Games: Escaping Reality Or Exploring It?

open door 03

The last couple of weeks have been less than stellar. I’ve been plodding along, but it’s been an uncomfortable go.

I was talking about it to a friend, and I happened to say, “Thank god for games.” His reply: “Yep. It’s a nice way to escape reality for a bit.”

And this got me thinking.

As weird and unpredictable as reality can be, I prefer it over the ostrich method of plowing my head into the ground.

I also take some amount of solace in playing a good game when things are rough. And this dichotomy got me thinking. And thinking. And then thinking most of the night and well into the morning: are games an escape from reality, or an inadvertent way to explore it?

In games, we have manageable goals. A defined set of tasks. In life, things can get a lot more murky. Those trophies and achievements are significantly harder to come by without a controller in your hand. In a game world, we know that no matter what gets thrown at us (sometimes literally), there is a solution. The issue can be resolved.

In life? It’s not always that simple. In some cases, a solution may not even be possible.

As someone who likes firm conclusions, that can be hard to wrap my mind around.

But as I was thinking about the practice of completing tasks in a game, it gave me hope that tasks, no matter the magnitude, can be tackled in reality. My gamer brain may fail the first time, but it will always try an alternate way.

So am I using a game to escape the issue before me? Or am I inadvertently psyching myself up for the real thing?

I’m honestly unsure, but it seems likely that those games are helping me explore alternate options in reality. And I think that’s pretty awesome.

The game world also offers an interesting set of parameters: it’s a place where the unexpected is entirely expected, and can be dealt with in a successful way. It is a safe environment to play out different approaches to the same problem. This can only be valuable time spent, as I’d like to believe my brain is using this pattern as positive conditioning for the real world issues I face.

A small example is my eventual playing (and completion) of P.T.

I recently wrote about my fear of horror games (horror movies do not have this effect on me), and I knew I should just push myself to finally sit down and play P.T. So I did. And you know what? It was not only great (easily one of the most refined and effective gaming experiences I’ve had), but it showed me that it’s fine to embrace the fact that something is going to scare the crap out of you and you will yowl like a spaz when that unnatural something freaks out and grabs you in the face and that’s okay. There is something exhilarating about going into a game and coming out with a rush from having “survived” through it.

As odd as it may sound, it gave me the guts to try to deal with a certain situation in a more direct and reasonable way. In P.T., I may have been freaked out, but I forced myself to keep going down that hallway.

I can do that in reality, too.

So a great big shout out to games, for showing me that even when something seems un-doable, it’s always doable. I just have to try another way. And sometimes, that scared feeling might just be excitement instead.

Have games ever helped you to approach a real life issue? I would genuinely love to hear about it, whether in comments or via private message.

Categories: games

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6 replies »

  1. That’s a very inspiring perspective, to think of real-world tasks and goals in the same way we treat those in games. We may not get extra lives in the real world, but that doesn’t mean we cannot keep trying.


    • i’m humbled, thank you for thinking it inspiring. :)

      you’re right: we may not have extra lives, but we do often have multiple chances (dare i say, ALL the chances?) to try again. and absolutely, yes, we can keep trying.


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