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A defence of escapism

For what reasons do we play games and interact with media forms outside of our usual lives? Every action we take is purposive, at least human action is fundamentally purposive, trying to fulfil one desire or another. Whether this is merely to distract yourself or perhaps to simply enjoy your time, games have always been an important way to do this. Escapism, while it may sound cliché, is the driving force and allows us to add some spice to our lives. Regardless of if you escape through art, music, games, books, other artistic media, or writing articles about things that interest you, escapism is a valuable and intrinsic part of our lives.

The ability to sit back and immerse yourself in another world is always a joyous experience.

Escapism has been denigrated by the media, people will laugh at your means of escapism while participating in their own, and our freedom to explore our imaginations is very much constrained by the hostile social world we have created for ourselves. There is a tribalism at the core of this – one person’s escapism is another person’s cringe. Games journalists have a lot to answer for, they have made a mockery of themselves and their profession and are generally, often rightly, dismissed as irrelevant or laughed at. They are, in general, usually out of touch with the player base, talk down to people who enjoy games, and have a very weird tendency to hate on escapism, even though that is the basis of the industry they cover.

 

Games are a fantastic avenue for escapism, whether you enjoy yourself an adventure game, a tabletop fantasy, a story full of puzzles, or a bloody hack-and-slash with zombies and vampires, you can find almost everything that you could want.

 

The ability to sit back and immerse yourself in another world is always a joyous experience. High-fantasy and futuristic sci-fi adventures do this wonderfully. High-fantasy and futuristic sci-fi adventures do this wonderfully. High-fantasy crafts an entirely new world to explore while sci-fi explores humanity’s endless possible futures. Historical games deserve special mention as whether they are fantasy-based or draw heavy inspiration from real life past events, they allow us to explore, with artistic license, the world that was and the world that we were born too late to experience.

Being able to enter a whole new world or explore a world lost to time and the history books is more precious an experience than we often realise.

What is the first thing that comes to mind with historical fantasy games? Maybe Fire Emblem, The Witcher, or Elder Scrolls. Perhaps your mind goes towards Kingdom Come: Deliverance, Assassin’s Creed, Age of Empires, Crusader Kings, or Rise of Nations. Or you may enjoy games that recreate historical events more closely like Verdun or The Oregon Trail. There are so many ways the historical can be incorporated into games that we are spoiled for choice.

 

Games can use historical settings and events as inspiration for their own alternative history timelines or create a whole fantasy world out of an aspect of history. Historical games don’t have to be solely realistic or fantasy, but whatever is chosen it helps you escape the present, either into our past, an imagined past, or a whole new world.

 

In a world dominated by self-obsessed politics, dehumanising architecture, and a drive to concrete over every green space available, the freedom to enjoy the present isn’t exactly a vibrant sea of options. Through the lens of media, in this instance games, being able to enter a whole new world or explore a world lost to time and the history books is more precious an experience than we often realise.

 

Take historical games or games with historical-inspired settings. For instance, Fire Emblem: Fates is not held in great esteem by the Fire Emblem fandom. But, the split between Birthright and Conquest and the settings of Hoshido and Nohr, respectively, is an intriguing example of historical escapism. Nohr is grim, menaced by an evil monarch, suffers from stormy weather, and the only home of wyverns in this world. In contrast, Hoshido, the other half of the continent, enjoys lovely weather, benefits from plentiful food, is ruled by a just monarch, and the only home of pegasi. Nohr is a depiction of feudal Europe while it also draws on inspiration from the Roman and Greek Empires for its architecture, setting, and creatures and monsters. Hoshido is a representation of feudal Japan, likely from the Sengoku and Edo Periods, which depicts an entirely different world on the other half of the continent.

I like there to be some joy I can extract from games, somewhere to travel to, a way to get away from the present.

Fates is a complete mashup of history and while it’s no surprise that a Japanese-made game depicts the Japan-esque setting as greatly better than the feudal Europe-esque setting, it does a fantastic job of creating a fantasy setting that draws heavily on our own history. The eclectic mix of historical influences, places, and characters creates an intriguing premise, even if Birthright was too easy and Revelations an utter let-down. The story, the protagonist Corrin, and the difficulty design may be all over the place, but even in this state it allows for a fun experience of escapism. Conquest was definitely the more interesting route and had a lot of potential.

 

I have always been more of a fan of non-realistic games like these, those that aren’t based in the recent or present day. More generally I am not a fan of FPS games, I like there to be some joy I can extract from games, somewhere to travel to, a way to get away from the present. Whether this is farming your fields or exploring your island, journeying to a completely different time or place, or even exploring a rich fantasy land with various areas like Breath of the Wild.

 

Breath of the Wild, and hopefully its long-awaited sequel, is a game I can just get lost in. Even if I’m not actually furthering any quests or the story, merely running around, riding my horse, or picking up every single stone in the game to find those annoying Koroks it is a fantastic way to not only pass time, but enjoy that time too. Just wandering the environment is beautiful and doing things spontaneously as and when they come is a delightful reprieve from the cold and regimented life many people live. Enjoying these sorts of games are also a nice thing to do when dealing with the dismal British weather.

However much certain people, journalists and politicians alike, wish to invade your escapist hobby, don’t let them.

Sometimes killing time with media can go too far and you lose touch with the real world. It is true there are plenty of people who get so engrossed in their media that they never leave the house and talk to a real person. However, escapism has its worth and importance, and a world without escapism is a truly bleak and monotonous world.

 

Perhaps you want to play a game like Sid Meier’s Civilisation and build up an entire world. Maybe you want to tend to your farm and live an idyllic life in Stardew Valley. Or you may want to construct an entire Dungeons and Dragons campaign and use this as a social gathering every week. Alternatively, you may want to be an Italian plumber who rescues a Princess from a big green spiky turtle thing. Possibly what you want is to explore historical times and places as an assassin in Assassin’s Creed or sail the seas in a time you have missed out on experiencing in Sea of Thieves.

 

It may sound like an obvious point to explain the importance of escapism, but at a time when the present world isn’t exactly the most full of exciting prospects and opportunities, it is always nice to have your own place to retreat to. However much certain people, journalists and politicians alike, wish to invade your escapist hobby, don’t let them. Enjoy travelling to far off fantasy lands or the streets of a city across the world and make sure you have time to give to yourself. I certainly have problems managing my time and endless commitments and haven’t had many chances too many chances to play the games I want to, read the books that are staring at me with sad eyes, or practise my instruments. But, reflecting on the value of escapism and valuing what you get from it has reminded me of all the other things in life that I feel are important to my time. Hopefully, soon I will be able to escape to my new world or return to an old one, else what is the point of a life that only involves work, sleep, and grind?

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