Yes, videogames are escapist

After the tragic loss of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata the videogames community is still in a state of mourning. After trying to comprehend the news I, like many others on Monday, spent a considerable amount of the day playing Nintendo games.

Coincidentally that day Ben Kuchera, a writer I find myself either disagreeing or agreeing with but rarely ambivalent, wrote about how he plays videogames to “run from [his] problems”. The article was clearly written before the unfortunate news, and has no direct relation with it. But going back and rereading it afterwards it chimed with the very actions that I undertook, actions that I have done many times throughout my life to avoid my problems.

There has been, and continues to be, moral panic surrounding the notion that people will lock themselves away in virtual worlds to escape the real alternative. The irony with this is that whilst there is some truth to this, people rarely seem to question why people feel the need to escape the real world. Somehow the “cure” that people have resorted to is deemed more toxic than the real world problem.

Whilst I have been fortunate to have not felt the need to escape from the real world, I have delved into videogames multiple times to temporarily escape from a problem that is afflicting me at that moment in time. The thing is I am fully aware that the real world isn’t going anywhere, and the problem will still be there in some form waiting for me to tackle. Just like how a boss in a videogame will be waiting for you even when you turn off the game. In a way it is not too surprising that I often find myself viewing the real world through the lens of a videogame. I’ve said before that a past job of mine was like a videogame and my current job has it moments, or maybe it just seems that way.

When my parents split up and all of the chaos that was generated as a result came forth, the world of Johto and Kanto found in Pokémon Silver became my sanctuary, here was a world where I, as a ten year old, was in control. Whilst in the real world, the same ten year old was not. This was not something I could win at, let alone finish. That dragged on for years, but all the while I had videogames to escape to, helping me to tolerate the real world events constantly unfolding around me.

As I got older where the problems became more “grown up” be it dealing with breakups, betrayals, or death; videogames allowed me to take a breather from the real world for a couple of hours at a time to clear my head before returning to the real world to deal with these problems like the “grown up” I was becoming.

In less serious, but still important situations videogames have been effective at just providing some respite. This was notably the case during my first dissertation. Looking back now 10,000 words is really not that much, but, at the time, given that it was the longest single document that I had written it was a daunting task. Whilst I didn’t have the same panic as some of my coursemates, I made very effective use of dissertation breaks. Fez had just come out on the Xbox 360 at the time and could actually be played in productive hour or so sessions. Given the peaceful yet mentally challenging gameplay it providing, it was perfect for taking a break from writing, yet still keeping my mind stimulated. To this day I still credit Fez with helping me get through my dissertation.

Now back to why I wrote this article in the first place. On Monday afternoon I sat down, turned on my Wii U and played Splatoon for what ended up being almost three hours straight. In a way Splatoon is not the best game to play when trying to not think about Iwata’s passing, given that the in game plaza was covered in messages about Iwata. But the game represents everything that Iwata stood for; fun, innovation, and accessibility. What better game is there to play to honour the great man.

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