Escapism: Gaming’s Greatest Asset

How often have you had to defend your passion for video games to a dismissive group of people? And how often has your primary line of defence been related to storytelling? I’m guilty of whipping out the story telling excuse but it’s always struck me as an odd one. Let’s face it, the vast majority of narrative driven video games hold no real qualitative advantage over terrible films. If I really think about it, the reason I play games is probably, more often than not, completely unrelated to the game’s adequacy as a story telling medium. But why do I play video games? I guess the obvious answer would just be for “fun”. But that’s terribly simplistic and doesn’t really probe the actual reasoning that I enjoy them. Fun encompasses so many different elements and doesn’t go very far in pinpointing the actual root of my hobby. Thinking about it deeply makes me realise something that sounds incredibly lame. I play video games to escape.

Why does that sound lame? Well, it conjures up images of some guy in his parent’s basement playing games to escape from his own ineptitude. You know, the classic gamer stereotype that we’re all lumped with and is the image in the naysayer’s heads when they look sceptically at you after you mention how great the new Zelda is. It’s not really what I mean though (although I guess it could help with that). What I actually mean is that life can be pretty mundane and games can help you escape that tedium.  Games can help you deal with real problems, sure. But they are also great at just letting you escape from a frequently boring world. Obviously, they don’t beat actually going places and doing things. But real life constraints often prevent you from being able to do that. In contrast, nothing is stopping me putting Donkey Kong Country Returns in my Wii and jumping through the jungle. Or jumping through space on Mario Galaxy. Or exploring Bionis’ Leg on Xenoblade Chronicles. These rich worlds allow us to experience exciting adventures from the safety and comfort of our own living room. Allow us to take risks but be perfectly safe. They give us the opportunity to live. To live in another’s imagination, another’s dream. This might all sound like pretentious hyperbole and I apologise for that but think about it, what other medium can throw you into an environment as easily as gaming? Allow you to experience another’s vision. That’s incredible. Communicating a single person’s experience of an existing or imagined environment is difficult for most mediums. How can a film recreate, for example, the emotion of winning the world cup? It’s difficult. A photograph can show you what somewhere is like but a game can allow you to interact with that place. A painting can plunge you into the depths of the human mind but a video game can allow you to play in the designer’s dream world. I’m not saying that many video games have actually utilised the potential of this supreme advantage that they hold over other art forms but who hasn’t played Football Manager and got a bit too excited when their star signing scores the winning goal in a cup final? Only liars.

One snowy day in early 2009, my college closed. Not for one day, not for two but for an entire week. I enjoyed the snow for a couple of days but then I got a bit ill. It was just a bad cold but it was enough to prevent me from wanting to go outside. I got a bit bored as I was starved of human contact. Ever seen that episode of the Simpsons where everyone in Springfield is enjoying the snow but Bart has to stay inside and study? It was like that. Anyway, I ended up playing Animal Crossing for about 2 days straight. It’s probably a comment on man’s desperate struggle for interaction and routine. I’m more inclined to say that I had nothing better to do. The point is that Animal Crossing allowed me to escape the tedium of my situation. It provided me with a change of scenery. It was comforting. You can’t get a cold in Animal Crossing.

It’s sort of depressing that we feel the need to escape from life. But I wouldn’t necessarily think of it like that. We want to escape from the mundane. If this world is getting dull, let’s put in a disk (or cartridge) and have fun in a different one. It shows a desire to waste no time with the average, with the plain or with the dull. It keeps us going until life starts to get interesting again. That’s why I play games, to occupy myself during the boring bit of this world. To escape to a new one.

Or I guess I might just enjoy them because they’re pretty fun.

4 Responses to “Escapism: Gaming’s Greatest Asset”
  1. I just think the storytelling hasn’t come of age yet…. How many great writers are working in video games? And even then, you have to write in an incredibly different way. I think an incredible plot could add to the escapism!


  2. Ali Zarooni says:

    Very well said. I truly believe video games are not only a great way to kill time when we’re bored, but simultaneously expands our imagination with their great fictional world. Just like the awesome feeling of reading a good book or watching an excellent film, video games have their own unique way of expressing those feelings, which for me is the best and most memorable.


  3. Zero says:

    nice article, I completely agree.


  4. Aquiles Abuin says:

    love this article!!


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