Escapism: Does it Free Us or Keep Us Trapped?

The emotional impacts of seeking another life

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In 2010, a Korean couple was arrested for the death of their three-month-old baby girl. Prior to the infant’s death, both parents were at a computer gaming cafe for at least 12 hours and neglected to return home to feed the infant during those hours.

Upon returning home after the prolonged period of gaming, they found their infant unresponsive and she was later declared dead.

After reporting the incident to the police, investigators thought the circumstance of the infant’s death was suspicious. The infant seemed malnourished and, upon further investigation, the police found out that the couple spent most of their waking moments at the gaming cafe.

What’s more, they were both unemployed and the mother of the deceased infant had taken a break from gaming just to give birth, before returning to her pastime as soon as she physically could.

The bizarre thing about this tragedy was that the two parents were raising a virtual child online. The game they played was similar to Second Life, on which you created a virtual life for your characters.

In the game, the couple was able to successfully create and raise this virtual child which required constant tending to just like a normal child. It seemed like the couple had simply switched off from living a normal life, one where they were unemployed and had little prospects to existing in a virtual world where you can simply create a life you want.

This is but one example of an extreme form of escapism.

Escapism

n. the tendency to escape from the real world to the delight or security of a fantasy world. Escapism may reflect a periodic, normal, and common impulse, as might be seen in harmless daydreams, or it may be evidence of or accompany symptoms of neurosis or more serious mental pathology.

We all know people who have a sudden impulse to play hours worth of computer games when an assignment is due. Or we’ve experienced sitting down to write an article or complete a piece of work only find ourselves scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, throwing ourselves into the digital world of wanderlust, motivational quotes and booty-building exercises by ladies with full makeup on (how do they look like glamour models while working out and I look sweaty and patchy with blobs of red on my face as I gasp for air?)

But I digress.

The truth is that sometimes we think of these activities as simple procrastination, but in reality, there are so many other things we can do to procrastinate — a Netflix binge, shopping, or running errands. These are small activities we turn to when the task on hand is difficult and requires effort.

Escapism, on the other hand, is slightly more complex because it involves imagining ourselves in a different life, not wasting our time on the mundane aspects of life.

Take for example my personal choice of digital escapism, I window shop on ASOS. I am very specific with my window shopping because it usually involves a specific item I’m looking for, but that one item can spiral me downwards into a rabbit hole of fashion browsing. My latest obsession, for example, is mom jeans (hideous back in the 80s and 90s but super hot in 2019).

I would shop on ASOS and then get caught up staring at the items that complete a look. These items could be a tank top or ankle boots. Window shopping on ASOS meant scrolling through the hundreds and thousands of items and looking at all the pictures and the videos that accompanied each piece.

And then, I’d turn to Google to find out “how to style mom jeans”. This brings up, again, hundreds of possibilities. By this point, I have to remind you, I haven’t bought anything. It’s just another form of digital escapism.

I have escaped to being the person who is out wearing these outfits whilst I am still at my desk, in front of my computer. Avid online shoppers: You know what I’m talking about.

The Danger of Escapism

Shopping online in itself is not bad if it doesn’t take up the time and vital resources such as cash you should use for more meaningful pursuits. I don’t do this every day, only occasionally and on a weekend when I have given myself the time to chill.

Online shopping is not the only form of escapism. You practice escapism when you watch Keeping Up with The Kardashians, feverishly follow romantic Korean dramas, attending Comic Conventions and participating in Cosplay.

All of these activities provide you with the imagined lives of other people, fictional or otherwise. These shows let us pretend to be rich socialites, swept off our feet by handsome Korean gentlemen and being a superhero.

Indulging in these activities isn’t all bad; there is room for a little escapism in our lives because indulgence need only be a way to de-stress, not necessarily an obsession.

The danger lies when you stop making the distinction between real life and make-believe and these modes of escapism become the norm — where you spend all of your time doing these things instead of doing more meaningful things and leading a ‘normal’ life.

Escapism typically begins in short spurts, say an occasional hour here and there; it’s usually a response to something stressful such as high-pressure work, financial difficulties, break-ups, and loneliness. We want to run away from these situations because they’re upsetting.

For some, the occasional hour becomes a daily hour. The daily hour then creeps up to a few hours a day, the few hours then creep up to most of the day and before you know it, you are “escaping” more than living.

Typically, people who are in escapism mode all the time have lost the ability to cope and manage the hardships in their life. Most likely than not, the people falling under the spell of escapism tend to have already low self-esteem due to their inability to cope with life. This becomes a vicious cycle and, in extreme cases, ends tragically — like with the infant in South Korea as a result of complete disassociation with real life.

Truth is, most of us have let escapism get in the way of us achieving our goals in life. Many of us have trouble with social media distracting us and when it comes to lifestyle, many have also turned to alcohol, partying and promiscuity to escape from the pressure of the work week or the realities of our personal lives.

It’s no surprise that countries with high levels of poverty and other social issues tend to also suffer from problems like alcoholism. An altered state of providing an escape from an otherwise dreary existence.

We may not be hardcore addicts to vices and we may not have ruined our lives by gaming incessantly, but we must be mindful of the fact that whilst indulging in escapism once in a while helps us de-stress, prolonged occurrence of escapism does not help us achieve our dreams. Instead, it only traps us in a hellhole of living the same uninspired life.