Escaping Reality Through Video Games

Allen shares how video games helped him cope with eight months of house arrest.

I had reached the lowest point of my life in early May 2009 as I lay on a hospital bed, trying to piece together the previous night. I remember playing a show (I was lead singer in a metal band at the time), drinking a lot, and seeing bright lights before a sudden stop. My irresponsibility cost me my car and a lot of money, but fortunately no one was seriously injured. Over the coming months, I had to face the consequences of my actions which included a sentence of eight months of house arrest. During this time, video games became a necessary escape from reality as I paid the price for my mistakes and tried to rebuild my life.

For anyone who hasn’t experienced something similar, it might be easy to criticize what I did during those eight months of house arrest. Why spend five or six hours a day playing video games when you could be productive?

If only it were that easy.

For the first few weeks, I tried to be productive, but anxiety, guilt, and hopelessness weighed me down. More than anything, I just wanted to take my mind off the current situation. Reading books did nothing to help with my anxiety, and while movies offered an escape, they only lasted a few hours. With video games, I could travel to a different world for as long as I wanted or I could hang out with my friends with the press of a few buttons.

While I served eight months of house arrest, I could only leave the house for school and for four hours of free time on the weekend. Needless to say, my social schedule felt somewhat limited, but I had good friends that visited me when they could. Over winter break, one such friend and I tackled Borderlands co-operatively. He played as Mordecai (a sniper), I played as Brick (a brawler), and together we conquered the world of Pandora while listening to Led Zeppelin, Miike Snow, and Kid Cudi. Borderlands provided the perfect escape because it allowed me to grind for better loot without much thought. The eccentric characters, simple quest structure, and charming, tongue-in-cheek tone resonated with me, keeping my spirits high as I continued to deal with the fallout from my DUI.

Eventually, classes resumed, and we had less chances to play together. Unfortunately, I was forced to withdraw from the semester with three months of house arrest remaining. I did my best to occupy my time with hobbies such as music production, video games, and movies. I also had supportive friends and family, but they couldn’t stay with me all the time, and feelings of separation and anxiety began to set in. After a random online encounter with an old friend, I picked up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and started playing with him. Suddenly, I had a new circle of friends, and a world of gaming opened up to me.

Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot 2

Until that point, I had never been much of a multi-player fan, but as I had nothing but time, I started playing Call of Duty almost religiously. I played so often that my sleep schedule rotated, and I began to sleep during the day. I’d usually wake up around 6 or 7 pm, hop on to Modern Warfare 2 around 9 pm and play until 3 or 4 am. Together with five other friends, I played countless hours of Team Deathmatch. Every person had a different role (I mainly played close quarters) and as silly as it sounds, I felt like I was part of an actual team. Other times, I’d play alone to hone my skills, and I’d often make friends with people from as far away as Australia. At a time when I couldn’t even leave my house, Modern Warfare 2 helped me to reconnect with old friends, to form new friendships, and to interact with people all over the world.

While I had the support of many people including my parents, my friends, my teachers, and my wife, video games helped me cope with the hardest point in my life because of their immersive nature. Sometimes we need an escape from reality, and in those moments, I think video games can offer a portal to a different world. A world where we can be a treasure hunter on an exotic planet or a member of a special forces team. Most of the time, video games offer a fun diversion from our ordinary lives, but sometimes, they can offer something more: a virtual refuge and a tool to heal.

Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Allen Brasch is an aspiring writer who loves good science fiction, fantasy, and horror. When Allen's not writing or gaming, he's talking about all things geeky on his podcast, Devil May Play.