Usually, when people talk about the subject of escapism, it often comes with negative connotations. Most of the time, the general scope of escapism intrinsically implies discontentment with reality; a desire to escape from the banality of everyday life. This is especially potent when it comes to gaming.
Many would accuse an avid World of War Craft player of wanting to live in ‘wow’ rather than live in the real world. These allegations usually come in conjunction with accusation of fixation or suffering from a state of distress.
While that sounds dire, it is true that gamers are painted as a victimized demographic, but these claims of escapism commonly come with associations that the unhappy, empty, socially uncertain and nerdy, play games to get away from their deficiencies and draw out their power fantasies; by playing a role outside of one’s self.
According to Joe Hilgard, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychological Sciences: “Individuals who play games to get away from their lives or to pretend to be other people seem to be those most at-risk for becoming part of a vicious cycle.”
Freed from the constraints of real-life problems, gamers tend to use this medium far more than any other entertainment gizmo. But do people or researchers accuse avid readers, avid cinema goers, artists and poets of the same thing? As you would expect they don’t. There is something to be said for that; all forms of contemporary life are in fact, escapism, more than any other time, modernity is a material experience.
When our time is not consumed by work, we are enjoying ourselves, be it through listening to music, watching television, seeing a movie, reading, or the act of delving deep into the fantastical world of an interactive narrative. Everything we do is in fact, an escapist endeavor. Gaming is just another medium of those popular cultures that we have created to amuse us.
Scott Rigby, a social psychologist, reiterates “We all have psychological needs.”After several years of gathering data on why video games are so engaging, Rigby explains in his book Glued to Games: How Video games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound, that “these needs operate all the time – when we’re at work, or when were engaging in a softball league or on weekends while we are playing a video game. These needs are always operating. Games perfectly target several of these needs.”
For some, it is a passing fascination – but for others, it is much more than just a brief infatuation. It offers a chance for a crowd of avid gamers to socialize, stimulate the mind and enjoy interesting conversation.
Research has found that video games offer a range of social and educational benefits to gamers, Edith Cowan University (ECU) Associate Professor Mark McMahon, an expert in gaming, said “gamers are reaping the social benefits when their friends come over and they play computer games together. They are often managing complex tasks such as forming and managing teams.”
We as humans tend to be drawn towards experiences that make us feel adequate and independent, and gaming is no different than any other extra-curricular activity. The modern life that we have created naturally creates discontentment and creates a world where we are stressed, depressed, emotional wrecks and existential messes of human beings. Gaming not only helps to practice important life skills, like Mark McMahon explained, but it is also another form of activity that helps fulfill a person’s psychological needs to battle discontentment.
It all underscores an important point: while our world is constantly experiencing change, the rate of new technological interests and demands are changing as well. Humanity has evolved to a state whereby we are all smart enough to comprehend our own existence; we are all self-aware of what is good for us and what is not. Gaming is just another creative form of expression that gives purpose and meaning to our lives.
The question that remains unanswered, is gaming in fact, a form of escapism? Yes. Is it a negative or depressing phenomenon, where individuals just act out their power illusions? No it isn’t. It’s just another technological innovation that has transformed popular culture. Gaming in particular is an effective form of escapism. Gaming isn’t just about having fun and draining time; it is also a form of artistic expression and a powerful mechanism for digital storytelling. It is intellectually stimulating and can constantly make the player think or judge certain circumstances. The sheer level of immersion remains unmatched when compared to other mediums.
Gaming isn’t simply about escaping from the harsh realities of the real world; it is about creating new, artistic, and interactive experiences. If you think gaming is negative paradox of popular culture or if you think it extracts individuals from their social environment, then you first need to consider if in fact, all forms of conventional lifestyles are forms of escapism.