Friday, November 6, 2015

In Praise Of Escapism

When I was a young boy, my life wasn't simple. We immigrated to Israel when I was 3.5 years old, no money, almost nothing of value, but a ton of books. As often is the case for immigrant children - I didn't exactly fit in. I spoke with the wrong accent, dressed in the wrong clothes, didn't have the cool toys and didn't watch the popular TV shows. Some of it was due to lack of money, some due to the cultural differences, some due to the problems at home. My parents tried their best but they had their hands full struggling desperately to literally survive in their new and foreign country.

The other children felt it. They saw I was easy prey. I must have projected it - my lack of confidence, my fear of the outside world, of other people. And so, from the age of 4 to the age of 9 I was consistently ridiculed and occasionally beaten. This of course only made my fear and anxieties worse - creating a snowball effect. At 9 I was accepted to a gifted children class - which substantially improved my life. I was still one of the least popular kids but no one beat me for it...

You might think "Another butt-hurt nerd - can't you take a joke?" or "Couldn't you just ignore them?" - and I really, truly wish I could. Not for myself - but for the little kid that I was, and the many (too many) kids around the world who still go through similar experiences - and didn't do anything to deserve it. 
But I couldn't. 
This is the kind of things assholes and adults (respectively) say. Adults don't care what the other kids think of you - so why should you, right?... 
See, humans are social animals - we care very much about our image and perception in the eyes of our pears - and only when we grow older we realize that the majority and the "alpha-dogs" are often wrong - not to say stupid... But you probably already know that right? If you're reading this, you're probably not part of said majority.

In order to realize your own worth - value that does not stem directly from the opinion of your immediate and random surroundings (like school) - you need to be very strong. You need a source of power. A safe haven. A fountain of love and appreciation. A safety net that would bounce you back up when you fall.
For many people it's their family. For some it's their close friends. For others it's their work and career that gives them a sense of self worth. But I was 5, didn't have real friends yet and my family had their own problems.
I found solace in the alternative world of computer games. 

I can recall many days at school that went by in expectation of the blissful moment when I'll finally get home to my game. It was my safe haven. A universe where the rules were clear, the goals challenging but achievable - a universe that was unlike the "real" one. Games were there for me when people weren't.
Escapism? Most definitely. And thank god for that. Everyone needs a safe haven.

My gaming enthusiasm grew into quite a few geeky hobbies through the years. In junior-high I started playing Magic: The Gathering, which introduced me to a community of like minded geeks and eventually led to a drastic change in my social life when I reached high school - but that's a story for another day. Suffice to say that nowadays I occasionally give talks in front of large audiences at international conventions - so I'm probably not the scared little boy anymore.

And this is where the naysayers come in. You see, today's children "spend too much time in front of a screen". They should "go outside and play", in the dirt - like all previous generations did... They'll "forget how to talk to people" and then where would the slick salespeople come from?...
I could say this is just the fear of changes talking from the mouths of conservatists. I could point out to the statistics about average pay-grade in the high tech industry vs. non-geek professions. I could claim that the future needs more people who understand computers and independent thinking - less people who understand peer pressure and dirt. 
But I won't - because, in part, the naysayers are right. Gaming and escapism are not all good. There are downsides and addictions and exploitative games and other problems we still need to fix. 

So I'll say just one thing.
Before you preach for a "return to the real world" - make damn sure that your piece-of-shit reality is worth coming back to.


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