Escapism is one of the primary functions of media. We do not pursue art or media which reflects back to us the processes and structures of the life we are accustomed to. Instead, we pursue that which offers us an alternative space of reality, a fantasy experience in which discovery is its own gratification, or at least we pursue art that offers us an exaggerated slice of the familiar that elicits in us sought-after emotions.
The nature of experience when it comes to art and media is, historically, a social one. The independent nature of reading is an exception to this general rule, but even then literature hopes to incite active discussion, it hopes to sow ideas that no author would hope die within the pages they inhabit. Reading is an individual activity but it is not tailored to the individual as a product, a book exists as a position of the writer’s ideas with no knowable recipient. As such, we see the popularity of book clubs, of slam poetry clubs and of literature forums. International religious communities have been born into history because of the social spheres and wider discussion kindled by individual texts. Even with reading, the experience cannot end with the individual.
The social nature of media and art is seen in other forms. Theatre is a prime example of this, where the expression is experienced in live performance. With theatre, you are invited to observe a kind of expression in the proximity of tens or hundreds of others, this experience being exclusive to those in attendance due to the varying nature of live performance. It is private and it is social simultaneously. Beyond that, and although today the personal appliance is commonplace, television and cinema used to be very social experiences. There was a point in modern history at which the television was a luxury household appliance and with only a handful of terrestrial channels. Programmes were scheduled events around which you had to organise you and your family’s time to watch.
Expression should not be an isolating thing for either the creator or consumer. Escapism is a social activity, it has to be, creators of media cannot align their creations with the tastes or expectations of any one individual, as they cannot know who it is they are providing for. Therefore, consuming the work of creators is an exchange of perceptions from many individuals, it is a discussion, an event and most importantly a social activity.
But perhaps, with the advent of videogames, the paradigm of escapism has shifted completely. Videogames as escapism, in the modern generation of gaming, surpass the boundaries of ‘social’ and in some cases enter ‘co-operative’. Co-operation is social, but ‘social’ does not mean ‘co-operative’. With other forms of media, an audience is preferred but not required as opposed to the individual. A book can still exist as both an expression and experience if only one person ever reads it, just as a play can still exist with one audience member ever seeing it and as a film still exist if only one person ever bought a ticket. But with videogames, two individuals are sometimes required for an escapist experience to exist at all.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a game I recently played with my best friend. It is also the most adorable and most lovable thing you will ever see (besides me, of course). It is the only game I have ever played with such an intrinsic emphasis on co-operation, teamwork, and ludic selflessness. The underlying escapist fantasy here, of being a darling little space captain in my own darling little spacepod, firing lasers at anti-love monsters in the hope of spreading cosmic love-beams across the galaxy, was in and of itself endearing. But with my co-pilot at my side in real life, this escapist fantasy was somehow made more immersive, the yearnings to progress were emphasised with the knowledge that this virtual world of space-love and cosmic storge was populated by truly autonomous beings. I would no longer have to play off of my own decisions, but I would have to observe and play off of his. It was made more real by the world being effected by someone other than me. Of course, the videogame as single-player experience should not be something that exists in-between worlds, and should suspend your disbelief, but somehow playing Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime with my friend at my side subconsciously immersed me deeper into the experience.
Co-operative escapism is a unique experience, and one that games such as Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime excel with.