hell always left me more stressed than before I’d played. Now, in-between a brief stint with Gwent, it’s Bungie’s MMO. Destiny 2 can be incredibly taxing but despite that fact, or maybe because of it, you can let it absorb you for days, weeks, months without ever seeming to completely exhaust it or feel exhausted.
Everything in Destiny 2 follows familiar patterns built out of satisfying headshots and random loot drops. It can be mindless, but only in the way that driving home from work the same way you’ve gone for five years can be mindless. “When did I get here?” you might wonder at regular intervals, unable to remember what came before while still being confident the most attentive parts of your lizard brain were fully engaged in the task at hand. Destiny 2 has a knack for eventually dissipating everything you bring to it: excitement, wonder, and enthusiasm, but also anxiety, fear, and stress. Destiny 2’s apocalyptic future is post-work and post-human, and it leaves me feeling free of any nagging guilt or shame whenever its familiar rhythms lull my super-ego to sleep.
How About You?
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? Do you have an escapist gaming go-to, or do you perhaps play for entirely different reasons? Have your say! We’ll be back next week to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!