Escaping into a virtual world

Doing some research before this post, I found that escapism is a subject that really splits people. I am not commenting if that it is good/bad, I am simply exploring the games that allow me to escape within them. I find, as a creative writer and student, that escaping for a brief moment allows me to gain clarity on situations or writing projects. When I find that I have writers block or something is puzzling me, I use games that don’t rely on me doing much, to take my mind off it for a moment. Often I return with a different approach, which then I normally can complete the task causing me annoyance.

Escapism has long been linked with video games, allowing a person a way in which they can forget reality for a moment and focus on something different. But it is not just linked to video games, many other hobbies can act as a way to escape: Film, music and literature being a few creative outlets. For me, it boils down to music, literature and video games. Film has always been a source of enjoyment, but not something I found I can escape in.

Video games have a unique way in allowing you to explore a world as if you were actually there, with a book you have to imagine the world and with a film you are limited to the world the scene shows. A video games allows you to explore at your own pace. Just you and the world in the way you want to explore it. Whilst, yes you are bound to a set of rules: How can your character move? Are you allowed to enter this area? Can you travel all the way to that mountain? Can I kill this person? And so on and so forth. But if these rules are accepted, then you can fall into a world that you can control, allowing yourself to melt into the world that you are now a part off.

With this in mind, I’ve been doing a little ‘Soul Searching’ as it were, but with video games. Which worlds allow me to melt into their realities the easiest? and which do I enjoy the most? This could link with a previous post I made, in which I spoke about games I use to unwind, except instead of looking to de-stress, I’m looking at games that allow me to loose myself and time around me.

Minecraft

Potentially, one of the most popular games to date and for many reasons. Minecraft has a unique way of engaging both the creative and the survivalist in a person. Instead of just surviving it asks the question, how are you going to thrive?

What gets me most lost in Minecraft is the ability to play on hard difficulty and die a few times before I get a foothold, once I’ve built an area that is safe and a farm that will sustain me for a while. I then allow myself to consider, what if… just what if… that mountain in the distance… had a giant mushroom house on the top of it? (Que the “But the house will not have mushroom jokes”). The ability to go from survival to over the top survival is what makes Minecraft so enjoyable to me.

The ability to share these moments with friends is another key benefit of playing Minecraft to escape, sharing a story is both fun and beneficial. You will normally always have a friend who is focused on farming, or a friend who just loves to farm mobs, even some people that enjoy building, when combining all these together, you build a virtual community. This is how it plays out for the first few hours in my Minecraft servers, we help each other, kill bosses and get diamonds together, then it happens… someone will start the inevitable war. I never said these games had to be peaceful did I? Now take a look at the lighthouse your best friend has built, it would look much better if it was on fire wouldn’t it? And that mushroom house you’ve built is now full of TNT.

We never get attached to our servers for this reason, chaos will surely reign, but it keeps my group occupied for days and we find much enjoyment in that.

The Hunter: Call of the Wild

Now if you told me a few months ago that I would be addicted to a hunting simulator, I would call you crazy. I have never been hunting in my life and am not a supporter of it. But there is something enjoyable about being in the wilderness, tracking an animal and being able to bring it down from 300 metres away with a heart shot. For me, coming from a predominantly FPS dominated background in gaming, testing my skills in this nature is… oddly satisfying.

I suppose the escapism within the hunter: Call of the Wild, is based in reality, this game is what it says on the tin, a simulator. It does that job well, simulating wind direction that will carry your scent to alert animals, a noise factor that again will spook animals and a visual element, in which you can be seen from a distance, taking all theses into consideration there appears to be a lot to think about. There are a lot of things to consider mechanically when hunting. It is strange however, that all the mechanics merge into one, you never stop to think about what you are doing, you just do it naturally whilst on the hunt. Now I am not saying that this game is perfect, i imagine that hunting in real life is more complicated, but I don’t care, its not something that I would personally be able or want to do. This game allows me to escape into the wilderness.

Even though, those who know me, know that I hate camping… so much… Hunter allows me to expxlore a world I wouldn’t originally feel comfortable in. That’s another benefit of gaming, situations that you may not enjoy/can be a part of in real life, you can certainly do with a controller in hand.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley does something special when it comes to an escape. It actually plays to that fantasy, your character, stuck in a dead end office job, moves to the country to run his grandfathers old farm. An escape from the mundane to a life that you control fully is something, moving from a world in which you are just a number, just another person crunching the numbers for a corporation that does not care about them. This game, plays into that fantasy.

JoJa Mart is placed within the game to remind its players that even though the game is set up for you to prosper, there is always the mundane/ real life looming. The old life that you had threatens your new one with its existence and like many my first reaction was to go against it, a decision that I never regretted. There is a clear binary set up within the game, not many games do this, JoJa Mart could represent the real world for many. bringing the industrial/corporate values to a peaceful town, set in its ways. Is it your job to oppose these? or do you side with the Corporation and ruin a natural town, the one that took you in with open hands?

Stardew Valley, is such an important game for this, it knows what it is doing. Giving you a piece of land that you can call your own and do with as you please. The fun part about video games is that they transcend personal restrictions, it does not matter in real life if you do not understand how farming works/ physically can farm, you can do it within the game. But it does not hold your hand, many people will agree with that. You are taught to water your plants, where to buy and sell things, you are left to figure out the rest. There is also a huge world to explore, with many different magical places, events to attend and different caves to explore, leaving you with much to do in such a heartfelt game.

Escaping into a different world is a hobby that I truly enjoy, in itself it allows me to disconnect from the real world for a moment, that then in turn allows me to focus on the real world.

Do any of you have set worlds you love to escape into? If not for the story, for the world itself? There are plenty that I could have mentioned like the Skyrim and Fallout worlds, but I find that I do not go back to them as much as I used to.

Thanks for reading,

Dale

5 Comments

  1. “That’s another benefit of gaming, situations that you may not enjoy/can be a part of in real life, you can certainly do with a controller in hand.” So you’re telling me that shooting people while fighting in a war is not a generally enjoyable experience? Well, butter me sideways and call me a toaster, I am shocked!

    Seriously, though, it IS interesting how video games (or any media, really) can make bad/unhealthy/unrealistic things feel cool. Perhaps even more interesting, how they manage that stuff to be entertaining, while still making you uncomfortable! Games that deliver a lot of badassery, but make you feel kinda bad about it.

    Out of all media outlets, video games probably have the biggest potential in this regard because of their interactivity (you don’t see a guy shooting some other guy, but you ARE the guy shooting that other guy), but also have the greatest difficulty with it. After all, they can’t make you so uncomfortable that you don’t take the necessary actions to progress in the game. In these cases, you either stop playing (and don’t get to fully experience the game and its message) or you argue that it’s just a game and it has no impact on real life, in which case the message gets lost or at least severely dampened.

    What was I originally talking about? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are 100% right, fighting a war would certainly not be enjoyable!

      Your point about how media turns bad/unhealthy/unrealistic things cool is actually something really interesting. Possibly something that I’ve long known, but has not been brought to the front of my mind. I mean, look at the most popular games of today, a lot tend to turn war/violence into a competition or “Fun experience” (I use that term lightly).

      I do find it interesting how video games have the potential to allow you to explore situations that, you wouldn’t find yourself in normally. Being an active participant, in stories/situations that we would never have the opportunity to be in, is interesting and poses a lot of questions about ourselves. I read what I am told to on my syllabus, but I enjoy to play games that explore the same subjects we study in the classroom, mainly because you have the control. Control to me changes so much.

      It is something that I’m looking at within my own dissertation, how control affects your own experience within a video game. They open up so many channels of exploration and analysis. Even for myself, there have been games, that have actually been uncomfortable for me, because of the actions you are committing. I imagine everyone would’ve had that experience (or something similar),

      It’s a really interesting topic, that potentially after my Dissertation, I would love to talk about a little more on here. For now, I’m hoarding all my notes for the final thing. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the driving factor behind the media making bad stuff cool is that we tend to glorify or romanticise things on our own. Our brains tend to keep positive memories far longer and stronger than negative ones, that’s the reason why people can be severely disappointed when they re-experience something after a long time only to discover that it is far less enjoyable than they remember.

        For that reason, everything we hear or learn (and with the internet, we hear and learn things A LOT faster) is a bit “rose-tinted” and we hype stuff up to unrealistic expectations (not that this will happen anytime soon with movies or games, amirite fellas?)

        In video games (or any other form of media), no matter how immersed we are, we KNOW that what we see on the screen is not real. The emotional connection is severely dampened. It’s the reason why we don’t think twice about shooting people or dare to try out the “bad guy options” in video games. In real life nobody would say “lol imma 360noscope that dude!” and when people come to us with pleas for help (even if it’s just Jehovah’s Witnesses) we can’t help but feel bad for decisively say “no, go away”.

        The connection might be dampened, but it is still there. I think that connection is critical to the success of video games or stories in general. Why do we enjoy horror stories? Because we secretly want to be chased by a murderer? Because deep down we believe in supernatural stuff? No, it’s because of our empathy. Even if we KNOW that the guy on the screen doesn’t really exist, has no feelings and nothing he does has any real consequences, through this emotional connection and our empathy, a fraction of the (virtual) feelings of that character still make it into our own mind.

        This is where control comes into play. All of a sudden, our actions have consequences. In my previous comment, I said “it’s not them doing the stuff, it’s you”, but that’s not quite right. It’s still the character on screen doing everything, but it was your choice to make him do it. You are responsible for it. There are still no real-life consequences, of course, but it is still a big step from just being “a witness”.

        I think the most effective use for this is in horror games. This time, there are real-life consequences, namely you getting scared. Your character stands before a creepy room and you know that as long as you don’t move, nothing will happen. But as soon as you make your character set foot in that room (cutscenes don’t count!), it was your direct action that got you scared. It’s probably not as severe as I made it out to be, but I think it still plays a role.

        And once again I have completely gone astray from what I originally wanted to say 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think part of it though is we are actually capable of such horrendous acts, though the consequences are dire for the perpetrators (and victims). For instance the growing emergence and awareness of PTSD, that Virginia Woolf explores shortly after the war in the novel Mrs Dalloway.
        We don’t experience things like that after a video game though because we are safe when we play them. Games like Call of Duty emphasise honour (and duty) they glamorise the old notions of war as glorious (much like it was viewed in past centuries) before the World Wars which caused a dramatic shift. Just take Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade against Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est.
        Violent games stand out as contrary to modern war poetry like Owen’s which destroys the nationalistic fervour, but they are still much apiece with poems like Tennyson’s or even Homer’s Iliad, which foreground concepts of defense, and service. In a world devoid of allegiances, where to be earnest is a condemnation, no wonder people still find escapism in these titles were they can pledge fealty and service.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yes, people are most definitely capable of harming other people, there’s no doubt about it. When I said “nobody is doing that in real life”, I meant that behaviour in video games does not translate into real-world behaviour.

        I am not too sure about the focus of violent games, though. I wouldn’t say that CoD focuses on any abstract concept like honour, duty or glory. I think these games are more about having access to all the amazing military weapons and gagdets and the accompanying power fantasies. They are about shooting guns and overpowering your competition. A side effect of this is that (virtual) people are dying, but it’s not about those people dying. It’s about the player being/feeling awesome.
        Being a soldier is highly “romanticised” all around the world. People think of them as physically and mentally superfit people, having access to the best technology and equipment, travelling the world and protecting the people they love.

        People don’t think about all the hardship, the humiliation and pain these soldiers go through, and the possibility of (painful) death. Even when not actively fighting, they always know that it is their job to kill or die. Notice that I say “job”. They get paid for it. It is what they learned to do and what they’re good at. They didn’t feel a calling, no higher power chose them and they aren’t standing proud while doing it. It’s a dirty, labour-intensive, exhaustive job, like many looked-down upon civilian jobs, only with a higher chance of meeting an untimely end.

        Alright, I got a little carried away there, back on track. I realise your comparison with poetry was targeted at media, not the real life, but I think we are talking about different types of game here. There are certainly a lot of works on how “unenjoyable events” (in this case: war) affect us, and how we can find escapism in such tales (I myself grew up on German heroic folklore, imagining I was out fighting huns, or robber barons, and how proud my king would be of me) is an interesting topic.
        But my comment was meant for highlighting almost the complete opposite. I meant to express how interesting it is how we automatically differentiate between real life and video games. We do it so instinctively that we don’t even realise that what happens on screen is actually something extremely unenjoyable. We KNOW that we don’t want to fight in a war, be hunted by zombies or simply struggle with day-to-day life. That’s what I meant by the whole “dampened emotional connection” stuff. You pretty much summed it up with “we are safe while playing them”, which is a far more elegant way to describe pretty much everything I said 😊

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s