Video Game Escapism

Ask ten gamers how they got into gaming, and you are likely to hear the recital of ten markedly different sequences of events. All gamers have some sort of recollection of how they were initiated into this virtual ‘club,’ but beyond that, one might speculate as to what keeps them in the game. Why, exactly, do people play video games?

Of course, games are meant to be fun. Gamers most often pick up a game in hopes of enjoying the use of that particular piece of software. If a game does not satisfy the basic human desire to experience pleasant stimuli at least some of the time, it is not likely to be embraced by an incredibly large audience. Any evidence to the contrary, although extant in a few cases, is unfortunate information to discover. Realistically, who wants to play a game that they don’t even enjoy?

Enjoyment comes in many flavors, however. What is a pleasurable experience to one may be utter hell to another. For example, certain gamers can’t get enough of the grind of RPGs, where each slaughtering of the many repetitively-encountered enemies strikes their pleasure centers with loving ferocity. To others, the mere thought of this process is much akin to a night in the torture rack. Someone like this may prefer the feeling of an intense firefight, frantically ducking and dodging from one area of cover to the next, all the while enjoying a rush of adrenaline that manages to get them high for the duration of the gameplay session. Our RPG-playing friend might look at this, and quickly dismiss it as…boring and repetitive.

Boredom… This is a concept commonly related to video games, and is often a determining factor in assessing a game’s value to the player. How much boredom will be relieved versus the amount the game goes on to produce? In a perfect world, no game would have a positive boredom balance, the gamer coming away LESS entertained as a result of having turned on his or her console. All games should at least serve the basic function of boredom release, and unless we are examining them in true Taoist fashion, then there will always be a mix of entertaining and boring video games. The best one can do is to simply avoid the latter. After all, isn’t boredom a vile abomination from which we all wish to escape?

Besides boredom, there is another perceived disaster that quite a few gamers would admit to running away from at one point or another. This terror is daily life. For many, gaming represents a retreat from a world that is filled with very real stressors and unpleasantries. The world they escape to almost invariably has its own problems, but in that virtual domain the gravity of the situation is significantly diluted. Now, all conflicts and the paths to their resolutions have become a recreational pursuit, rather than a dire endeavor. It seems that solving problems in an imaginary world is entirely more interesting than tackling the trials of the real.

So what worlds do gamers choose to reside in, then? Oftentimes they are hectic and war-torn, in collapse or on the brink of destruction. It doesn’t seem that all of the most popular virtual habitats are as pleasant as one might think an “escape” from the real would tend to be. The draw to these places, rife with adversity, goes further than this superficial contradiction, down to the level of the individual character.

Video games can be empowering to gamers. They place your average Joe in the shoes of heroes, and give him the opportunity to defeat enemies, conquer adversity, and even save the world. Having this level of influence upon an entire realm can be truly comforting to someone who has, or feels he has little sway over the world around him. A basic outline for a large portion of literature is as follows:

exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, resolution.

Games generally follow these guidelines, and usually end with all problems solved – peace and happiness restored. Real life does not offer such guarantees, and with every temporary resolution comes another obstacle. The route is just a bit more difficult.

Sometimes the virtual world is simply a more appealing residence than the actual world. It can be a pleasant escape, with all resolutions within grasp, experienced by you, the hero.

It can also be turned off, so don’t fall in too deep…


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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