Video games have always been an escape for reality for me, sometimes dangerously so – who hasn’t found themselves wondering where the last five hours of the day went? Over the years and looking back however, there’s an obvious pattern in my surges of increased game time. Video games have been a crutch and go-to for every failed date or shitty guy that’s wandered into my life over the years.
They’ve always been an easy way to ignore the world and whatever is happening at the time and allowed me to fall into a world where if something bad happened, fixing it was as easy as loading the last save slot and diving in.
I didn’t grow up in a home that was particularly big on video games. For Christmas one year, my parents gifted me with a Nintendo 64, which for an eight year old was just the best thing ever. My parents also got me two games, and because I had two games they didn’t see the need for any more. And honestly, once I had genuinely thought I’d achieved everything that could be achieved in Pokemon Snap I didn’t really touch the 64 again. I came home one day and it was gone, sold to a neighbour whose kids realised technology is superior to their siblings.
I was nineteen when I moved back into my parents’ house after they’d decided to take a six month trip around the world and needed someone to housesit. Sitting alone in a huge house, surrounded by trees with the nearest neighbour at least a ten minute walk away and utterly petrified once the night hit. When I all I could hear was the native wildlife making (probably not that uncommon) noise outside in the darkness of the bush – that was when I picked up a second-hand Xbox 360. It was easier to close the door and spend hours playing through old games that would distract me from just how scared I was of ridiculous things I’d probably heard every night growing up in that same house. (I still maintain that house is haunted. Somebody probably got mauled to death by koalas at some point there.)
The same procrastination would apply when I moved to Melbourne and found myself alone in a huge city. Video games were a way of ignoring the outside world and bad things that had happened that day. Would Nathan Drake be that bothered that some boy didn’t smile back at him? Well probably, yeah, Nathan Drake seems to have abandonment issues.
When my at-the-time boyfriend would leave the house to go spend days and nights on end at his ‘friend’s’ (yeah, okay, I wasn’t that intuitive) place, I could ignore the stabs of hurt and instead focus all my energy on making sure Lara Croft survived the freaky-as-hell island of Yamatai.
After we broke up, but unfortunately made the decision to remain living together until the lease ended (I don’t care how much you think it’ll work, don’t do it, kids) I would sequester myself away from the living space that contained all our shared consoles and instead submerse myself in the world of the Sims – the only game I had on my iMac. In doing this I discovered that I didn’t have to worry or care about the living, breathing boy in the next room. I could create a girl that only cared about the most mundane things, like cursing every neighbour in the vicinity with a frog’s head.
Somehow playing a character that didn’t care about the meaningless guys in my life, who had much bigger things to worry about (like protecting Whiterun from dragons and earning the respect of Jarl Barlgruuf the Greater), made getting over someone that much easier. The characters and stories may be fiction, but that thrill and excitement that fills you during a shootout in Red Dead or finally getting through the side quest with the fire-breathing ants in Fallout 3 is real. (Disclaimer: I never said I was particularly good at these games; I’m just persistent as all hell.)
Simply, the act of sitting and immersing myself in a different character, someone who wasn’t me and didn’t have my problems, made everything I felt bad about seem ridiculous. It could be argued that I was using video games as a distraction from real life, and that’s probably an accurate argument. To this day, I use video games as a distraction from real life, but unlike procrastination from cleaning or uni work, the thing that I’m avoiding doesn’t need to be eventually taken care of or addressed. It needs to be forgotten and treated like what it is – nothing.
By the end of the game, I don’t care. It stops me from analysing everything, deciding everything that’s wrong about myself and how it was to blame. Two hours of scaling up a mountain wall as Lara Croft teaches me that it doesn’t matter. It’s not something I can load over, and at the end of the day it probably wasn’t my fault. Just like it wasn’t Lara’s fault that her boat crashed and a bunch of friends and mentor got killed by the weird sun cult on that island (Lost, anyone?).
In a way it’s probably not the healthiest outlet, but for me it works. Also, who hasn’t felt better about something after spending an hour on a rampage just destroying bandits and dragons?