So I’ve been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto V lately. One of my favorite things about the game is that you’re able not only to drive like a maniac and survive (most of the time), but also to fly airplanes and helicopters. I used to want to take flying lessons and daydreamed about having a private plane someday. That lasted about two weeks. My desire to take motorcycle lessons lasted more like a year, but I haven’t done that yet either…
On Twitter this week, Sam Leung of the awesome blog Cheeese Toastie and Video Games mentioned that she wanted to fly planes in real life after playing so much GTA V. It got me thinking about video games as escapism, because I love games that let me do things in-game that I can’t do in real life.
I used to think that about creative writing as well — if I can’t be a professional athlete, a singer, a world traveler, even a criminal (not that I’d want to be), I can write like I am one and live vicariously through my own stories. Video games act similarly, and I fell in love with them largely for that added level of immersion that comes from being able to “enter” a game world and navigate it. I can see it, hear it, interact with it. And through role-playing games in particular, I can be anyone I want to be… for pretend.
Virtual reality is going to make this even more impressive someday soon. There’s a danger for some that living a “second life” in a video game can feel more real or become more important than real life. However, it seems to me that for the majority of gamers, the main way video games seep into real life is when they inspire extra daydreaming.
There are some games where daydreaming is all you can do — such as in fantasy games where you have powers. Sadly, there’s just no way to recreate that in real life, so throwing fireballs and mixing love potions are adventures saved only for gaming time; they don’t carry over into the real world at all. But with games set in the real world, without anything magical or futuristic, it can be pretty tempting to do some of the in-game actions in real life. In fact, I’ve even been largely inspired by fantasy games to pick up archery in real life.
Playing GTA V, I’m able to fly planes and ride motorcycles just like I once wanted to in my spare time. For some gamers like Sam, it sounds like doing those things in-game makes them long to do them IRL as well. But for me, trying out some of the more extreme things in a fictional world is often enough. Sure, there are some things I plan to do in the real world, and virtual reality can only take you so far… but if there’s something I can’t do IRL — like carry out my two-week fantasy of flying planes — being able to enact it in video games is the perfect answer.