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Escapism at the touch of a gamepad

I’ve always been a gamer since I was very young, playing the ZX Spectrum with my sister and my dad. One of my favourite games growing up was Final Fantasy 7. The epic scope of the story, the characterisation was so deep and all-encompassing that your imagination took a back seat to the story that was playing out before you. Adventures in other worlds, emotional connections, peril on a scale that could only have been expressed in a game with a 12 rating. The desperate need to ‘get back there’ to a fantasy world surely taps into any child’s love of imagination and escapism? It has been remade in the form of Final Fantasy 7 Remake and is currently riding high in the worldwide charts.

As a child I found that video games were a perfect antidote to the stresses of kid life. As they got more sophisticated, so did I. While I certainly wasn’t a wallflower or an insular child, I found a safe place away from what I know now was ‘anxiety’. When music isn’t enough to take one’s mind of the day’s worries and even a film isn’t doing the trick, a spell on your favourite video game is so involving that your mind simply doesn’t have the room to fret whilst you’re in the zone.


Right now is the time for escapism and no game does this more than Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch. It’s the console to have right now in lockdown so much so it’s become difficult to get one. Set on your own desert island, populated with animal pals that you befriend and ask to join your community, the game was released to critical acclaim the week before the country was shut down.

One of the best things about Animal Crossing is the lightness of touch. It doesn’t babysit you or assume that you are anything other than yourself. It’s a utopia where you can be who you want to be. If you’re a girl who wants a racing car themed bedroom or a boy that wants to have long hair in pigtails then so be it. There are sloths selling shrubbery, raccoons pedalling real estate so who says you can’t just be who you want to be? The liberty is what makes it so special and it says to our kids that they don’t have to be afraid of expressing themselves, in a world where anything goes and there is no cruelty, judgement or preconceptions.


This week it was reported that Nintendo Switch game Zelda Breath Of The Wild was the most relaxing of all the video games with war simulator Call Of Duty rating as the most stressful. Just like with so many anxieties where control over a certain aspect of life becomes a touchstone, with gaming your world is what you create, not what is impressed on you.

No matter how you feel about your friends, family or school, your gaming world is a place that YOU are in control of and You are the master or mistress of all things. With Animal Crossing, a game where it is impossible to bully or be bullied, is it any wonder that it's sold over 12 million copies in a month?

SamDowler is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He is a Drive Time presenter on Vibe 107.6FM and regular contributor on Channel 5, Talk Radio and BBC London. He writes for various titles including The Times, Huffington Post, Attitude Magazine and The Sun and is the author of self-help book The Insider, available at all major book retailers.  

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