Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Escapism? You’d Better Believe It

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 11, 2012

Whenever I hear fiction, movies, or especially video games denigrated as useless escapism, my defensive response (and suppression of the desire to smack the critic) isn’t just based on my profession.

I tend to trace my love of video games to a couple of days spent in Phoenix as a kid. I’d played and enjoyed video games before that.  But it was during that conference, when I had a few dollar’s worth of quarters to spend and three arcade machines to study (by playing, watching other people play, and looking over their ‘attract mode’ demos in detail), that I think my lifelong obsession with the medium really began.

I can’t even remember if the hotel was in Phoenix or Albuquerque. But I remember the games. Or, more specifically, I remember the feelings I had when I was there. The magical other worlds behind the screen where things were black and white (literally, on two of the games – the third was in color).

And I remember walking into the hotel room and finding my dad on the phone, in tears, begging my mom not to make any final decision until he’d got back home and had a chance to talk to her in person. And I remember those feelings all too well, also. The worry about what would happen next – whether there’d be a home for me to go back to after my summer excursion. The feeling of helplessness, being out of control as my world got shaken up. I remember anger and pain and sadness and rolled up together in a bitter combination that wouldn’t leave.

Except when I was playing the games. For just a couple of minutes at a time, at the cost of a quarter, I’d forget everything. One of the wonderful things about these games was the amount of focus they required – the engagement, physically and mentally, with the machine. For a couple of minutes I’d be dancing around asteroids (well, okay, staggering around crazily, but it LOOKED cool) shooting at flying saucers, oblivious to anything around me – or the events of the last twenty-four hours.  And afterwards, with the adrenaline dying down the memory of the most recent game slowly getting pushed around in my memory, it felt like the sorrow and frustration and helplessness was lessened somewhat. Emotionally, it felt like I was living in two worlds, and a visit to the one behind the plexiglass of the cabinet – with every success heroic and every loss temporary – made a return to the real world a little more bearable. At least for a while.

Escapism? Damn straight. Useless? Absolutely not. It’s not like there was anything else I could do in this situation – the games helped me cope. And hey, they turned into a lifelong passion and a career.

This was hardly the only time I used games as an escape – I still do. They still provide a great palate-cleanser for the brain after work, a stress-purger. They work better than television for me.

So yeah, I have a bone to pick with anyone who is dismissive of video games and their role in culture. I get defensive. There’s way more to them than escapist fantasy, but even if there wasn’t, it’d be enough for me.




Filed Under: General - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Tesh said,

    What bugs me are the people who rail on games and then watch hours of filth on TV every day.

  • Armaan said,

    Yeah, for me games are a way to de-stress and entertain myself, just like movies or eating comfort food. I see nothing wrong with that, and it bothers me when people dismiss any form of entertainment just because it’s “only” entertaining.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I think games (or any kind of media) should strive to do more than just that, of course. There’s no sense in limiting your goals. 🙂 But even if it fails to achieve more, that’s still important.

  • Steven Fletcher said,

    I think you’re right in principle.

    It used to be like that for me. As I’ve grown older, it’s gotten to where games feel like they’re just additional work that I don’t have time to do.

    As a result, I’ve generally gravitated to easier, more casual games. I don’t like them as much, but I get quick rewards for playing for a brief period of time. When I play a game I really want to play, I seldom get far. I start the game and then forget what I was doing by the time I can play again.

  • Attila said,

    That’s kind of touching. I went through a similar experience. Add on immigrating to a new country too and I turned to games as an escape for sure…still do. Plus it’s something of an ego boost like you say, unlike real life, I have control, I can be a hero.

    That’s why I’ve always liked RPG games where you can get lost in another world. In recent memory there were even some days when I got so immersed that for a half hour afterwards real life just felt less real. I thought of walking around outside as just another first person game.

  • GhanBuriGhan said,

    Damn straight – I see absolutely nothing wrong with a healthy dose of escapism. I very deliberately use my limited gaming time to get my mind of things, enjoying the thrill of visiting imaginary worlds in the safe comfort of my own home. As with everything the secret is in the dose, of course. Doesn’t usually mean I want a simple game though, I still gravitate towards complex RPGs most of the time. But sometimes a few minutes of action can also fit the bill.

  • Andy said,

    I think it was Tolkien who said the only people who object to escapism are jailers.

  • Yoel said,

    That’s a very touching story. I agree with the moral, too: escapism is itself useful.