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Gaming is Escapism
Published by Dragavan on 2006/11/16 (7408 reads)
It's been a long time since I have had to deal with any real Gamer Bashing that wasn't done by a gamer against themselves in humor or other gamers who play "wrong" according to them. Today I had to hear some first hand from a young college kid who must have been one of the "cool kids" or something. What's worse is they weren't even in the conversation, just eavesdropping and interrupting.

I was having a discussion with somebody who asked about what I did and gaming always comes up since it is such a large part of my life (being a player, writer, creator, and now web administrator all about it). They seemed genuinely interested in knowing what gaming was as soon as they realized I wasn't talking about video games (the most common misconception with the term nowadays). I was doing my best to explain it without getting too elitists in my terminology (which can be hard since I rarely talk about it with non-gamers).

From outside the conversation this college kid butts in with the usual gamer bash I tend to expect and ignore of "That just for lame dorks with no friends." I have a very good group of close friends and I always have. Most of these came about because of gaming and were made closer through gaming. Sure there have been the fair share of "dorks" in there, but most of the people have actually been very genuine, very nice, and very cool.

I don't even react to this one any more and it tend to make the people saying it look petty and ignorant more than it makes gamers look bad (except in their own eyes or in their click if they have one). I corrected the statement casually and just continued with my brief description of what the hobby is. Then came the statement.

"Gaming is just a pointless Escape"

Sure, it was followed by the words "for losers" but those are unimportant to the actual statement. The intent was to hurt and insult, as is common with these kinds of petty people who either fear or hate what they don't understand or don't like because they recognize a part of it in themselves, but that was not the meaning of the words. The meaning is very simple to understand.

RPG = Escapism and Escapism = Bad

I was all ready to snap at them and argue that they were wrong, but I froze as my mind worked out a million thoughts (trying to plan my perfect reply). Instead I got my order when it came up and left with the thoughts in my head. I am sure in their eyes they won and the dork left, but they no longer mattered in my head. The thought was germinating.

He was right... at least in part. Gaming is escapism. It is a way to get away from the stressed and daily grind and crap we all have to deal with every day, at least for a little while. It's a break. It's a vacation. It is an escape. But it's also so much more.

Before I get into that, though, let me talk about escapism and the view that it's bad. Like anything not done in moderation it can be a bad thing, but in the larger scheme of things it's necessary. Taking a break and escaping allows people take a moment to cool down, think about things, not think about things, relax, have fun, and otherwise find alternates to the stresses they have to deal with their everyday lives.

Everyone needs a break. Everyone needs to get away once and a while. Where they go to escape is all that changes. Some take vacations, some eat, some stand outside and smoke, some watch TV, some sit out in the sun, some read a book, some play video games, some play sports, and some role-play.

So out of all these you can't really call gaming the pointless one. Like playing sports, role-playing is exercise. Only it's an exercise for the mind. Rather than building a strong body it builds a strong mind. It strengthens math skills, encourages creative and logical thought, builds social skills, and crates a very healthy imagination. None of these things are bad things.

Some of the other escapes from my list don't seem to have these kinds of redeeming values. Watching TV or playing video games don't really grown much of anything (in facts studies have shown that increased television viewing actually makes parts of the brain go dormant). Smoking and sitting in the sun both have dangerous and well documented medical problems associated with them. At least reading a book involves learning and stimulating the mind and imagination (if not social skills).

So I can't really argue the escapism part like I planned, but it's far form pointless. But why is it that such a form of escapism gets such a bad reputation when others that are far more useless (or even harmful) are fully accepted? There are even very similar activities people use to escape and have fun that are fully accepted in our society while us Gamers still get the shunning from the normals.

I recently saw an advertisement for a Mystery Train, where you pay to go on a train ride where a group of actors set up a murder mystery and involves all the guests in the plot. They take on the roles of sleuths and try to solve the mystery before they actors finish it for them. These are seen by most to not only be an acceptable escape, but a rather high class one.

They also sell "How to Host a Murder" and "How to Host a Mystery" games in "respectable" toy and book stores, which are pretty much the same thing as the Mystery Train (only you do all the work yourself). They even talk about the extra duties of the hosts as being about setting up the scene and leading the group into each stage of the story they play out. Again, these are accepted as normal party fun for adult dinner parties.

Then there are even storytelling card and party games that encourage the people involved to take turns telling parts of made up stories. Based on the old camping game told around the campfire, only with rules and usually even a goal to now win them. "Happily Ever After" is a great card game that has a group of friends telling a fairytale in order to rid themselves of story cards before others step in and take over the telling of the story from them. Again, these are fully accepted and seen as fun and good games for all ages.

Yet you add the term role-playing game to the mix and suddenly it's something to be hushed and shunned as harmful, bad, and a waste of time. Why is it that we have such a wonderful and fun escape that actually helps build the mind and skills of the players, yet they are constantly put down for doing it? Why is one escape more accepted than others?

How do we bring our society around to see Gaming as a good thing and not a "pointless escape", especially in a world where such an escape is more often needed?
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