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May 24, 2019
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Returnism: The Opposite of Escapism

by Steve Bailey on 08/27/15 01:00:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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I've never liked the word 'escapism'. It's always felt horribly loaded, and somewhat complicit in perpetuating the inaccurate stereotypes that obscure gaming's social nature.
When we use it, we generally understand its limitations, but I think we use it for want of a better word. Over the years, as I've come to better understand and reconcile my relationship with video games, I can't help but think in terms of a different concept: I call it 'returnism', the opposite of escapism. It's the act of allowing yourself to be absorbed into an abstract activity, because of the benefit it brings to you when you 'return' from partaking in it. I suspect we all know this feeling very, very well, but we rarely codify it, because no sooner do we relax and recharge ourselves, than we're suddenly off chasing after the next thing on our overflowing to-do lists.

Reading a book, watching a movie, playing a video game; I do these things because I am seeking engagement and involvement, of various colours, shapes and flavours. I am not desperately fleeing, screaming and wailing, from the unbearable horrors of my life (and I'm exaggerating here for the sake of making a point, of course). I am not necessarily looking to 'escape' as a means to avoid ever having to face up the responsibilities of maturity and the challenging complexities of modernity, but to better deal with them.

I'm a person; hence, my brain is in love with abstraction and artefaction. I'm looking to let my mind and body tumble in a bunch of fresh directions for a certain while, is all. To let my psyche and perceptions to become fully engrossed in something, for catharsis, variety, novelty, play: the thrill of the unexpected, or the lullaby or the predictable, or whatever. I do this many times a day, in many ways, and video games are just one example of it.

This isn't to say that all relationships that people forge with games are necessarily healthy, far from it. I'll never be an evangelist for games, and am glad of the fact. I know from my own bitter experiences that intimacy with abstraction is always ultimately an ambivalent thing, and it's exactly this tension that I find so compelling about the way that I relate to games.

My own brushes with having to deal with various addictions and habits means that I know too well that labelling your indulgences and fixations as a way to 'run away from your problems' is a dangerously incomplete notion. It's a dismissive summary of the myriad processes that take place when you fall into the grip of a co-dependency. There are many facets to the allure of compulsion, outside of the obvious preconceptions, and a failure to understand this can make it extremely difficult for you to extract yourself from it all.

Gaming should not be pathologised by default. I'm not suggesting that 'escapism' be replaced with 'returnism', but I that both should be considered in tandem. Returnism is certainly part of a stable relationship with games: Breathe in deeply, to breathe out deeply. The things you bring back with you are just as powerful and important as the things that drive you into that 'escape' in the first place. But, there never really seems to be much dialogue on this matter; as with so much, we focus on the objects rather than the relationships, so that what becomes common perception is only a fraction of any actual story that develops between people and games.

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