Many of us use video games, reading, or watching TV as a means of escaping the stresses and challenges of reality. This is not a new distinctly modern phenomenon. A casual review of ancient literature shows a fascination with the fantastic and a desire for a more ideal world.
Sometimes, on the other hand, these usual means of escape take raw reality and inject it directly into our souls by way of our eyeballs. A few days ago my escapism was undermined by an uncomfortable amount of reality disguised as fiction.
I was playing Fallout 4, a game set in a post-nuclear war wasteland. The game is rife with decisions to make and factions to aid or oppose. I had carefully tailored my actions in the game like I usually do, aiming to reach the most peaceful and least violent solution. Then, the good folks at Bathesda threw a wrench into the system.
I found myself descending an elevator, raining laser blasts down on men and women who had committed themselves to the betterment of humanity. Unlike many of the enemies I had killed in the game, these were not especially bad people, they were simply on the wrong side of the agenda. It was unavoidable.
I found myself overwhelmed by the shooting-gallery-like slaughter the game put in front of me. I really just wanted it to be over. It was a message I did not want to receive: that we cannot scheme ourselves out of inevitable violence and suffering, sometimes at our own hands. Try as we might to only wage just wars and to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys, it is usually not that simple.
My next mistake was turning off my XBox and turning to Netflix to finally start watching Black Mirror. I watched the first two episodes back to back, and if you have seen either of them you can imagine that I felt distraught at the end of them.
I felt a little bit overwhelmed, especially as the protagonist of the second episode found his message of protest co-opted by the very system it was aimed against. The sense of inevitability washed over me. This may seem a bit dramatic since these were fictional accounts, but sometimes fiction can bring a heavy truth.
Escapist entertainment can help us get away from the harsh realities of the world. It can be therapeutic. However, art also can be more than entertainment. It can make us see things we might not want to see. It can, in a roundabout way, bring us crashing back into reality.
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