art by Chris Malidore
Years ago, gaming was escapism. Almost universally. We made adventurers, who killed bad guys, stole treasure, and made imaginary world better places for imaginary people to live in. Sort of like toxic lego made cancer-free. And then we got older. The real world bled into our imaginary places. For some, the escapism grew more imaginary. Swords became MEGA swords and monster-bugaboos became giant earth-eating Dragonball Z-level nemeses. Some became jaded by the real world and it bled more, while some grew jaded by the imaginary worlds and we craved more. Mecha and super golems become common place in imaginary worlds that once looked like Northern Europe. Imaginary places became alien places. And the escapism wasn’t enough anymore. The real world was becoming so ugly, that the imaginary places had to become something otherworldly. Almost impossible. They no longer had anything in common.
But for some of us the imaginary places became too real. The drama of these places became exaggerations of the ugly parts of the real world. It wasn’t enough to be an imaginary hero anymore. That imaginary hero had a wife who was cheating on him. That imaginary hero was living in a world where women weren’t allowed to touch a sword. And that imaginary place became a bleeding edge for all our real-world catharsis.
These escape places diverged. There was no common-ground anymore, and so those imaginary places fought. They became reflections of our biases, where that place would tell the other place it was stupid. And wrong. Neither place was safe from the aggression of the other. On one side, giant impossible monsters fought against giant hyper-real drama and giant exaggerate drama became a simulacrum to oppose the fantastical imaginary places wrought with unrelate-able conflict.
And so now, what one person defines as escapism may have nothing in common with another. For some, the realities of the the world around us are the bugaboos which must be fought. Racism. Sexism. Intolerance. The list goes on. For others, the bugaboos look nothing like the real world. Dragons. Vampires. Zombies. The veneer belying another false monster beneath the surface.
What we enjoyed grew into an intractable line between two divided camps. Which makes no sense to me. I came to gaming through one door and I am enjoying games that rest behind another door. Some people behind this door bring all of their real-world baggage with them. Some people behind the other door are so far removed from the real world that relating to them is a near impossibility. But neither door is right. Neither world is wrong. I’ve gamed with all of you. I’ve accepted your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve given up personal wants for the better social collective of the game table, in order that we can all game together. Tell someone what kind of gaming is right or wrong is a luxury for people who don’t want to give anything up; who put themselves at the center of the collective.
(You know who you are.)
Sometimes the pathway to escapism isn’t sniper shots at 1000 yards by a half-troll, half-dragon, half-crouton scout, but a mother who has lost her child and therefore her sense of self. Sometimes the pathway to escapism isn’t a gunshot victim trying to make sense of the world around him through PTSD group meetings, but a machete-wielding orc marauder with 7,000 hit points. Sometimes we just need to get away from something and gaming is the answer, regardless of the substance or veneer. Sometimes we are being the best friends we can be by acknowledging that everyone at the table is there because without the table, they have nothing else.
Sometimes the bugaboo is us. And sometimes the escape is sitting around a table with friends, forgetting about how shitty the world outside is, whichever way we can.