Press to E-Scape
October 5, 2020 / Swetha Berana
It’s as simple as A, B, X, Y.
Roaming endless open worlds. Scaling expanses of mountains and greenery. Cultivating a beautiful farm square by square, protecting it from intruders and the elements, and basking in a world where there are seemingly no barriers to the amount of success and happiness one can attain. It’s as simple as A, B, X, Y.
Boxed and bricked in by the physical walls between us and our neighbors, we know, on a pragmatic level, why we must stay separate. For this fleeting moment in history, we have put our individual needs aside in service of protecting broader humanity as we stay locked inside four walls. Yet, we recognize that there’s something primal missing in each of us as we do so.
Regardless of what we may tell ourselves and how much we try to cover it, we all desire community and love. Humans are wired to contribute to the world and to feel inadequate if we don’t do so. We grow as individuals when we navigate the maze of strengths and weaknesses and we get points for achieving self-worth.
Fortunately, we are an adaptable species, not content with being left at level one. We fill this human need for advancement by manipulating analog sensors into bells and gems, rare crops, beautiful clothing, an endless, Gatsby-esque crawl to heights previously unattainable and seemingly unending.
With all seven billion of us karting on the same course, the physical world can get exhausting. Our amazingly complex and wondrous minds have a hard time grasping one amazing complex and wondrous fact: that our world’s reserves of success are infinite. With so much else in our world -- money, the coveted ‘A’, status -- reserved for the select few, we retreat to a virtual, second world run by boxes of sensors and circuitry. Open worlds where the trials and tribulations of being terribly human are lifted; worlds where falling into a pit of spikes only reduces our lifespan by twenty percent, sparing us the horror of a real stake poking us in the gut - or worse, a hospital bill. Worlds where we can buy new clothes with the mere press of a button, free from the noxious odor of hand sanitizer and constant fear as we step outside our haven into the unclean world.
The Japanese term hikikomori describes the estimated 500,000 to one million Japanese citizens who do not leave their homes. It’s been used as a warning sign for many; that too much time spent in an unreal world causes us to forget we are living in our physical one. But the reality for many of us today is that every day, trapped inside four walls, physically and mentally alone, we are untethering. Technology has helped ground us; it links back to what makes us human. From the friendship void, filled by Animal Crossing and online communities like Reddit, to a need for romantic relationships, which can be simulated by first-person romance simulations called otome, our joycons provide us more mobility and agency over our lives than our own grubby two hands. For some, this enhanced mobility and agency take place in the most physical sense of the word. Immersive virtual reality has been created to provide a tangible, explorable physical world for those with disabilities to provide them with knowledge and skills they would otherwise not be able to obtain.
The e-scape is our crutch, our great equalizer. In the virtual world, we all face the same barriers, the same hive we have to tap this many times before obtaining this much more gold, and the same number of zombies we have to kill before we gain five experience points. The inequalities created by humanity, erased by the least human thing in the world.
Escapism has a negative connotation in our society, suggesting an inability to face the real world. But it’s something all minds do, in different ways and with different catalysts. It’s a coping mechanism, and like all coping mechanisms, it has a beneficial side and harmful side. The rolling hills of Hyrule can give us a physical and emotional reprieve from the flatness of scheduled school life, and this momentary escapism can help us refocus and reinvigorate our minds.
The space around me goes dark as the clock rolls around to 2 AM. With the flash of a white square my tired monitor turns into an antique couch; my window blinds turn into curtains; my wardrobe, silently breathing in a corner; is morphed into a bookshelf housing piles of my adventures. I’m in nineteenth century London, solving crimes for unsuspecting citizens. It’s grueling work, but I make progress, piece by piece, clue by clue. I roam the city streets with my sidekick, talking to new people, gaining new perspectives over the course of a month. The end credits roll and I’m given the option to start again. The office goes dark and I’m in suburbia again. The grandfather clock is now a digital one, and it reads 5 AM. The AC hums. Though I’m a master detective, everything around me is untouched, unaffected by my exploits. I smile, though. If I wanted to, I could change anything. And even if I couldn’t, there’s another world -- suspended between two pieces of glass-- in which I could.■
This article was written as a part of Spark Writing’s first annual summer workshop series, Words With Friends: A Spark Writer’s Summer!
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez