The value of escapism

It's important that video games be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean we only need "serious" games.

When we gamers try to get those outside gamer culture to give video games the respect they deserve, it can be easy to develop tunnel vision - focusing praise solely on games that address "serious" subjects and are more likely to convince others that video games are a legitimate artistic medium. Some might even go so far as dismissing all other games as not being as valuable to the medium as these "serious" games are. But there are many different ways that something can be considered valuable, and as such, escapism has a value of its own.

A lot of people still dismiss video games as being violent, mindless escapism that isn't worthy of attention. So it can be very tempting to try and distance ourselves from games that might fit any of the above criteria.

But I think we need mindless escapism. We need fun. Very often, I have needed both.

Real talk: one of the reasons I love video games so much is that they occasionally give me the chance to escape from my own problems. There were times when I was younger that I felt weak, or frightened, or helpless, and being able to pick up a Legend of Zelda game and pretend to be a hero who's able to take control of his situation meant a lot to me. Sometimes, it even gave me the courage to try to be that person and take on my own problems.

This goofball right here made me the person I am today.

Often, I've needed the opposite too. Playing a game that tackles serious issues has helped me work through my own issues, or opened my eyes to problems I hadn't seen before. Video games are an especially good medium for addressing uncomfortable subjects, since they can put the player in the position of having to make tough decisions themselves, instead of passively watching someone else do so.

Discomfort challenges us, and challenging ourselves helps us grow. But we also need to take a break from challenges and growth to unwind from time to time. That's why it's important to have both kinds of games, or ones that combine the two, or even ones that are something else entirely.

It's easy to judge escapist games because they sell so well. Fun sells, and as long as something sells, publishers are going to make a lot more of it. But we can't dismiss the merit of non-"serious" games out of hand. If games are art, then games are art - we don't need to decide which games count and which games don't.

Eventually, as more people acknowledge and accept that video games are indeed art, hopefully people who have long defended the medium will be able to relax a bit and acknowledge that games more focused on fun and escapism have value too.

Published Oct. 19th 2015
  • David Fisher
    Featured Columnist
    I think that there needs to be balance in video games. While you can have your dark, gritty, realistic settings in games, you also need to have some light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not talking about happy endings either - because anyone in life knows that not all endings are happy - but not everything needs to be "and life continued being shitty".

    I think a game that did well was "The Last of Us" since it had trials and tribulations, but the ending wasn't "And they lived happily ever after" or "and everything went to shit". It was a bittersweet [SPOILERS] Ellie is still alive, but Joel's sorta an asshole for keeping her alive [SPOILERS END] ending.

    Life is about hard decisions, and sometimes being the hero isn't always the best option. We need more games like that.

    On the other hand, I'm a fan of good ol' "I'm the hero!" as well. The world's too sexualized, politicized, and whatever-you-wanna-complain-about-ized for me to care anymore.

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