I read a passage from a book this summer with a quote that really got the wheels in my brain turning about socialization in MMOs. The quote?

But fantasy is not created from nothing; at least in a limited sense, fantasy is a “recollection” of a world we have lost. It is a psychoanalytic truism that what we lose in reality we recreate in fantasy.

This comes from a book titled The Gender of Desire by Michael S. Kimmel, and the subject matter is male sexuality. Being a gamer, any book that uses the word fantasy instantly triggers images of unicorns, elves, and dreamy landscapes.

What is it that I bring into my fantasies because I lost those things in the real world?

Escapism and Addiction

If the above quote can be true, then it’s a significant clue to understanding the nature of MMO escapism and addiction. I’ve had plenty of friends in my MMOs who seemed, to me, to be a little too attached to the game world. They lived in it, never logged out. In WoW’s heyday, I absolutely preferred logging in most evenings to going out. At that time in my life, Azeroth was far more pleasant, contained much more of what I needed than the real world did, which was filled with crappy circumstances that seemed out of my hands.

Escapism isn’t necessarily a negative or a bad thing. In fact, it’s a pretty healthy thing. Like most things, the context and extent to which it’s used determines whether it remains a healthy outlet for our minds and emotions. I believe game addiction is real, but I also believe most players aren’t addicted to their games. They’re using these virtual worlds to escape often dire circumstances, mitigating things like depression, which in turn gives them the reprieve they need to actually function day to day. MMOs can be therapeutic in that regard and in America an MMO is the cheapest therapy you can buy anywhere!

In these situations, does it seem true that what we lose in our real worlds we attempt to recreate in our MMO experiences? It definitely seems so.

Self Perception in Fantasy

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about sexism and male power fantasies. I followed that up with an article about male fantasies of women. Here, I think we can apply the question above to both topics. What are we (men) trying to reclaim in our power fantasies? What are we trying to recreate in our fantasies of women? Likewise, I’m curious to know the answers to these questions for women as well.

Many of us have responded to women, especially feminists who hold the view that men in general hold all the power in our society, with the remark that we don’t feel powerful. We say to them that women, in fact, have power over us. They control the sex, the marriage, the money, etc. We respond that we need permission from our significant others to do the things we want. Of course, many of us make these remarks half-heartedly with levity in them. But it’s generally true that the average guy doesn’t feel like they’re in control of anything in their daily lives and he may easily perceive the women in his life to have just as much control or more. We’re just sort of being swept along and even in those situations where we want to exert control, such as over our jobs or our homes, we often find that forces beyond us take that control from us as well (the boss can fire you and the bank can take your house).  It’s perfectly valid, and I believe true, that the average man is as powerless as the average woman in their daily lives.

But there’s a significant difference. It isn’t so black and white as that.

I think the average guy understands that he’s supposed to have a little more power and control. It’s why men are so assertive, or at least it’s socially acceptable (and expected) that men will assert themselves. It’s the assumption of power.  It’s also a source of frustration, knowing that as guys we’re given certain responsibilities and jobs as a matter of gender, but also knowing the expectations are impossible to live up to.  Grappling for that sense of control and power can be maddening because it’s so elusive.

…and what we lose in real life does seem we recreate in our fantasies. Men are paragons of power* in our games. It’s not merely a case of imagining ourselves with slaying dragons within Tyria, nor is the desire to transfer merely more control over the minutiae of our lives. Any examination of men’s power fantasies reveals a desire for domination, for achievement, for high social status. Now I’m not saying that all of us feel this way or have these particular fantasies. Rather, I’m speaking to the men’s fantasies that predominate our media. I’m personally starting to believe these are relics from a time past and that a lot of modern men don’t identify with those fantasies. Yet I meet guys on a daily basis who truly buy into those kinds of fantasies, truly believe that it’s a man’s nature to be in control, unemotional, and a winner while also believing that it’s woman’s nature to be …well …hysterical, out of control, emotional, and dependent. And what do we have in our games? Scantily clad women taunting us but who are easily subdued, NPC femmes who need to be rescued, or succubi who torture us, but whom we ultimately conquer.

This all reinforces my perspective* on the power of fantasy. It’s not just art or just games, but aspirations and desires. Our fantasies and our enjoyment of them is linked intimately with our wants and needs. They reveal what we value and yearn to possess.

How has fantasy impacted your life and how do you feel it interacts with your true desires?

 Edit: Links added for clarification wherever you see a *.

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  • http://twitter.com/copperbird copperbird

    That’s fascinating. I’m not really sure how female fantasies are different really – but I think there’s something about being valued for /who you are/ more than what you do, and looking for meaningful relationships with friends and communities. So you get a lot of these fantasies about people with special magical powers, but at their core they are about people finding a place/role where they can need and be needed by their communities. Cooperation is held higher than competition, and even the female PvPers I have known were strictly team players.

    There’s also a related fantasy about living in a world where being a nice/kind person is worth more in status terms than collecting gold/ dominating others/ commercial domination.

    Some of it could be a power fantasy too, I’m sure there are female-type fantasies about being sexually powerful too (eg. vampires, etc), or attaining power through charisma, empathy, leadership, parenting or other non-combat type attributes although I doubt MMOs will cater to that.

    • http://www.trredskies.com/ Doone Woodtac

      I think us guys genuinely identify with your remarks here. We want to be seen and valued for who we are …it’s just that, it’s not always clear to us exactly *who we are*. We know what we’re *supposed* to be and we know who we are in this world, but at least in my own experience while I was sort of discovering myself, I discovered that I wasn’t the person outwardly that I actually *wanted* to be. I was trying to be what was expected. I don’t want to say that ALL men go through this, but certainly I wasn’t alone in this. Many of my friends have found the same thing and there were plenty of times growing up that we’d mull this over while …under the influence 😉

      I prefer peaceful games. I have lots of war games — kinda hard to be a long time gamer and avoid them. But I generally don’t like shooters that feature human on human violence, generally don’t prefer to play Total War to, say, WoW, and in WoW I’m an extremely cooperative player by nature. I don’t have the kinds of power fantasies that usually feature men. I know a lot of men for whom that’s also true.

      But it’s the getting caught up in fulfilling expectations, along with the feeling of general powerlessness daily that creates the desire for escape. And all the fantasy escapes that are most prevalent sell men fantasies of power. It’s no wonder millions of men buy into it. Still, I really do believe there’s a significant number of 21st century men who reject the status quo.

      • Bernard

        I think that exploring stereotypes and societal expectations is a scary process.

        What is a man?

        Traditionalists might say ‘a father’, ‘disciplinarian’, ‘leader’ or ‘breadwinner’.

        So what if you are none of these things?

        Are you still a man or do you lack intrinsic manliness?

        Video games either prescribe roles for us or allow us to choose our own within clear, safe confounds.
        Even the most complicated ones offer a holiday from uncertainty.

        • http://www.trredskies.com/ Doone Woodtac

          You *think* it’s scary!? At least for me, it’s *very* scary 🙂 The kinds of questions you pose here are a good illustration of that, so thank you. Stereotypes and identity …I think you ought to take up the next article on that, Bernard.

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