June 19, 2020
The Oxford English Dictionary defines escapism as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.” By this definition, escapism could be anything from virtual reality video games to cooking a labor intensive meal. However, the biggest form of escapism during the current times of crisis tends to be more digital. At a time when we have to riot for equal rights, our president tweets out his racist and misogynistic thoughts and the world is being ravaged by a pandemic, a little escapism sounds rather delicious. Just be sure to not let escapism turn into an obsession.
At the start of the COVID-19 quarantine, there was a large flurry of excitement around Nintendo’s release of the Nintendo Switch and the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Both Nintendo and the Animal Crossing games have a massive nostalgia factor for people. So much so that when we all learned that we would be stuck inside for quite a while there was a desperation around obtaining this game and console. This demand eventually led to a massive amount of price gouging on the Nintendo Switch. It was seen as a form of comfort, entertainment and escapism. Who wants to think about a global pandemic when they can grow fruit trees and pay back their loans in a matter of days rather than the years that it takes in the real world? However, this desire to run away to an island paradise can lead to an unhealthy infatuation with this fake world. Be sure to plant your trees and catch your bugs, but also remember those things exist in the real world as well.
The world can be a bone crushingly sad place to be right now and there are several markets that profit off of the world’s desire for escapism. One of these markets is virtual reality. Virtual reality’s entire purpose is to fully immerse you into a different world through sight, sound and the ability to truly interact with a perfectly crafted world. Virtual reality has an edge that traditional video games don’t. You can literally see yourself moving and affecting the virtual environment around you. In fact, on May 29th, it was reported to make 22.1 billion USD this year alone and by 2025 it’s estimated that there will be 48.8 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). This rise in popularity is partially agitated by the need for isolated forms of entertainment. While virtual reality can be excellent, especially in a time when we cannot physically see one another, it also acts as a perfect way for someone to ignore the rapidly moving world right outside their window.
Another form of digital escapism that has only increased in popularity due to the disaster that is 2020 is social media. With so much time on our hands and very little to physically distract us there is a massive push of people escaping into their social media accounts. Even millennials, who previously made fun of TikTok, are now very invested in the app, even joining in on the challenges and trends associated with it. Yet, the distraction and entertainment value of something as simple and easy as TikTok or Instagram has made people forget the number one rule of these apps: that shit isn’t real. Everything you see is a perfectly crafted moment that the person posting wanted you to see. There are so many articles on why this is bad that I won’t even get into beating that dead horse, but it seems to be something that we need to be reminded of. It is worth mentioning that during this surge of voices to the Black Lives Matter movement, social media has been an excellent place to reclaim the attention of those that are losing themselves in social media. The reminder of what is happening in the present can be a welcomed (or may likely needed) wake up call.
Ultimately, there simply needs to be a balance between interacting and making changes in the real world and giving your mind a break from the heavier things to do some less mentally taxing work. I understand the need to get away from the fears or life, but running away completely is more dangerous in the long run. It’s important for us to be looking out for our mental health during quarantine, and perhaps making sure our friends aren’t being sucked into unhealthy habits as well. Stay safe and stay healthy, but also stay aware.
Joey Warren is a senior in professional and public writing. When not studying you can find her watching Netflix in her pajamas, advocating for women and LGBTQ youth or taking pictures of ducks. You can follow her on Instagram @jortay_ole.