IS GAMING THE EPITOME OF ESCAPISM?
A recent Red Dead Redemption 2 review linked to a Reddit forum describes the game as an 'quintessential form of escapism. Getting a break from our boring lives in order to lead Morgan (and John) through the wilderness.' So, what do these alluring proponents of cutting-edge VR games provide that the world could not?
Games and their objectives make sense, unlike life. They have a set of ground rules that determine success- rules that are clear and descriptive, unlike the vague societal policies. Players are always the protagonist - an agent inside the game intellect. VR games have extensive array of benefits: user-interface games like FarCry offer difficulty options, giving 'a hands-on experience of the game mechanics at their own pace- letting them coach the abilities they later confide in for success.' With no concept of 'permanent loss'- but restarting from the last checkpoint, these games offer a safe space for the players to overcome conflicts without having to face any real life consequences, letting them achieve merit ideologies that society expects from them. Battle royale games build up camaraderie through opposition and cooperations, and 'feats of split-second execution - the improbable headshots, reckless ambushes and coordinated spot rushes have scientific evidence to show that dopamine levels surge' (2018 Kühn, Berna, Lüdtke, Gallinat and Moritz; I. Granic et al., Developmental Psychopathology department- Radboud University, Netherlands). Real-life strategy games help players with low threshold for challenges slowly advance levels, assuring that they are capable of doing something successfully even if they are starting from scratch and help develop patience to achieve long-run endeavours.
Empirical evidence shows that recreational gaming can help individuals (not just gamers) improve their mental functioning and help diminish the effects of depression and anxiety disorders (Koepp et al., 1998). Arcade games reduce depression symptoms (2013, American Psychological Association); strategy and puzzle games 'enhance abstract reasoning, information processing capabilities and improve ability to prioritize decisions and effortlessly switch between tasks in individuals suffering from age-related cognitive declines' (C Shawn Green et al., American Journal of Play, 2014). Much like CBT, videogames channel the brain to operate more efficiently while observing and understanding information. So, if players approach gaming as a tactic for escapism, it ends up being therapeutic.
However, escapism and self-medicating oneself with pathological video game use is the 'biggest risk factor for developing an addiction.' Unlike typical addictions, games can become a misguided solution to stifle sadness, insecurities and loneliness. For gamers already suffering from mental illnesses, this can be especially damaging. Video game addiction or Gaming disorder is included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) by WHO in 2018 as 'a pattern of gaming behavior
characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.'
Videogames are no saving grace from mental illness and doesn’t instinctively help at-risk players overcome their mental illnesses, other than the occasional ego and self-confidence boost. Everyone needs a break from daily life, and gamers have the full leverage to escape into their favourite worlds, but without precautionary and healthy boundaries, mental illnesses can slyly fester under gaming addictions.