Thursday, April 19, 2012

Escaping Escapism

The real world is unfair.  I got my first speeding ticket in my entire life a few weeks ago.  Because of this, I spent $90 to pay for the citation and now my insurance rates have gone up 20 or so dollars a month.  I feel taken advantage of as a student worker at my University and know the posters I've designed are worth a lot more then what I've been paid for.

This is why video games are so great.  In Hyrule, I don't have to be Stephen Larsen.  I can be the Hero of Time.  In a session of Dungeons and Dragons I can be a level 8 tiefling druid that lets all emotional issues just roll off his back.  Why stay grounded in reality when the weather in Narnia is so nice this time of year?

Escapism is often central to many a geek's past time.  They will play a game, read a book, or maybe watch a movie to just step away from reality for a few hours.  This can be really healthy or it can be spiritually destructive.  Being a geek must be a balanced life.  The pleasures of our life must compliment our lives not destroy them.  Escapism is found a number of different ways, both healthy and unhealthy, but how do we find balance in the experience of our alter realities?

What is escapism?
Escapism is using a form of entertainment to distract oneself from harsh reality.  This can be idle or destructive or a form of wholesome recreation.  Escapism may not necessarily be bad depending on how it is exercised.  Plenty of people that aren't considered "geek" will read books, play video games, or watch a movie to escape.  In fact, movies during the 1930's and 1940's were often the perfect distraction from the harsh realities of the great depression or World War II to help people stay sane.  The messages could give them hope.  The time away gave them time to breathe before returning to the challenges they faced.  So when does escapism become unhealthy?

Why do we escape?
Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything bad with enjoying your experience of being in a different world by way of entertainment.  A geeky activity can be a wholesome form of recreation.  For me, I love the creative outlet that I can get from Dungeons and Dragons.  I love being able to act and draw the characters.  I love the interaction and being someone else to appreciate myself better.  Playing games is also a great stress relief.  Different stories in entertainment can expand our imaginations.  The healthiest reason to escape is when we really connect with ourselves and get to be ourselves.
Geeky pastimes can be wholesome recreation for
friends and family.

I feel that being yourself is an important spiritual principle often overlooked.  We can still be Christlike and obedient to our Heavenly Father's commandments while retaining our personality.  One of my mission presidents once told us in a zone conference, "Don't let anyone take away your personality because that is what makes you like your Heavenly Father."  This resonated with me.  When we enter the spirit world my Heavenly Father will not ask me, "Why weren't you John Lasseter?" (John Lasseter is an animation hero of mine.)  He will ask, "Why weren't you Stephen Larsen?"  A good, healthy escape can be a great way for us to be ourselves.

Escapism can also be abused and can be a breeding ground for idleness and other spiritually destructive behaviors.  In our weakness we will sometimes escape for validation.  We play games to feel powerful because we don't feel powerful in real life.  When that power is threatened we can turn into anal gamers and poor sports.  (Athletic people will do this too.  They do it playing sports.)  If we are unsatisfied in our life, we will turn to games for a false sense of accomplishment.  We will also turn to entertainment to avoid responsibilities.  If there's something painful that we are experience, then we will seek to numb our feelings and suddenly our escapism becomes an addiction.

"I love it too Bill. ...Bill, it's been 10 minutes.  Let's go."

All of this boils down to beliefs we have about ourselves.  We think, "I'm not pretty," "I'm not powerful," "I'm not manly," "I'm fat," or "I'm not brave."  It's these beliefs we must change about ourselves before we escape to the world of Warcraft, Hyrule, Panem, Forks (Washinton), or some other faux-reality. Playing these games, watching these movies, or reading these books won't change these beliefs.  Believing that they will when we don't turn to the Atonement for comfort is idol worship.  Beliefs like this must be changed if we're ever to find true happiness.

Spending too long in our escape can also cause delusion or unrealistic expectations.  A book about sparkly vampires can create unrealistic expectations in both men and in relationships.  Spending so much time leveling your character in Skyrim can lead you to think that you've leveled up in real life. This doesn't necessarily mean an actual belief you can cast fireballs.  It may mean a sense of pride and over identifying with the world you so frequently visit.  This can be a belief that you're above people with whom you play or even work.

How do we escape escapism?
So we recognize what escapism is.  We can even differentiate between what is healthy and what isn't.  But how do we escape unhealthy escapism?  Sometimes the realities that we create are so comfortable we find it difficult to leave them.  If an addiction has fostered then it may even feel impossible.  Reconnecting to reality can be made possible by socializing, filling your life with healthy activities, and changing beliefs about yourself.

Socializing is probably the most obvious way to reconnect to reality.  I'm not talking about talking to friends over the internet, texting them, or calling them on the phone.  The proper and most healthy socialization you could participate in is face-to-face.  Look people in their eyes when you talk to them.  Make an effort to really connect.  Doing this will ground you in reality.

The next thing we can do to overcome escapism is to fill our life with healthy activities.  Get outside to soak up some sun.  A good hike is healthy and reminds you how beautiful this earth is.  In addition to hiking there are plenty of geek friendly athletics you can participate in.  These healthy activities can even be inside.  The point is that your healthy activities should take you away from whatever your outlet is to have escapism.

Really, the end all of really grounding ourselves in reality is changing the negative beliefs about ourselves.  I can't stress this enough because this is exactly what I needed to do growing up.  Growing up, I used video games and online roleplaying to be someone I really wanted to be.  I didn't like how I looked or who I was.  I wasn't thankful for the body my Heavenly Father gave me.  I was prideful not humble.  Being humble means that you embrace yourself in all of your imperfections, putting faith in the atonement, and forgiving yourself of your shortcomings.  Pride is not forgiving yourself and believing that you're too bad for the atonement.

So how do we change these beliefs about ourselves?  Things that helped me was setting life goals to help me stretch.  Doing this helped me see that I could do it!  I could work towards getting what I wanted out of life.  Even if I didn't get that internship, or move to where I wanted to live, I grew into a man that I liked being.  I started to see that the improvements and the growth I experienced was real.  It just couldn't be measured in whether or not I had a degree or even good grades.  Why should we measure our self worth by someone else's standards?

Setting goals took me outside my comfort zone.  I had to do and face things that scared me.  I did stuff that was insane--like buying a plane ticket to Southern California for a job interview.  I didn't get the job but became more dedicated in meeting my goals.  I became more dedicated to being the man I wanted to be and not trying to be that man in Skyrim, The City of Rapture, or the Kingdom of Hyrule.  When we stretch ourselves to prove ourselves we become our own heroes!

None of this advice will really help you unless you involve the savior.  Share your goals with Him, your feelings with Him, and your struggles with Him in mighty prayer.  Embrace your weakness that you can fully embrace His strength.  Ammon from the Book of Mormon gives us a perfect example of this attitude.

Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever. (Alma 26:12) 
We can’t change these negative beliefs by ourselves. We have to allow the power of the atonement to work in us through prayer, fasting, and exercising our faith in our savior. Thankfully, He is with us every step if we let him in.

I can honestly say that my failures have made me a better man.  I love who I am now.  I love that my relationship with geeky entertainment and past times is much healthier now.  I know that my relationship with my Heavenly Father is at a better place too.  No, I can't bend the earth beneath my feet with kung fu moves.  No, I haven't saved any princesses lately.  Yes, I'm still a skinny twig that can barely lift a weight.  But I'm a child of God and that's more than good enough for me.



  1. Stephen, and the Mormon Geeks crew. Thank you for writing things like this. This post especially has hit home for me.

    1. Thank you for reading and supporting us! This message hits home to many if not all of us. All I ask is that you continue to come back to read what we write and share what you read to friends. :)