Written By: Stephen Marro
Escapism: (noun) The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.
People play video games for many different reasons. One of those reasons is escapism; a distraction from reality through the indulging of fantasy. Oftentimes, I find myself gravitating towards games that are as unlike the real world as possible. I can’t help but be drawn to games featuring bombastic musical elements or abstract and surreal art styles. This kind of experience is all the more appealing to me when the real world is exceptionally shitty. 2017, some would say, has been an exceptionally shitty year.
Outside of the realm of video games, 2017 has been one of socio-political struggle, terror attacks, hate crimes, and obnoxious publicized arguments. Within the realm of video games, politics has even lead to the disbanding of one of my escapist go-to’s; the infamous duo that is (was) Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty. Couple all of that with other personal dilemmas and this last year has been an emotional mess. As a result, I have been unreasonably sad, and so I have turned to my old friends as a pick me up. Those old friends being tiny, blubbery alien balls who sing and eat a lot.
The Locoroco Come To The Rescue
Locoroco originally released on the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in 2006. Locoroco is a simple platform/puzzle game in which players indirectly control cute little singing characters, known as “Locoroco”, by tilting their game world and propelling them through colorful worlds. The game has a ridiculous exuberance that shines through its colorful art style, simplistic controls, and unabashedly catchy music. The sequel, Locoroco 2, exceeds the first game in every way.
I played the Locoroco games religiously back when they first released on PSP, and I purchased the games again digitally when I got a PSP Go. (No regrets!) I even bought the games for a third time when they became compatible with the Playstation Vita. And, because behavioral economics suggest that real humans make awful economic decisions on a regular basis, I bought them a 4th time when they got remastered for the PlayStation 4.
Why have I purchased this game so many times? The answer is simple: escapism. Locoroco is the perfect escapist game for sad people. Locoroco was there for me when I stumbled through middle school. Locoroco held my hand while I fumbled my way through the confusion of a homosexual puberty. So, now, Locoroco is my top pick for nostalgic self-prescribed escapist therapy sessions.
Upon replaying these wonderful games on my PS4 lately, I couldn’t help but wonder why this game brings me so much comfort. I know I have an obsession for quirky art and clever sound design, and this game has those by the truckload, but why is this game in particular so damn good at combating depression? The simplest answer, I’ve found, is actually in a spur-of-the-moment remark I made to a roommate just the other night while playing Locoroco 2. “How can I be sad when everything is so cute?”
When I play video games, or really when I experience any kind of media, I automatically associate the experience I’m having with my internalized mood. While playing Locoroco 2 now, I’m becoming more conscious of what the game symbolically represents for me.
In the game Locoroco 2, the world has been taken over by the Moja. The Moja are these not-so-nice characters who eat the Locoroco and spread “bunyo” which is this goopy black cloud that sucks the music and color out of the world. As you play the game, you rid the colorful worlds of the Moja and the bunyo restoring music and color to the world.
Playing through Locoroco 2 recently, I find myself quickly associating different aspects of my real life with the characters and objects in the game. The Moja become a symbolic representation of personified negativity, and the bunyo becomes a representation of how that negativity may manifest itself. (Bad thoughts, harmful actions, sleep deprivation, procrastination, etc…) The Moja become a REAL threat to me in this way because the game makes me subconsciously (and, now, as I’m writing this, I realize consciously too) recognize that if I don’t rid myself of these things, they will literally consume me. Playing the game, and clearing this world of the bunyo, and ultimately, the Moja, I am therapeutically ridding MYSELF of these things too.
Of course, this is all me doing this thing that I tend to do. I project myself onto the games that I play, and it isn’t exactly reflective of the game itself, but I would argue that it doesn’t necessarily always matter what the intention behind any work of art is. What matters is how we, as individuals and as consumers of media, experience that art. And, goddammit, if Locoroco keeps me from feeling shitty, then I’m going to play Locoroco!
I know that Locoroco isn’t going to affect everyone the same way that it has affected me. It doesn’t have to. The point is that video games have the potential to help us when we’re not feeling all too well. I recognize that just about any entertainment medium has the ability to speak to people in profound ways, but I feel like there’s something especially therapeutic about video games. Maybe it’s their ability to have us actively participate in the process or maybe I’m reading into things a bit too much. Either way, I’m infinitely grateful that I can have these experiences because I genuinely feel as if I’d be worse off without them.
Have you ever had a game help you with a particularly difficult time? Share your experiences in the comments below.