One of the more memorable video game missions I’ve played in a video game recently was in Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth. While the game had a bunch of memorable and interesting missions, and while I loved the core story (especially the first half) about a tech company with no limits covering up a deadly flaw with their cash cow product and the general shadiness around it that made me keep on playing, one of the most on-point side missions was about some sketchy vendor selling dolls in the NEET populated part of town, and he brought out a doll that looked an awful like the female character you knew. Your character declines this and gets a shady vibe, finding out that these dolls actually turn their owners into lost souls, trapped in the digital world of the game obsessing over their waifu until they die, unable to be snapped out of it.
At that time, I thought it was sorta funny, and I think that’s what the game designers kinda wanted. The side missions in Cyber Sleuth, unlike the sequel referenced or took the piss out of everything from wiki vandals to surreal friendships, with Digimon of course thrown in the mix a bit. However, this mission stuck in my mind, and I can see why it did. Escapism does tend to ruin people, and for a good reason: People like that character use it as an excuse to “drop out” of life and live life in the video game realm.
One of the things that a lot of friends, especially from the trolling and shitposting sides of the internet ask is this: Why are so many people online all the same? Why do they all feel like they’re cut from the same cloth, produced at the same factory, and all with the same behaviors and mannerisms? Well, they’re all nerds who love escapism.
Sure, I can get why escapism is so popular with a lot of people. Your life sucks. Your terrible office desk job or McJob is hell to work at, it only pays just enough to keep you living in your trashy apartment, and you can’t move elsewhere without giving up that job. You drive a trashy car that has some possible major issues, but you don’t care as long as it doesn’t get you to work late. So, once you get home from that job you hate, you want to sit back, relax, drink an ice-cold beer, and watch some sports, Netflix, or play video games. I mean that’s one thing, even if it’s not as productive or as fulfilling as a hobby, you don’t care. You just want your mind to get off your terrible life.
And then there’s numerous types of nerds online, who can be the end result of when the escapism takes over. They might look different on the surface, but deep down inside they are closer to each other than one might think. They either work a job they hate, or oftentimes they don’t even have a job, just mom’s credit card or government money. They usually live with parents or in an apartment yet might own tons of geek culture merchandise or blow money to have porn drawn of their fursona. While some people might try to actively improve their life, or just sit back being complacent, nerds take it to the next level by actively refusing to improve their life, in favor of their own little fantasy world. They don’t just want to live in the real world, they want to be a spanking hot furry that everyone wants to have sex with.
Meanwhile in the real world, despite having an icon of a spanking hot furry everyone wants to have sex with, they’re a generic soy fueled male with no real goals or ambitions, always cut from the same cloth. Oh hey, you want to be a video game designer, it’s not like Steam is flooded with too many games. Oh hey, you want to be a professional video gamer and you even quit your job for it. Whoops, looks like YouTube cut your payouts again, time to apply to work at McDonald’s again. Oh hey, you want to draw online, too bad every internet artist seems to be broke and always in some emergency (the ones I know who have a few brain cells left are going into gamedev for a reason).
You might see a user with a nice icon with a cute talking animal, but what about the person behind the icon? Does he look like a fit sanitary person? Does he act like a jackass to everyone online, asking people he has never even met to unblock him? Does he have a decent job, or does he spend all his mom’s money (or Uncle Sam’s money) on video games? Some trashy people will have trashy fursonas but oftentimes they’ll have half-decent to great fursonas despite the man behind the curtain being a terrible person. Some people then take it to the next level, making their fursona their entire identity, and eventually with enough nerds with the same mentality, change happens. The furry fandom goes from a fandom of underground comic artists that nobody gives a fuck about besides a few sales at furry cons, to a con full of lonely nerds who want to fuck talking animals, to escapists who want to escape reality by pretending to be their fursona.
It’s a fabric a lot of these people are cut from. Living in a western, industrialized society where many people are rich tends to have lots of benefits, but one of the drawbacks is what happens to many people when there’s no desire to do anything worthwhile, nor is there any struggle to force that. It’s also where the medical system and welfare system can allow those who would have died off even a few hundred years ago to keep on living as Earth’s population increases ever so slowly. This means that these people also tend to make up struggles to spice up their dull life, which means that you have people manufacturing struggles and outrage. While some nerds tend to do just that, numerous nerds will also escape into the fantasies of their mind, as their life around them crumbles. You’ll get furries living out their life through their fursona and roleplaying online. You’ll get WoW nerds who play video games all day. You’ll get weaboos who want to be with the hot anime chick of their dreams. You’ll even see this in the LGBT community, specifically the T with both “rapid onset gender dysphoria” and autogynephilia (a fetish where someone (usually a man) is aroused by the thought of being the opposite gender). Yet through the façade, you can see signs. Signs of a crumbling life, signs of mental illness, signs of someone who refused to even do the basic things needed to live a healthy life like cleaning your room, instead choosing to spend another hour on the Nintendo Switch.
Deep down inside, there’s something they’re missing. Something they will never have. As the fast food waste and soda cans pile around them, there’s something they’re lacking. They can be a hot dragoness in the internet world, but behind the monitor is a husk of a human being. A sad loser, a failure at succeeding in real life. A poster child for everything wrong with younger men in the western world. You can be a pro at playing the Nintendo, but what skills does that get you outside of video gaming? Oh I can tell you: None. Sometimes they’re even trying to escape trauma, from losing your best friend (either from a death or from them falling victim to a cult) to realizing they’re unable to achieve the goals they want to in life.
As confronting reality is too hard, and as all their friends don’t want to nudge them towards reality (or they cut their friends off because they did, great job :V) they spend all their time online. Eventually, this time online takes a toll on them, as it begins to shape how they see themselves, and who they are in the real world. It also leads them into meeting up with dangerous people, as they get desperate for friends that only fit a specific bracket. From gender identities to only playing specific games on Steam, this becomes all of their life, and this leads to all of their friends being like-minded, accelerating their demise. The end result of metamorphizing from a kid who got picked on at school to having terrible friends? You end up with total failures at life, who serve only as walking warnings: Warnings not to do this and that.
Look at Chris Chan, who at first for a few years was epic hilarious. His Sonichu webcomic was what got him attention at first, but eventually the focus shifted onto the man himself. He was known for being the target of numerous trolls to the point where an entire Wiki popped up to describe his entire life, from the places he visited, the jobs he worked, and the school he went to, to the videos he put online and the tweets he made. His whole history on the internet is one of the most documented, short of schizos that dump tons of content online like Fedsmoker or Terry A Davis. After his dad died however his life took a turn for the worse, trying to run over the man who kicked him out of the game store he owned, and later pepper spraying a GameStop employee in the face over Sonic the Hedgehog’s arm color, an incident that was recorded by a bystander with a camera phone and reposted tons of times.
Now Chris Chan is a walking husk of his former self, confused about his gender identity and e begging while inevitably wasting the money on other things. He’s changed his legal name and gender, insists on she/her pronouns despite barely trying to pass, and e begs for money all the time online. At this point, it’s not epic funny anymore, it’s sad and depressing to the point where even people on websites that originally sprouted up to discuss him end up shitting on new trolling attempts and say not to give Chris money. At this point you have to ask yourself this. What’s the difference between Chris Chan and someone else such as Narcissa (aka Cosmo) Wright, another person who used to be e-famous before changing their gender and turning into a moping depressing wreck, a shell of their former self? They’re e-famous for different things, yet they’re both jobless, broke, and begging for money online while giving people little of what they were famous for in return, in Chris’s case comics and in Narcissa’s case speedruns/gaming streams.
Just like a lot of “newer” mental illnesses with roots in internet culture, escapism is usually a symptom of something else, not a cause. A lot of times it’s due to living a terrible lifestyle, such as having no job, and playing video games 24/7. However, it can be made worse with trauma and mental illnesses. Terrible memories, depression, living in a poor environment, all can push someone towards more and more escapism. Sometimes people do it too to escape guilt for something, and their dodgy past. But the issue is, since you’re not treating the real cause or even focusing on it by escaping from reality, it’ll just get worse and worse behind the scenes.
Until it ends badly.
Sometimes they’ll pull themselves out of this rock bottom state, but others just continue and continue to fall apart slowly over time as they get more and more depressing to look at, as the delusion collapses and the reality seeps in.
But until the person living in their own delusions all the time hits rock bottom, it’s interesting to watch from afar, especially if it’s someone you once knew who cut you off for some reason, either for trying to help them or because you were friends with the wrong person. You can try to dig them out, but unless you know them well and they’re still willing to listen, chances are it might be too late. But that’s just life on the internet :V