Holding on to your Escapism

Hello, my name is Syl and I am a screenshot junkie. I admit, I have a weakness for shiny fairytale worlds. Sometimes, I wish I lived there.


There have been times in my life when I have. Half of my childhood (literally) was spent lying on my bed, listening to audio cassettes (fifty-two, for which I will always thank my late grandfather) full of international folklore, mythology and fairytales, while reading the colorfully illustrated booklets. All day long I watched Jack climb the beanstalk, Sindbad fly giant birds and Odysseus fool the cyclops with sheep skins. When George killed the dragon, I was there with him. The secret backdoor in my wardrobe has been wide open all my life. Escaping to fantasy land always came easily to me. It’s what has kept me sane. I don’t want to imagine my life without stories growing up.

There’s nothing wrong with escapism. The key points of consideration, though, are what you’re escaping from, and where you’re escaping to. [source]

When less informed people talk about game-related escapism (for that still seems to be less established than the literary form), they only ever focus on the escape; the negative distancing, the social estrangement. Hardly ever do they understand that when we do, when we need to, we escape to a better place – maybe to the only, currently right place in our life. That it’s only there where we find shelter, safety and peace of mind. For a little while. And that it may save us from something. That it gives us hope.

The objection to fairy stories is that they tell children there are dragons. But children have always known there are dragons. Fairy stories tell children that dragons can be killed. [source]


I will never apologize for my escapism. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I will never be ashamed of what’s kept me alive. Things could have gone badly – instead, I found universal meaning, truth and understanding that reaches beyond the struggles of our everyday lives.

We read to know we are not alone. [C.S. Lewis]

Moving on to the interactive stories of video games was the natural progression of my childhood thirst for fairy tales. Discovering JRPGs around age 10 was a revelation. Later, MMOs finally allowed us to enter the worlds we’ve been day-dreaming about in Lord of the Rings or the Forgotten Realms in full capacity, as ourselves.

The rest is history. I love this genre – I love it for its immersive otherworldly-ness, its places of order and beauty where, for a little while, I can rest in peace and recharge my batteries. In a way, this is self-medicating. Bhagpuss commented elsewhere that ‘the reason games are “fun” is because they allow us to forget for a small time that we are all going to die one day and probably sooner than we would like to think’ and that may be a part of it too, the older we get. I do not fall down the rabbit hole as deeply as I used to nowadays, yet there are still moments in my daily life when I feel completely drained and in almost physical need to switch off and just play games for a while. There have been times when I neglected this part of myself for real life demands and that didn’t go well. I need to keep in touch with my wardrobe; it restores my sanity like nothing else does.


I wish that more people understood this because so many of us deal with the world in similar fashion. In the words of my old philosophy teacher: “the greatest gift we can give our children is to give them stories”. So keep yours close (and check out my new screenshots gallery!) and a happy Monday to all you MMO escapists out there. Hold on to that escapism for as long as you need it.


  1. Well said!

    For more thoughts on escapism in fantasy I recommend the essay “On Fairy-Stories” by J.R.R. Tolkien. An excerpt that really hit home for me when I first read it: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. […] The critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.”

    He was writing about fairy stories, but I think it applies just as well to MMOs.

  2. Great screenshots, both here and in your gallery. These worlds are so gorgeous nowadays, but then I remember thinking the same sitting on a hill in South Ro watching the sun go down back in 2000.

    Didn’t expect to see that existential poke at Tobold get re-quoted anywhere! Sometimes (quite often actually) his ultra-dry, scientific method take on things ticks me off and that was one of those days πŸ˜› My take on life isn’t generally quite a bleak as that!

    1. It’s funny with technological progress; whatever is state of the art is oh-so shiny. I remember staring at the colorful SNES commercials in awe as a kid.

      And no worries hehe, I don’t take you for the gloomy sort. let’s say I (ab)used that line for my own purposes. πŸ˜‰ there’s a grain of truth in everything.

  3. I thought at first this was a response to the article I posted not long ago, The Virtual Life. We have had similar experiences and I think it’s probably not rare at all. Anyone who plays MMOs, I think, can relate to the need for that specific kind of escape. I plan to follow up these experiences with a probe into why this unique escape is so necessary and probably just as valid as the real world.

    1. Hey Doone, it’s been a while πŸ™‚ thanks for your comment and link to that article – I must have missed it back then but I have read it now. yeah, we did definitely have had some similar thoughts and experiences . since this is something I feel strongly about, I feel like I need to elaborate further though as I’m not entirely happy with some of the assumptions (not necessarily made by yourself) there –

      First of all, I wish there was a time when our society could finally come to grips with the concept of relative reality. that there is no one absolute reality nor one true reality worth living. if we were able to accept what so many neuroscientologists preach, and classic philosophy tangentially too (which makes esp. the studies that combine both fields incredibly interesting), we’d all be much better off. why even question what’s real and what isn’t and why apply value where someone is actually doing well, coping well with whatever his chosen way of living (funny enough, religious beliefs seem to be exempt from this while they serve the exact same purpose – but then they have 2000+ years and centuries of systematic doctrine on other media)? this is no reproach to your article btw, just a general remark I feel getting off my chest.

      what doesn’t work for me and never has in this context is the addiction and compulsion narrative. even if you differentiate thus, it doesn’t touch on my personal experiences unless maybe it’s semantics. I’ll try to explain anyway. the only time I was playing games in an unhealthy manner wasn’t so much addiction (imo) as it was strong sense of social obligation. I had taken over guild leadership and self-gratifying or not, I played WoW for other people more than myself during some phases. however, I think that’s a pretty normal experience many of us need to make in social games and we tend to make them early into our careers and learn from it – so I don’t really think of that time as addiction as much as a learning lesson in not burning yourself out for others or some higher shared goal.

      other than that, being addicted or compelled to my escapism, aren’t definitions that touch truth for me (emphasis: for me and my particular experiences). they’re attempts to explain something and fall horribly short. I’ve never been socially isolated because of stories (or games) but vice versa. I’ve never felt that I had to play games as much as that I want to or need to because I’m always better off for it. addicts are never better off for it – not in the long run. they escape, but there’s no return and no healing process where they go. that’s the dark, never-ending and destructive cycle of addiction. it takes away a lot more than it gives back.
      I can not play games for long stretches of times and sometimes I do. but my life is simply emptier and sadder without stories and that’s completely independent of how good my overall status quo is otherwise. constructive escapism is always a plus, it’s like a fuel – and it keeps many things in perspective. if I didn’t have games, I’d go back to books more again and poetry.
      it is also a horribly familiar place and it’s full of inspiration, similar to where the artistically inclined (many writers too) go to when in that special state of muse and creativity. and who would ever question the benefit of that or call it compulsion?

      I don’t know if that serves as any good explanation hehe, and maybe I am just using more poetic language to describe the same things you did – if so, my apologies. πŸ™‚
      That’s how it works for me, anyway and I’m not saying I’m a particularly average gamer (for me games have always been close to what art does too). tangentially, I always felt one of the closest things to understanding I ever read came from one who has been to the other side all his life (obviously) and most successfully so – http://www.endicott-studio.com/cofhs/chFaeryReel.html …..some of us will always struggle in the middle of what people call here and what we call there. it saddens me that only the few who manage financial success through their wardrobe are more popularly accepted in their being. or maybe society really believes that this kind of magic is what an author ‘does’ when it’s all about what he is. and where.

      Ah well, in the end it matters little what others think. knowing where you are yourself the fullest is a blessing many never find in life. and it doesn’t matter as much ‘how’ you got there as that you did.

      1. p.s. before you think me an esoteric, which I am not lol, may I add that whenever I speak of or allude to the “other side” or place, I am being metaphorical. πŸ˜‰ the human brain is a splendidly powerful, underused organ obviously and I feel art is one of the only things that pushes more established boundaries of consciousness. there be dragons πŸ˜‰

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *