Playing games to escape reality seemed like the worst thing one could do when I was growing up.
We were told that gaming was nothing more than pure escapism; a temporary way to run from the world and bury our heads in the sand.
There was a bit of a moral panic about what all these games were doing to children, and it was easy for people to become afraid, since many parents didn't actually play games. There was always the question of addiction; if you could turn on one of those Nintendo tapes and slip away from the real world, why would you ever come back? You would play games to escape reality, which would neglect your real-world responsibilities, which would make your problems worse, and the loop would continue.
It wasn't an unfounded concern. The problem was that some people believed all games would cause this to happen, regardless of the person. The reality is that few games are inherently addictive, and compulsive playing may be more helpfully seen as a symptom of larger issues, rather than the issue itself.
"The biggest risk factor for pathological video game use seems to be playing games to escape from daily life," Joe Hilgard, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science said, as reported by Natureworldnews. "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. These gamers avoid their problems by playing games, which in turn interferes with their lives because they're so busy playing games."
I'm absolutely using video games to escape from my problems.
Is this a bad thing?
Games are an art form that, even more so than books and film, can remove the player from their immediate surroundings and take them someplace else. The rest of the world disappears when you're wrapped up in a good video game, which can be the best thing about the medium while also being one of the most dangerous.
I'm fully aware that the hour or so of gaming I get at the end of the day is pure escapism, and I embrace it as such. I don't want to worry about my problems, and I'm not trying to make my head clearer so I can deal with them more effectively. I'm just trying to get away for a bit.
I want to become Batman so I can throw fools into the air and have the Batmobile shoot them out of the sky. I don't want to argue about whether video games mostly offer a power fantasy because I want to feel powerful. Taking the complex problems of adolescence and adulthood and putting them on hold for problems that can be solved with a fist or a gun is very attractive.
This isn't how I think games should be played ideally, or at least not exclusively, but for now it's working. You want different things out of games at different parts of your life, and right now this is what I want. This is what I need.
I'm engaging in behavior that was often seen as the great boogeyman of my youth. Sometimes it feels as if this way of playing is treasonous in a world where many people still don't see gaming as anything but a row of murder simulators, good for little except allowing young men to run from reality in a state of perpetual boyhood.
This is what I need.
But in wanting to be so much more, we've lost track of how good games can be at providing temporary relief from the stresses and rigors of life. We don't have a problem with big budget action films where one must "turn off their brain" to watch and lose yourself in the spectacle, but among the gaming crowd there is often a sort of stigma attached to willfully losing yourself in a game in order to breathe a bit easier during stressful times.
I'm not afraid of becoming addicted to video games. If free time were money, I wouldn't have enough to get addicted to anything, quite frankly. But for that hour or so an evening, I'm certainly running from my problems. I want to be the hero, and to have problems that can be solved, or at least improved, in 60 minute chunks.
I'm also very much aware of the limitations of gaming. I may be using the hobby to escape, but I know that when I return every single problem and concern and worry will be right where I left it.
If gaming addiction is a symptom rather than a disease, then gaming itself has become, for me, one treatment instead of a cure. It's a painkiller to help me through the night, but the cause of the pain will still be there when I wake up. It's important to take concrete steps outside of just running to make sure things get better. That's the part I'm working on now. But until then, I play video games. Every night.