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Anti-Escapism Aesop

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"As terrifying and painful as reality can be, it's also the only place where you can find true happiness."
James Donovan Halliday, Ready Player One

A fictional work features a virtual reality of any kind? A character is caught in a constant dream? A drug or brain implant can give you nice thoughts or pleasant emptiness for a while? Heck, sometimes even simple entertainments (such as comic books, video games etc) taken too far?

Even if your real life is the worst imaginable hell, the moral of the work — or the opinion of most characters — will be that reality is always preferable.

Sometimes the protagonist is the only one who can resist the temptation to escape reality, which is usually portrayed as a sign of mental strength. Characters who can accept reality are typically considered wise and responsible. Characters who do give in might be portrayed as weak or pitiful, since they lack the strength to face reality. Often, the 'stronger' characters make the decision to 'free' those caught in the dream world. Even if they are not happy about it, it is usually implied that after some time they will be grateful and recognize how much better real life is.

Interestingly, in Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, both the idealistic and cynical sides will answer the same: that reality is preferable to escapism. The difference is in their reasoning: The idealist believes that by moving on and facing your problems, you can change your world for the better, whereas the cynic believes that people who indulge in escapism are immature and you should accept the suckiness of reality.

There are various reasons that might be given, depending on how complete and/or irreversible the escapism is:

  • people in the real world depend on you, or would miss you if you were to escape reality.
  • the dream world is actually damaging reality, might collapse, or is harmful in another way.
  • staying in the dream world will kill you, because your real body still has needs and will decay.
  • escaping reality because your reality is painful is weak, immature and pathetic.
  • escaping reality does not solve your problems in real life and they will still be there when you come back.
  • getting to the point where you Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality is completely counter-productive to whatever is the Aesop or final objective of the fictional work, not to mention you make people fear your mental stability.
  • your real-life circumstances have changed for the better — you don't need the escapism any more and holding onto it could hurt you.

There's also the concept of "The Vicious Cycle of Escapism" (see also Analysis.Escapism): Basically, you have real life problems that you can't solve → you escape to fantasy to relieve it → while you do, more problems appear; rinse and repeat. The only way to break out of this cycle is to face those problems — and thus this aesop is born.

Note that despite all of the above, escapism is not inherently a bad thing — as the saying goes, "all things in moderation": Too much escapism leads to more problems, while too little escapism can leave you with a lot of stress and potentially makes you less productive (among other worse things).note  So it is wise to keep all things balanced, both with your Real Life routines and life, and with your escapisms.

This trope is a deconstruction of escapism, mainly aimed at Neet and Hikikomori, who are epitomes of escapism gone too far. It is also often made more complicated by a Crapsack World, Escapist Sanctuary, wherein "reality" is so terrible that constant escapism really is the best solution.

Depending on how it's handled, it has a high risk of coming across as a case of Do Not Do This Cool Thing; obviously it's absurdly ironic for a work of fantasy to tell you to stop indulging in fantasy. A very good way to avoid this is to instead make it about moderation - as mentioned above, it gives a good balance.

Contrast In Defence of Storytelling, "Reading Is Cool" Aesop. Compare with "Truman Show" Plot, in which this is initially done unknowingly to the Protagonist, and Anti Poop-Socking, when a work, generally a video game, tries to keep you from using it excessively.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • .hack//SIGN is essentially anti-Isekai in how it portrays escapism. The main character, Tsukasa, is depressed, lonely, and abused, and seeks shelter from his life inside of The World. However, all that leads to is further depression and suffering; it's not until he's able to genuinely connect with other people that he's able to escape both the game and his situation in the real world.
  • Invoked and exploited by the Greater-Scope Villain of Dragon Quest: Your Story, some Jerkass hacker who created a virus and placed it in the Dragon Quest VR game network with the objective of pausing games right at the most climactic moment, explaining to the player what is going on Architect-style, make the player go into shock at The Reveal that the world isn't real (the game specifically blocks these memories for maximum immersion) and then kick them out of the game before deleting everything. The Hero (alongside the game's anti-virus) kicks the virus' ass as he makes clear to the program that Dragon Quest may be fantasy, but he still enjoys it.
    The Big Bad: I have a message to tell you. Don't worry, it'll be quick. It says "grow up, loser!"
  • Martian Successor Nadesico goes about it in an odd way (and it could even be said it's more of a Space Whale Aesop): the villains of the story, the Jovian Lizards, are in reality a group of left-behind human colonists from the future, who got access to advanced technology, time travel and who have moulded their society around an In-Universe old-school Super Robot anime that the protagonists are also fans of because it was the only entertainment they had on hand. However, while the good guys can keep their head straight about the show, the Jovians' fanaticism of the show mutated into Black-and-White Insanity, with them (and the show's ideals) as the "white" side and humanity (and all of the moral grayness it (and reality) has) as the "black" side. And when a General Ripper rose amongst their ranks, all he needed to do was keep the insanity going in order to satisfy his bloodlust. The final scenes of the show have the characters tell the aesop straight and with pile-driving seriousness: stop taking Anime so god-damned seriously (or at least so seriously that you pull an I Reject Your Reality).
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji Ikari occasionally tries to avoid his interpersonal problems and self-loathing, and at one point he even says, "What's wrong with running away from reality if it stinks?!" The show makes it apparent that trying to avoid problems will not make them go away. The TV series closes with Shinji bravely, categorically, and specifically facing each one of his emotional and mental issues, alongside Misato and Asuka, with depictions of friends made previously honestly communicating with them every step of the way. The End of Evangelion, however, depicts a world where Shinji avoids facing these issues, instead initiating Instrumentality, a process by which all of Earth's population is merged together as one singular whole. Ultimately, however, Shinji (through a series of hallucinations and conversations) comes to the realization that endlessly running away from human interaction and the hardships of life is no solution, and that merging everybody so that there's no more pain is an easier, but ultimately worse solution. He thus chooses to undo Instrumentality, returning as his own individual self, and allowing for anyone else who chooses to do so to come with him (though the only one we see before the credits roll is Asuka).
  • Paranoia Agent: This is one of the central themes of the series. The entire plot is driven by people's willingness to buy into what is ultimately revealed to be a lie in order to avoid facing the reality of their lives.
  • Pokémon 3 The Movie: Spell of the Unown centers on this. A little girl named Molly has the Unown create a fairy-tale world for her so she can be with her "mother and father" forever. Unknown to Molly, her new world is greatly disrupting the old: as the crystal castle grows, it destroyed the surrounding environment; her new "mother" is actually Ash's kidnapped mother, Delia; real people on the outside are worried for her safety. In the end, she decides that she wants things to be real again.
  • The big reveal of SSSS.GRIDMAN is that the heroes' world is Akane's grounds for escapism. Her current looks are the result of trying to make a Sexier Alter Ego; her terrorizing the city and anyone who pisses her off is a means of stress relief; and the citizens are programmed to love everything about her, contrast to her seemingly lonely real life. The finale has Gridman and company try to heal her heart so she can face reality head on instead of wallowing in her own self destructive habits.
  • Welcome to the NHK has this as a main theme, but played more realistically. Sato is an unemployed, nerdy loner who basically has no life, and constantly retreats into escapist media and his convoluted daydreams. The toxic nature of his socially isolated personality is especially demonstrated when he becomes addicted to an online computer game at one point, and even develops a crush on a fictitious female character (who turns out to be his male friend). Sato's friends constantly try to help pull him out of his unsocial behavior, with awkwardly mixed results. The show also introduces another Hikikomori character who buries himself in escapist hobbies, and the one thing that finally puts an end to this behavior is his sister (the one person in his life supporting and enabling him) going to prison for a while, forcing him to go out into the real world and get a job if he wants to survive. This eventually happens to Sato himself when his father loses his job, and his parents can't afford to financially support him anymore.

    Comic Books 
  • The Eternal Smile: This forms the resolution of all three stories. Duncan's fantasy world turns out to be him having Adventures in Comaland, but he realizes he needs to wake up for the sake of his mother, even if he's a hero in his dreams and a loser in real life. Gran'pa Greenbax gives up his fame, riches, and intelligence in a fabricated world for life in reality as a humble pond frog, the one thing he really wanted all along. Janet comes to terms with the fact she's willfully sending money to a 419 Scam as a coping mechanism for her miserable life and decides to end the charade in favour of actively bettering her real life.
  • Spider-Man: In One More Day, Peter Parker meets an overweight version of himself from a timeline in which he didn't gain his powers; instead, he channeled his anger inwardly and became a video game maker. Fat Peter rants, "We couldn't get the world we wanted, so we had to make a world we liked". Linkara, in his review of this in his 200th episode, found it to be hypocritical and offensive based on the fact that comic books by their very nature are based on escapism.
  • The Unbelievable Gwenpool: The series seemed to be setting this up: Gwen literally escaped into the Marvel universe from the "real world," but nearly all of her adventures were about her struggles and messing up. When she's forcibly returned to her world in issue 16, we see how miserable she is, and why she fled to her comics in the first place. Her brother stops her and convinces her to live in the real world, assuring her that she can turn her life around and be with the people she loves. Subverted in the next issue, where Gwen is shown to be miserable in her world even after it improves, and immediately jumps ship to Earth-616 when she can. This gets twisted further in later issues as it morphs into not only In Defence Of Storytelling but outright in defense of responsible storytelling, which could be read as Self-Deprecation so easily (kicking off Summer events just for the heck of it could be a bad thing you say?).
  • X-Men: In House of M, absolutely no one suggests that if a Reality Warper has created a world that is arguably better (yes, baseline humans are second-class citizens, but there's not really any suggestion they're mistreated, and they seem to be better off than mutants are in regular continuity) and where most of the main characters are happier, maybe they should leave it alone. The crossover issue of Exiles shows the darker side of the setting: non-mutants have basically no rights and innocent people are routinely killed by Sentinels simply for failing to get out of the way fast enough during a manhunt.

    Fan Works 
  • Lacero: The title character only plays OASIS as part of a plan to bring the whole system crashing down. As far as they're concerned, the only reason that all the evil MegaCorps have gotten away with dominating the world and driving it to destruction is because everybody is too busy wasting time in the OASIS.
  • In Lasting Fame, Jerrica used the "Jem" persona as escapism from her stressful life. Jem was more perfect than her real self and she had more fun. It ended up causing trouble in Jerrica's life when she became Lost in Character, which led to arguments amongst the band. Jerrica retired as Jem and the band broke up in the 1990s.

    Films — Animation 
  • At the beginning of Alice in Wonderland, Alice is bored by her lessons and longs for a world where animals wear clothes, flowers talk, and everything is nonsense. Then she goes Down the Rabbit Hole to a world just like her fantasy, but after much growing and shrinking, rudeness and bullying from the strange creatures she meets, and general insanity, she declares "I've had enough nonsense!" and is desperate to get back home.
  • A main theme in Coraline. The title character is a little girl who is bored and depressed after moving to a new house in an unfamiliar land, and being ignored by her inattentive parents. She discovers a portal to an alternate dimension that looks like her own, except (seemingly) perfect. But of course, not only is it really too good to be true, it's actually a death trap designed by a demonic witch who wants to eat her soul. After escaping alive, she learns to appreciate the real world and be grateful for her actual family and friends.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Seems to be one of the themes in Barbie (2023): in the end, after a chat with the ghost of her creator, Stereotypical Barbie decides to become a real woman instead of staying in her perfect doll's world and being an icon to girls all over the world. She would rather experience real life struggles, grow old and die if this means she can make her own path in life and change the world by living in it, instead of doing it passively by being an icon of perfection.
  • Played straight at first, but then later subverted, in Ben X. The autistic protagonist spends a lot of time in an online game. There are occasions when game and reality merge for him, and he even builds a weapon from the game in real life. However it is always clear that the real problem is the heavy bullying he gets in school, and it seems like without the game world to escape into, he would have snapped in real life much sooner. Later, he develops an imaginary girlfriend, who seems to be real at first and is revealed as imaginary at the end in a Tomato Surprise. Nobody implies that this is bad, and it clearly makes him much happier.
  • The movie Heavenly Creatures involves two girls escaping from the harsh reality they live in by creating an imaginary kingdom - this trope comes into effect when one of the girls starts showing signs of insanity and becomes more and more obsessed with the imaginary world to the extent of everything else. Even her parents' lives. This is a pretty significant divergence from the events the movie was based on, as such claims were part of Insanity Defense that was pretty quickly rejected. Rather, the girls were obsessed with being together; the imaginary world was only the setting for their novels and their "Fourth World" religion was deeply serious.
  • The Lovely Bones more so than the book. While Susie is in the In Between, she and Holly create a spectacular fantasy world for themselves where they can do whatever they want. But it's ultimately shown to be shallow escapism, and Susie's refusal to move on to Heaven parallels her family's inability to continue to live their lives after her death.note 
  • The Matrix. Granted, the Matrix is not particularly exciting or beautiful, but certainly preferable to the mostly destroyed real world. In the end, people can stay there if they choose.
  • Marie Antoinette (2006) portrays the titular princess (and later queen) as a bored young woman who ends up indulging in parties, gambling and all sorts of frivolity just to amuse herself. She even has a section of the palace gardens constructed like The Theme Park Version of a farm to live out a game of what she believes country life is like. This extravagance and her detachment from what's actually going on in France is one of the many reasons the revolution happens to overthrow the monarchy.
  • Subverted in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Cecilia, who's been swept up in a romance with movie character come to life Tom Baxter, declines to live with him in a fantasy world when Gil Shepherd, the actor who played him, says that he loves her too. Except Gil was lying and returns to Hollywood without her, and Cecilia has no choice but to return to her abusive husband.
  • This is the In-Universe Aesop of Ready Player One, much like the book it was based on. While finding each challenge required understanding OASIS creator's James Halliday's passions, solving them required learning the lessons Halliday spent his whole life avoiding until the very end; Not to get so swept up in nostalgia that it consumes your life, don't be afraid to seek love, and never push your friends away when they are trying to help you. Main character Wade Watts takes this to heart when he wins ownership of the OASIS. He gives partial ownership to his Fire-Forged Friends, and makes a mandatory shut-down on at least two days a week so players will have to take a break and live life.
    • Ultimately, though it is a bit of a Broken Aesop since by the time it's driven home, Wade already got friends, a girlfriend, and loads of money exactly because he obsessively pursued the contest and studied all of Halliday's favorite things to win it. By the time he's gotten over his addiction to fantasy, his addiction to fantasy has set him up with everything he needs to coast through real life instead of making him brave enough to face its shortcomings and difficulties.
  • Star Trek: Generations. Captain Kirk has been trapped inside the Nexus (a Lotus-Eater Machine where all of his desires are fulfilled) for 78 years. Captain Picard arrives and tries to convince Kirk to leave. Kirk is finally convinced when he makes a dangerous jump on his horse and realizes that he didn't feel any fear. This leads to the epiphany that he's living in a world without consequences, which means that nothing he does matters. He leaves because he wants to make a difference again.
  • The movie Strange Days has the main character Lenny Nero as an addict to SQUID tapes which hold recordings of his life with his ex-girlfriend. His friend gives him a mild What the Hell, Hero? speech where she tells him that the SQUID tapes are a symbol of him being stuck in the past and that he has to let go.
  • Inverted in Sucker Punch, where escapism is demonstrated as an effective way to help mental patients deal with their problems and prepare them to face the real world.
  • TRON: Legacy ends with the protagonist bringing Quorra (a unique lifeform, neither Program nor human) from The Grid into the real world. They ride into the sunrise on a motorcycle with her smiling, implying that she is amazed by the beauty of the real world. The virtual world inside the machine, the basis of his childhood stories and his father's life's work, is a visually-stunning nightmarish cyberpunk hell, run by an Administrator obsessed with perfection who exterminated all of Quorra's people. He meets no friendly Programs, even the great User-Believer Champion is a brainwashed attack dog on Clu's leash, and the whole thing ends with Flynn the Elder committing murder-suicide by destroying Clu and himself, ultimately proving his dream of Program and Human cooperation futile. An especially puzzling and cynical (especially for Disney!) case, since it completely inverts the message of the first film.
  • The Wizard of Oz: At the beginning, Dorothy dreams of going over the rainbow to escape from the troubles of her life in Kansas. But by the end, after all her adventures in Oz, she learns that "There's no place like home."


By Author:

  • Curiously enough, Zilpha Keatley Snyder deals this trope at the end of many of her stories.
    • Robin in The Velvet Room uses the said room for reading and daydreaming, but is forced to give it up at the end and comes to believe that it never was the enchanted sanctuary she had made it.
    • In The Changeling, Martha decides to "shut the door" on her childhood with its "endless daydreams".
    • At the end of The Gypsy Game, the sequel to The Egypt Game, all six children decide to abandon sustained imaginative games and take on adult responsibilities.

By Title:

  • Brave New World describes the drug Soma, which makes people happy and careless for a few hours to days. Yet two main characters refuse using it. One of them claims the 'right to suffer', but eventually gives up and starts using it when he actually feels terrible. The other actually kills himself after using it once, because he is so horrified about what he did in his numbed state.
  • A Doctor Who story had the Doctor and Martha arrive at what they think is an underwater colony (they think it is underwater because they are in a structure surrounded by water and lots of sea life). They soon discover that this is not true — what they are seeing outside the structure is nothing more than a projection and the truth is the planet they are on is barren and in a wrecked state. The Doctor, Martha, and a boy they meet agree that the humans in the colony ought to know the truth and the boy deactivates the projection.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath contains a deep analysis of this trope disguised under epic adventures. The hero of the story is looking for a place particularly beautiful in the world of the dreams, and he struggles through dangers and perils to reach it. However, he learns at the end that the place he is looking for was his own real world all along. Thus, the message is similar to most examples, but given in a more vitalist fashion: living in the reality is not better because it is real, it is because the real world is that awesome.
  • The "reality has changed" type is found in Joanne Greenberg's autobiographical I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Deborah actually isn't insane because she spent too much time in her imaginary worldnote , or because she's a gifted artistnote . These things saved her innate sanity. But after a childhood beset with agonizing surgeries (accompanied by Lies to Children), vicious anti-Semitic bullying, soul-crushing parental expectations, her own Brutal Honesty and difficulty with the dishonesty involved in social skills, she remains true to her imaginary world even when it causes her intense pain. As conditions improve in the real world, her allegiance is repeatedly tested, and it is this conflict which causes her "insanity". note  The doctor acknowledges that reality has been very bad to her but she needs to trust that things have changed and that she can even make the world better.
  • The short Fairy Tale The Mirror of Dreams has a lonely girl called Polly envying the local Rich Bitch Cordelia, but then discovering the titular mirror - which shows her visions of whatever she wishes. For months, she sits in front of the mirror and dreams. But she eventually realises how empty this is, and throws the mirror away. She ends up getting to know Cordelia, learning that the girl has problems of her own, and the two become friends.
  • The point of the second half of The NeverEnding Story, albeit in a more subtle and allegorical fashion that most other examples: After Bastian arrives at Fantastica and gives the Childlike Empress a new name to revitalize her, she gives Bastian the AURYN, a magical artifact that can grant any number of wishes in the hand of a human. Naturally, Bastian, being an overweight, lonely and bullied kid who lives with an aloof father still grieving over the death of Bastian's mother, decides to stay in Fantastica forever and uses the AURYN to turn himself into an idealized version of himself, creates adventures for him to feel like a hero, and eventually gets drunk with power and tries to take over Fantastica. Bastian later discovers that every time he uses a wish, he loses a memory of his past life (which is a very blatant allegory of people slowly losing their sanity as they delve deeper into make-believe worlds), and finds a place called "The City of Old Emperors" inhabited by other humans who, like him, were also called by the Childlike Empress to grant her a new name and were given the AURYN, but also went mad with power and tried to take over the world, until they ran out of memories and became barely sapient shells of their former selves (an allegory of people who completely lost their minds beyond repair). In order to avoid such a fate, Bastian uses the last few memories he still has to find a way back to his world. With his adventure over and memories restored, Bastian decides to face his problems, including helping his father moving on from his grief.
  • Odd Thomas. During the book's finale, the protagonist's girlfriend dies. You don't find this out until a few pages later, because the protagonist can see the dead and kept convincing himself that her ghost was still the normal her. However his friends come by at his house with her ashes and break him out of this fantasy. He then lets her ghost go completely.
  • The Red Dwarf novels feature a game named "Better Than Life", which allows the user to live out their fantasies. However, unlike in the series, when you're playing the game, you do not realise that you are playing a game. This means that you can die of starvation from not eating food in reality.
  • Deconstructed hard in Don Robertson'snote  Victoria at Nine (subtitled A Fable for Adults). Victoria, the mini-Proper Lady daughter of a politically active minister, is highly sensitive and mostly silent. She's aware of reality, just deals with it in her own ways, including conversations with Animate Inanimate Objects, dolls and soft toys. Her Fantasy-Forbidding Father is constantly at her about it, including publicly in his sermons. Victoria is all too aware of other values she's learned from him, like justice. She disobeys a flighty, self-important teacher who has lied to the classnote  using a shopworn insult. Her father forces her not only to apologize, but to promise to embrace reality and stop "nonsense conversations with things that don't exist". Then he has the nerve to preach a self-congratulatory sermon about it. Furious, and determined to conceal it, she secretly buries her toys and does her best to excise her interior life. Fortunately, a conversation with the Sunday school teacher and another with a china owl leads her to a lengthy, impassioned declaration that while she loves her parents, she cannot keep her promise. Amazingly, her father actually hears her and takes her home immediately to restore her world.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in Babylon 5. Since character Marcus Cole died before he could have a real relationship with Susan Ivanova, a 'happy end' was later added for the two in Extended Universe: he wakes up out of cryogenic suspension hundreds of years after the end of the series, creates an exact clone of Ivanova (the real one being long dead) and lives with the clone happily ever after... yeah.
  • Zigzagged throughout Caprica, where "V-world" holobands are often used by many bored people. Wise Beyond Their Years high schoolers Zoe Graystone and Lacy Rand regard its use to simulate Blood Sports, Human Sacrifice, and Wretched Hive crimeworlds as evidence of the decadence of Caprica society, and many of its users are shown to be overly dependent on it. However, this leads into a confused aesop about the creation of new life, as Zoe has used V-world to build a perfect digital copy of herself which replaces her after her death in the pilot, leading into yet another confused aesop when monotheists plan to use it to create life after death for believers. At the end, Zoe's parents visit their dead daughter's avatar regularly, turning the whole thing into a Lost Aesop.
  • Once Upon a Time pulls this off subtly by deconstructing one of the most iconic characters when it comes to escapism: Peter Pan. He is, prior to his life in Neverland, a washed up, down on his luck guy who had to care for his son. Long story short, the two ended up in Neverland where the only permanent resident there, a shadow that'd eventually become Pan's shadow, tells Pete that he's grown up and shouldn't be escaping to Neverland anymore. He, fitting the fourth item on the list of how to point out that the escapism is bad, ditches his son in a deal to restore his youth and live in Neverland. Right afterwards, the Shadow points out that now he'll undergo item three, slowly dying, as Neverland was meant to be a place to visit, not stay.
  • An interesting case in the Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams episode "Real Life", where the story alternates between a billionaire CEO named George (Terrence Howard), a straight black man in a slightly futuristic setting, and a lesbian white police officer named Sarah (Anna Paquin) in a distant future. Both use experimental VR technology to escape a trauma in their lives. However, the longer it goes on, the more each starts to suspect that their world is the simulation, doubting their own reality. In the end, they choose the less futuristic reality, which turns out to be the wrong choice, as Sarah is the real person, whose life is much happier than George's. Sarah's wife realizes that Sarah couldn't cope with Survivor Guilt and subconsciously wished to be punished. As a result, Sarah is left brain-dead, perpetually plugged into a machine and living out her new crapsack life as George.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "The Bonding", Lt. Marla Aster is killed on an away mission and non-corporeal lifeforms from the planet attempt to form a relationship with her son, Jeremy, and take him to their planet to atone for killing the crewmember. The lifeform has to be convinced that what she is doing is wrong and that a fantasy will not help the boy. Earlier in development, the boy would have instead bonded with a holographic recreation of his mother. The moral would have been the same, though.
    • "Hollow Pursuits" introduces us to Lt. Reg Barclay, an engineering officer who spends much of his time in the holodeck because he feels intimidated by the Enterprise's crew. But, with Capt. Picard and Geordi La Forge's support, he starts to cut down on his holo-fantasies, to the point of deleting almost all his programs in the end.
  • Supernatural:
    • In "What Is and What Should Never Be", Dean gets a wish granted by a Djin and winds up in an Alternate Universe where his mom is still alive and he and Sam have normal jobs. But when it turns out it was All Just a Dream, he has to choose between living a happy, normal life, or returning to his life of hunting monsters in the real world. He ultimately chooses the latter.
    • In "Hunteri Heroici", an elderly psychic is starting to recede into his own mind, and doesn't notice he's bending reality around him to act more like the cartoons he watches at the nursing home. Dean and Cas have to enter the man's head in order to talk to him and to get him to snap out of it.

  • "Escapism" by Fallulah.
    Escapism is another prison
    And you're always looking for a place to hide
  • Takeaki Wada/Kurage-P's "Odore! VR Dance!" concerns a girl who uses virtual reality as a way to take her mind off of the stifling reality she has to deal with and indulge in activities like dancing and playing around where she couldn't before. However, the adults don't like this new teen phenomenon— but to the singer's horror she discovers that they're also using toxic escapism, in their case massive amounts of nostalgia. She then comments that "not a single person remains" in reality, having escaped into their personal mental havens.
  • "Brick By Boring Brick" by Paramore is about trying to break a woman out of her idealistic fantasies by showing how it's better to just face reality.
  • The main theme of The Wall, although more recent performances focus more on the political messages instead.

  • In The Glass Menagerie Tom's mother complains about him wasting his money by going to the movies every night instead of staying at home, where he'd have to watch his mother and sister slowly sink into an abyss of melancholy. (Though she doesn't put it in quite those terms.) Eventually Tom joins the Merchant Marines and leaves his family, never seeing them again.
  • In Identity V Stage Episode 3: Cry for the Moon, Mary must be convinced to give up the mirror world in which she reigns as queen, because it's not real — and if she doesn't, it'll all come crashing down, and she'll die... precisely because it was never real to begin with. A certain Embalmer/Music Master is indeed on board with the idea.

    Video Games 
  • Amea: The ultimate goal of the Master Eye is to bring about a "happy world" where nobody can see others suffering. This entails their followers gouging out their own eyes in order to be granted "true sight". Amea stands up against this, calling them out for using parasitic brainwashing in order to run away from their problems.
  • Subverted in Deltarune. The Dark Worlds serve as metaphors for escapist hobbies like games, the Internet, and television. While the dangers of spending too long in these Dark Worlds (i.e. getting too absorbed into fiction and escapism) are discussed, it also acts as a way for the Lightners to escape the social expectations of their world and explore new sides of themselves, developing critical bonds with others in the process.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, you come across a desire demon who has sent a Templar into a dream in which he has a loving wife and a nice home - while he actually stands in a tower full of corpses after all his mage companions were slaughtered. The demon argues that he is much happier this way, yet you can try to break the dream, because 'it's not real'. Whether the Templar would have preferred the dream to reality if he knew the truth is never shown, since if you try to snap him out of it, the demon uses the illusion to make him attack you and you are forced to kill him.
  • Very ironically for a game that emphasizes the power of creativity as part of its central gimmick, the first two Drawn to Life games have this theme running deeply through its Hidden Depths. The entire plot of the first two games and the saccharine setting in which they take place in is revealed to be a daydream of the real-world human Mike, who was knocked into a coma by a car accident that killed both of his parents. The villain of the series is a delusional Well-Intentioned Extremist who sees it as his duty to preserve the fantasy world (Mike's dream) no matter what—his name is literally pronounced "will-free." Ultimately the only way for Mike and his grieving sister Heather is for Mike to wake up and face his reality, a symbol that The Next Chapters'' final song, "Real Life"; the series' composer David J. Franco sums up the themes "Real Life" relays as "you need real tangible things in your life. That's the meaning."
  • This is pretty much the overarching theme of Eternal Sonata in which, on his deathbed, the classical composer Frederic Chopin finds himself in a world that is his dream. There, he meets strong individuals who help him to face the hard truths of life head-on.
    Jazz: We can never turn back time. Even if such a thing were possible, I wouldn't want to. Because it would only be a negation of the choices made by the friends who've died along the way.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Minor example in Final Fantasy X. In Guadosalam there is a place called the Farplane, where people can go and see images of their loved ones - and many go there just to stand and talk to the image as if the person were still alive. Rikku isn't interested in going, saying she knows the person isn't really there, and she prefers just going through her own memories - as they bring her more pleasure, because they're of something that actually happened.
    • In Final Fantasy XIII-2, Serah finds herself in a closed world shaped by her own desires. In this world, her sister Lightning never disappeared, her fiance Snow never left in search of said sister, their two lost friends Fang and Vanille will soon be saved from crystal sleep, and everything is pretty great all-around. But, this is all just a dream. Serah has a choice of either accepting this fake world, or face reality and go back to the people who still need help (her new friend Noel included).
  • In Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the main character feels this way. The main cast accidentally create a magical dreamworld where their personal desires become reality. Despite the fact that he and the other main characters are far better off in Ivalice, he works to return everyone to their normal lives. This ends up causing him to come to blows with several of his friends. The main character wants to undo the spell partially because of this trope and partially because everyone in their hometown has become trapped within the Lotus-Eater Machine as bit-players to the children's fantasy.
    • The game also creates some low-key Fridge Horror when the party eventually fights an enemy party of zombies names after Mewt's bullies from the start of the game, implying that while Marche and his friends have everything they've ever wanted in Ivalice, not everyone is so lucky.
  • A Running Theme in The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa is how Ringo and his friends are struggling to figure out who they are as they grow up, due to having spent their lives up to that point as Japanese Delinquents. Running away from their problems and avoiding dealing with their issues simply has not worked, but facing them head on remains an incredibly overwhelming prospect...
  • While this is not the primary Aesop of Kemono Friendsexe (that being how Humans Are Bastards who claim to love animals, yet exploit them to the point of extinction), throughout the game, the animal friends tell you several times that you should return to your own world instead of continuing to destroy theirs. This happens again during the Golden Ending, where Serval tells you to uninstall the game and go out there and enjoy the world, and how even though you can never meet again, you'll be the best of friends forever. If you decide to run the game again, however...
  • Moon: Remix RPG Adventure ends with this message. The only way to win the game is to quit after the Hero wipes out everyone, freeing yourself and everyone else in Love-de-Gard from the game's grasp.
  • The ultimate message of OMORI. The game mostly takes place in Sunny's Mental World, Headspace, where mostly everything is happy. But in the real world, Sunny is a depressed hikikomori who uses Headspace as an escape from his depression. The best ending the game has to offer can only be obtained by actually going out of your house and reconnecting with your friends, so that everyone can face the Awful Truth and overcome their inner turmoil together. Staying in all the way till Moving Day expands the amount of Headspace content you get, but it will all lead to Omori taking over Sunny, blinding himself to the Awful Truth that he accidentally killed Mari, and not really solving anything while Basil kills himself.
  • This is the central theme of Persona 5 Royal's third semester. The Anti-Villain wants to create a "perfect" world where everyone has their desires granted and never has to feel pain or loss ever again. But this also means that the world is a static Gilded Cage where no one ever learns anything or experiences personal growth ever again. It's even implied it would lead to the end of humanity due to erasing everyone's collective need to pass things on to the next generation, let alone even give birth to new lives. After all, if everyone was already satisfied with their lives, they wouldn't have to make more children.
  • Shadowrun Returns. In the Dragonfall campaign, you can regularly talk to "Simmy" Kim, a woman who is addicted to a "Better Than Life" sims. She will eventually tell you that she got hooked on them at the advice of Monika as a means of coping with having suffered a miscarriage that left her sterile. You can help wean her off of them by being supportive.
  • SINoALICE ends up touching on this aesop in the ending made exclusively to close off the Taiwanese and Global servers: Library, and by extension the entire events of the game, are revealed to be a fantasy Alice created in class to cope with what has transpired in her real life. The ending has Alice finally succumb to her Detrimental Determination, forcing Parrah and Noya to intervene by giving the player a key symbolizing the concept of hope to allow Alice to finally wake up and carry on with her life — destroying everything in Library in the process.
  • Not the driving Aesop of Soul Sacrifice, but a relatively important one in Delta. Upon realizing the truth of the Eternal Recursion, Terrwyn instigates a plot to trap humanity in a dream world free of monsters and cut off from the Feud of the Twin Gods. The idea is condemned as foolish and empty by Persapius, who refuses to take part in it. Terrwyn sacrifices him by force and creates the dream world, and it's up to the Player Character to break the illusion so that you can take the fight directly to the Twin Gods and truly end the Recursion.
  • This turns out to be the message of Spec Ops: The Line, with Walker using what was specifically intended as a reconnaissance mission to live out his fantasies of being a war hero, destroying what's left of Dubai in the process while deluding himself into thinking that he is being forced to commit these atrocities by Konrad, only to find that the latter was Dead All Along. This can potentially lead him into insanity and/or suicide, the closest thing the game has to a somewhat good ending has Walker accept his dereliction of duty and return home to face the consequences, and Word of God outright endorses shutting off the game and refusing to play as a valid ending.
  • Star Ocean: Till the End of Time: Lightly implied with the residents of 4D Space, being a place of "all play and no work" for the majority of its residents. This has left many people quite bored, and Maria notes that this has enabled Luther and his cohorts to effectively act as overlords.

    Visual Novels 
  • The whole point of the extremely short free visual novel Carpe Diem on Steam. It's a typical example of the genre, but it's hinted that the girl "you" are going on a date with hides some secret. The player character is not "yourself", the player, but a genius programmer, and the girl is an advanced AI he created. The punchline is, as much as he tries to make her as human-like as possible, she will never actually be, so it's better to pursue actual human relationships instead of retreating to a fantasy world. Tellingly, the lone achievement is named "What are you doing with your life?".
    • Bizarrely, the following game Carpe Diem Reboot (that by the way is a sequel, not a reboot), goes in the completely opposite direction: the protagonist gives the AI girl a lifelike robot body so that they can be together, and despite being apparently a lonely gaming geek he's also part of a world-level guild of good hackers who protects the world from evil hackers, cyber espionage and such. So he became a blatant example of Escapist Character.
  • Chaos;Head: Takumi is a dedicated Hikikomori who tries to isolate himself as much as possible, convinced that the "3-D world" is too crappy to bother with. All the horror and strife he endures over the course of the story only further reinforces his belief... but it's also made clear that trying to avoid his problems won't make them go away, and that he secretly longs for the human connection he actively shuns. After finding others that make his life feel as though it's worth living, he finally faces the cruel reality head on, culminating in him destroying Noah II, despite how Noah II intended to create the ultimate form of escapism.
  • In Cultivating Happiness, the Sustainable Utopia Settlement offers its members complete isolation from the outside world so that they can escape "doomers" and scary, Awful Truths.
  • The big reveal in the final chapter of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony could be considered a straight example or an inversion. Turns out game is a Meta Sequel, taking place in a world where Danganronpa is fiction that's been adapted into a deadly reality show. But the futuristic society that produces it is beyond want or natural strife, and arranged a Deadly Game for "escapism" from the ensuing boredom. The game ends with the characters doing battle against the Danganronpa fanbase and convincing them to give up on the series so that it will end.
  • Ends up being a theme in Hatoful Boyfriend Holiday Star, where a spirit has built a pocket of the afterlife For Happiness - but the thing is if anyone wants to leave or isn't happy, they get assimilated and made happy. And if they're not actually dead, well, clearly they've got to be killed so they can stay. Escapism and forgetting any bad memories is the lure the ruler puts out to get people to agree to stay.
  • Subverted in How To Date A Magical Girl!, as the one who pressures the protagonist to return to the real world is the villain, who wants you to comply so they can hijack your body.
  • Zig-zagged in Umineko: When They Cry. Sayo Yasuda's escapism (i.e creating numerous Imaginary Friends and creating at least three different identities with completely different personalities because they hated themself so much) is pretty much the only way they made it through much of their childhood, and a repeated point is how delusions and escapism serve as coping methods for much of the cast - in some cases even helping them develop their greatest strengths. But it comes back to bite Sayo in the rear later when the things they try to escape from become too great to completely ignore, and they even suggest that they regret having used escapism at all in one of their final lines to Lion - "I pray that you live as a human, without awakening as a witch."


    Web Original 
  • The Interface Series: The future Atlanta plot-line takes place in a cyberpunk dystopia where people spend all their time in Hygiene Beds, virtual reality devices which hook them up to a Cyberspace internet to play out video game-like experiences. The plot describes how this has led to the occupants becoming so detached from reality that they frequently wind up sitting in their own filth and need medical attention to get them out. This apathy has allowed an Eldritch Abomination called Mother/Q to Take Over the World unopposed, using the pods to assimilate all life into herself, and the rebels are unable to mount an effective resistance because the people would rather just stay in their little fake worlds. Even after Q has destroyed most of humanity, the survivors choose to flee to space and spend the rest of their lives in more virtual reality than bother to fight back.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time:
    • In "Dungeon Train", Finn is despondent over a recent breakup when he and Jake encounter the eponymous train. Each car contains progressively stronger enemies to fight which give up progressively more powerful weapons and armor when defeated. Does This Remind You of Anything? It quickly becomes clear that the train runs on an endless loop and the enemies inside are no threat to the kingdom; Jake becomes bored and leaves, but Finn is enamored of the place and seems content to fight there forever. By episode's end, Jake finally persuades Finn to leave the train and face both his problems and the drudgery of everyday life. Downplayed somewhat because it goes the moderation route; Finn would stay on the train until old age but decides not to go that far, only a little while longer until he's actually satisfied to leave, rather than avoiding his problems indefinitely.
    • In "Imaginary Resources", Jake insists living in VR is bad, and even destroys the machine the humans are using, but he's really oversimplifying things. As pathetic as the humans on the island are, they really can't live much any other way, and BMO defends their world as no less real than any other. BMO still decides to leave after rebuilding, but mostly because they would miss Finn and Jake.
  • DC Animated Universe:
  • The second-to-last episode of Gravity Falls involves Dipper trying to rescue his sister Mabel from a perfect dream world that was created as a prison by Bill Cipher. Mabel is living in a sickeningly sweet fantasy land in order to escape from reality. More specifically, to escape from the fears and anxieties of an uncertain future, provoked by Wendy's complaints and more seriously, the fear of a potential split between her and Dipper in much how their Grunkle Stan and his brother Ford went through decades prior, not helped by brothers accidentally influencing this. In fact, it all started when Mabel was tricked into a deal with the offer of a longer summer vacation. It takes Dipper reassuring her of their bond to get her to break out of it.
  • Downplayed in The Owl House. Luz at the start of the series is in desperate need of a reality check given how destructive she can be when her imagination gets the better of her, and the two greatest threats in the series are treated as such because of their determination to drag the entire world into conforming with their delusions rather than face reality. At the same time however, Luz's love of The Good Witch Azura series is treated as being perfectly healthy and even good for her given that it both helped her cope with the death of her father and led her to the love of her life. Rather appropriately, the series ends with Luz continuing to have access to both the Human and Demon Realms, showing that she's achieved balance between the fantasy and reality in her life.
  • In Silver Surfer: The Animated Series, there is a planet of mostly ugly and poor creatures who live in a daydream fantasy created by a special machine that brainwashes everyone on the planet. This machine makes them think that they live perfect lives with no problems and everyone being beautiful. The episode ends with Silver Surfer turning off the machine and the creatures concluding that the right thing to do is to deal with the challenges of the real life.
  • The Simpsons episode "Lisa the Drama Queen", as a Whole-Plot Reference to Heavenly Creatures, has Lisa making friends with a newly arrived girl and the both of them creating an imaginary kingdom, and said girl becoming more obsessed with said kingdom (and acting crazier) as the episode goes on. Most important to Marge is that the new girl seems to be dragging Lisa down with her, and wants to separate them.
  • Steven Universe has a few episodes in which the titular character visits his mother's old room to conjure up a fantasy world to his liking; however, all those times, it results in his fun time in there going downhill due to glitches happening in the system that result in him being forced to confront his problems while in there. And every time he exists, he finds that it's far better to spend time with his real family and friends.