Why Video Game Escapism Isn’t Inherently Bad
Here’s how to navigate the double-edged sword of video game escapism.
Understanding Video Game Escapism
Escapism has an inherently negative connotation. After all, if you’re escaping from something, you’re not growing. You are doing everything to avoid your current situation or you’re keeping yourself busy in order to avoid dealing with a difficult circumstance. However, this is actually not the entire truth behind video game escapism.
In an article by Philip Kollar titled ‘Jane McGonigal on the good and bad of video game escapism’, Kollar identifies the two types of escapism that a person can experience. Self-suppression involves running away from unpleasant thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. While self-expansion involves actively seeking new skills, stronger relationships, and positive experiences. Kollar notes that this is the difference between saying ‘Everything sucks, so I’m going to play games” versus “Life is better when I have time to play games.”
If you look at video games as a means of reducing your suffering or to run away from obstacles in life, this is self-suppression. You are gaming to forget about yourself and your problems. You are using gaming as a means to forget the world altogether. On the other hand, if you play games to connect with friends after a long day at work or to immerse yourself in the story of a rich world like Disco Elysium, you are gaming to add more to your life. These worlds should excite you and the games in your Steam library should invigorate you. If they don’t, then that probably means you haven’t properly addressed something else that’s bothering you or you splurged way too much on the last steam summer sale.
An article published by BMC Psychology explores the connection between procrastination and video game addiction. The study found that there was not much of a positive correlation between playing video games for long hours and procrastinating. What does this say about video game escapism? It mainly points out that, as stated earlier, escapism is not inherently a negative thing. It all comes down to the reason why someone is playing a game in the first place.
The study also mentioned the following.
“when asked why they play, those answering to escape reality and to reduce stress had more problems of procrastination than those who play for entertainment, reward or social reasons.”
If you find that playing video games is a means to alleviate the symptoms of some persistent problem, you may need to identify and work with the source of that problem instead. Our early experiences with video games are often categorized as magical and even awe-inspiring. How would you describe your most recent gaming session?
My Experience with Video Game Escapism
Back in the day when I had a lot more time on my hands, I was definitely dabbling in video game escapism. My game of choice was Dota 2. Dota 2 is a MOBA and it involves coordination, skill, and the constant willingness to improve. It was also incredibly addicting and frustrating to play with strangers.
So, I found a bunch of other people that played the game and proceeded to play with them. This was about four years ago and I still talk to a few people from that group today. However, when I look back at playing Dota 2, I sort of see it as a rampant addiction. I put about 1,500 hours into the game and I felt that I never really got any better at it.
It didn’t stick out to me like Dishonored did. It didn’t take me to another world. It was a game that was mainly focused on competing and working with others. It drove me to extreme highs and lows. Some days I would get home from school and play Dota 2 for the entire day. I would briefly go down for something to eat, but that was about it. Some days those sessions would be full of blissful banter with online friends and other days would consist of increasing anger and frustration at the game.
In this way, Dota 2 was a form of escapism that invoked self-suppression and self-expansion. It gave me the opportunity to play a competitive game and meet some people from different parts of the world. However, it also worked as a means to avoid the problems I was having at home and school. It allowed me to escape the unpleasant emotions I was having.
The simplest way to distinguishing between positive and negative video game escapism is to ask yourself, am I actually enjoying this game? It may not be a black or white answer. Instead, it might even be necessary to write down some of the pros and cons of playing a particular game.
Video games, like any other art form, have the means to transform us and change our perception of things. However, as with many activities, some metathinking or reflecting goes a long way in helping to establish whether we are benefiting or hurting ourselves with our particular habit.