For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to immersive media. When life gets tough, a healthy dose of escapism is often all it takes to make me feel more at ease. MMOs in particular provide me with an entire world (or, in the case of STO, a plethora of worlds!) to explore. As I played through the new summer event on Risa this past week, I was struck by the implications of such in-game content. Online games encourage and reward us to live virtual, vicarious lives through our characters. In STO, our captains have just finished a troublesome Year of Hell that would put Janeway to shame, holding back the Borg, the Tholians, the Undine, and countless other threats, with the Iconians now poised to launch an attack on allied space. And at long last, these characters that we have put dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of gameplay into have a chance to relax on shore leave. In-game holiday events speak volumes about the human need for escape—be it from danger, stress, or any other facet of life. These characters are unknowingly shaped into extensions of ourselves as we journey through a digital world—fighting, living, dying, and even relaxing, just as we do in our own physical world.
Over the past decade, many news outlets and so-called “experts” have pointed to MMOs as a potentially addictive source of entertainment, with claims that such games inevitably lead their players down the twin paths of personal and financial ruin. While it is true that some individuals are unwittingly pulled into a self-destructive cycle of game addiction, I would argue that online games are not inherently harmful as an entire entertainment medium. To the contrary, as I play STO, building sandcastles on a Risian beach or battling the Borg in deep space, I fully grasp that such activities don’t define my personality or life accomplishments. But those moments of escape are valuable parts of the human experience nonetheless, granting us moments of solace and happiness in an existence beset by constant stressors and threats. Escapism can soothe the soul and teach us wonderful truths about the real world, and for that, I am immensely grateful.
Until next time, captains, fly safe, plain sailing, and surf’s up!
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