The Reason Why We Seek Escapism

I just need to get away.

It’s a feeling that is very common among, well, pretty much everyone. We’ve grown so accustomed to our daily routines, going through the same kinds of motions each and every day, and this can make life a tad on the boring side. At the same time, most of us are pretty averse to potentially harmful or fatal situations. It’s also rather challenging to do some of the things that we’d really like to do.

And that, at its crux, is why so many of us seek escapism. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. It doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate the lives that we currently enjoy. It doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate our steady jobs, the roofs over our heads, and the delicious foods on our tables. It just means that sometimes, we want something different.

Escapism can take on many forms, but they all have the same common element: vicarious experience. Whether you’re watching a movie, reading a book, or playing a video game, you’re living vicariously through the characters. When you watch X-Men, you feel the same struggles as Professor X. When you play Portal 2, you see yourself as Chell.

The key difference is that you are not in any real mortal danger when you are sitting in that movie theatre or when you are slouched back on your beanbag chair in the living room. You get to experience the same thrills and sense of accomplishment without really changing who you really are. If only for a moment, you are a grizzled war hero in the 1940s, a hopeless romantic in Paris, or an intergalactic pilot in search of brave new worlds.

Don’t let the naysayers steer you astray. Escapist fiction (or even escapist non-fiction, for that matter) need not be a mindless diversion for the harsh, mundane, or boring realities of real life. You can engage with escapist fiction the same way you can engage with thoughtful and profound works of fiction. They are not mutually exclusive. Escapist fiction may be catered to the masses, but you can always take it to another level.

One of my favorite examples of this is the X-Men universe. You can’t deny that there are parallels between the persecution of mutants in that fictional world and the persecution of certain groups of people in the real world. You may escape to something that really doesn’t exist, but also recognize that art tends to imitate life.