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Escapism

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Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories" lecture, 1939
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Escapism is basically a mental diversion or "escape" from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life. Everything that makes us escape from Real Life can be considered a form of Escapism. Common forms of Escapism are Fiction, Video Games, Game Shows, drugs, gambling, and TV Tropes.

This trope applies to fictional characters using escapism in order to escape from their problems and/or not having to face Real Life.

For an in-depth analysis of this trope, go to Analysis.Escapism. Compare to Anti-Escapism Aesop.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Rikka Takanashi, the female lead of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, is constantly under the delusion of a Elegant Gothic Lolita fighter, so as to cope with her trauma arising from Parental Abandonment.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Asuka relies on playing video games after her Mind Rape, in order to forget her childhood experiences and her past trauma. To a certain extent, striving to be the best pilot is a way of escaping her past too.
  • Opposing this trope is pretty much the entire point of Paranoia Agent.
  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!:
    • Sophia's interest in romance novels comes from her Hikkikomori years, as she seeks solace in stories of popular people as she is shunned by everyone due to her albinism. She says it best in her POV segment:
      In my quiet room, I read book after book. The wondrous, beautiful stories within transported me away from my cruel reality. When I was reading, I could forget all my troubles.
    • Back in Catarina's previous life, her best friend Atsuko also used fiction to cope with her own Friendless Background:
      If I imagine myself slipping into these stories as I read them, I can forget all about my loneliness. I pretend that I’m the protagonist of these stories. That way, even someone who is lonely, shy, and unhappy like me can become a popular girl who everyone loves.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Sandman, nightmares Brute and Glob exploit the dreams of an abused foster child to carve out a little corner of the Dreaming for themselves. They make him the sidekick of a superhero named Sandman, who is really a brainwashed spirit of someone recently deceased, only anchored to the living world by pregnant widow who lives in the dream with him. Thus their plan is facilitated by the desires of two miserable victims who wish for a better reality than they have.
  • The Unbelievable Gwenpool's relationship to escapism is complicated to put it mildly. The main character, Gwen Poole, is an average comic book fan, who managed to push her escapism so far to actually escape. She is perfectly willing at first to exploit this as much as possible to indulge her more sociopathic impulses without consequences which seems like a prime setup to deliver an Anti-Escapism Aesop... the series doesn't do that, instead opts for now you're responsible for the tales you're telling, we hope you grow up to the responsibility.

    Comic Strips 
  • Played with - multiple comic artists have done one shots or simple comics showing fantasy characters such as wizards, warriors and dragons playing a fictional role playing game of our world such as Papers & Paychecks instead of Dungeons & Dragons. (Example here)
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    Fan Works 
  • Pretty Ore: Gray's bookworm traits are because he uses books as escapism for his stressful life.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Brave, Merida rides her horse, practices her archery and does anything she can to keep her mind off what she considers the boring lessons her mother is teaching her regarding etiquette and managing a kingdom. Things come to a head when time catches up with her and she has to actually deal with matters head-on.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Sidekicks is about a sickly and bullied kid who copes by having vivid daydreams — bordering on hallucinations — about teaming up with Chuck Norris.
  • Basically the underlying premise behind Sucker Punch. To cope with the traumas in their lives, the girls create fantasized versions of themselves, who are badass warriors who mop the floors with robotic Nazis, orcs, and whatever else comes their way.

    Literature 
  • This is the main theme of the sci-fi novel Escapist Dream. The book tells the story about a virtual reality world that can grant anyone the fun escapist lives they have always wanted. You want to gain superpowers and become a superhero, live a life of an anime character, or just be with your deceased wife and kid? Come and visit this world. The major theme of this book is how escapism can drove some into irrationality and insanity, especially with those who have lost something in the real world.
  • Though Alice's sister accuses her of daydreaming and avoidance and refusing to grow up and 'be sensible', her entire journey through Wonderland and the Looking Glass worlds are a frank satirical examination of the absurdities of British culture, seen from the eyes of a girl expected to earn acceptance into a society she often finds too insane and incomprehensible to accept herself. This makes it an inversion, as Alice looks fully into aspects of British society that her teachers and mentors have blinded themselves to.
  • The main characters in Bridge to Terabithia create a fantasy world in order to escape their hardships at school.
  • In Dragon Bones, the protagonist's mother became The Ophelia by drugging herself with herbal potions so often that her mind isn't clear even when she's sober. She did this to escape her bleak reality, with her abusive husband who would also beat and almost kill her children. It is said that now "She only hears what she wants to hear." Escapism is also used as literary device; instead of someone being tortured, the readers gets to see only dream sequences, which the protagonist is implied to be hallucinating while his brother is being tortured to make him talk.
  • Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein is a Troperiffic parody and celebration of escapist stories.
  • In A Little Princess, Sara goes from being wealthy, well-respected, and popular to a scullery maid in a single day. She moves from the largest room in the school to the rat-infested attic. How does she deal? She pretends her doll is sentient and that she is a princess and must act accordingly. She continues to pretend and act as if she is a gentle and beautiful princess even as the antagonists treat her terribly.
  • In Out of the Dust, Billie Jo plays the piano to escape her brutal, unforgiving life.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs series it is said that, while in prison, Hannibal Lecter often lives in the memory palace he has built in his mind.
    "Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer gives us "Normal Again" where Buffy gets venom from a demon that convinces her she is really in a mental hospital and that her life as a Slayer is just escapism fantasy.
    • And the season this takes place in has Buffy trying to escape from her depression by having torrid rough sex with Spike.
  • The Charmed episode "Brain Drain" has The Source create an elaborate spell to trick Piper into giving up the sisters' powers. He makes Piper imagine that she is really in a mental hospital where Prue, Phoebe and Paige aren't really her sisters and she doesn't have powers. The doctors in the hallucination claim she created her life as a Charmed One to cope with the death of her grandmother. The chilling part is that the hallucination is well timed to Piper regretting becoming a witch so she almost believes the hallucination.
  • In Community, Abed frequently refers to his life in the format of seasons and refers to tropes, though instead of Abed actually being meta he's simply building a framing device around his own life. While reality is confusing and unstructured to him, he has a very strong understanding of tropes, and as a result he will not hesitate to start framing reality in the form of pop culture to help him cope with problems (or sometimes just to make his life more interesting). This is deconstructed multiple times as being unhealthy, mainly because of how extreme Abed will take these delusions and how little empathy he has for others in his attempts to keep the illusions going.
  • In an episode of Red Dwarf, the crew discovers a long-lost VR game called "Better than Life". It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • In Smallville, it's implied that Clark is just a crazy person that created a fantasy world in order to escape reality. Until that's revealed to be a hallucination by Dr. Hudson (a "zoner").
  • In WandaVision Wanda is shown to have fixated on sitcoms as an escape from the tragedies of her life and her creation of the Hex is the same thing on a grand scale, a Reality Warper able to generate her own little world where Vision isn't dead and every conflict is resolved by the end of the episode.

    Music 
  • "Seeya" by deadmau5 can be interpreted as escapist dreaming.
  • The topic of escapism comes up in the chorus of Epica's "Mother Of Light (A New Age Dawns Part II)":
    Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction
    Whatever happens in my dreams—I know it can't be worse than this
    So I prefer to sleep
  • The narrator of "Imaginary" by Evanescence builds her "sleeping refuge," her own world in her head, to escape the horror of reality.
  • Insidious One - Эскапист is specifically about escapism and fleeing into a better world of fantasy.
  • "Escapist" by Nightwish.
    I tread the way and lose myself into a tale
    [...]
    A nightingale in a golden cage
    That's me locked inside reality's maze
  • A common interpretation of the work of Owl City. Perhaps the most noteworthy example is "The Real World":
    Downy feathers kiss your face, and flutter everywhere,
    Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn't want to live there.

    Roleplay 
  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Simon joins the Acting Club because he's attracted by the idea of taking on a persona and escaping from his real-life problems- namely his nightmares and need to take medication- for a while.
    • Edward likes sci-fi, fantasy, and video games, as they offer him some escape when he's hospitalised for the surgeries meant to treat his cerebral palsy.
    • Rose's parents neglect her and her babysitter doesn't care much for her either. She deals with it by escaping into the world of Dungeons & Dragons and other pieces of fiction.

    Video Games 
  • This trope is discussed in A3 during the Spring Troupe's third play when Tsuzuru, the troupe's playwright, realizes that all of the plays he's written for the Spring Troupe so far have been about an Odd Friendship between two men because he's been subconsciously using a friendship he once had with another boy as inspiration for them and also that he's been giving these plays happy endings to compensate for his own Odd Friendship having ended badly. This realization causes him to wonder if these plays are just his self-indulgent fantasies about what he wishes could have happened in his own life and if he should give his latest play a sad ending just to avoid bringing his escapist desires into it. He's ultimately reassured by the other Spring Troupe members that his plays having some degree of Wish Fulfillment in them isn't an inherently bad thing as long as they have characters and plots that resonate with other people too.
  • Escapism, and learning to overcome it and accept hard truths of life, is one of the key themes of Eternal Sonata.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and its sequel Final Fantasy Tactics A2, although the sequel focuses on it less.
  • Sumia in Fire Emblem Awakening is an avid reader who likes to pretend to be the protagonists in her novels because she hates who she really is. The Avatar can help her escape this habit in their supports.
  • The protagonist team of Persona 5, spending their nights as thieves as escapism from the limits of daily life. Learning to deal with real life and its issues is the Central Theme of the game.
  • In Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, this is how Hikari ends up in the Cinema in the game. Unlike most cases however, the distraction from reality comes in the form of depression, so rather than think about ways to escape the harshness of reality, Hikari just doesn't allow herself to feel anything about it.
  • "Simmy" Kim in Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall is a woman in the Kreuzbasar who's addicted to "Better-Than-Life" simulations. After spending enough time with her, the player can learn that she got hooked after suffering a miscarriage that left her infertile, and Monica suggested she try them out to help cope with the trauma. There's a reason that her preferred simulations all involve her assuming a motherly or childish role.
    Simmy Kim: Monika said I would forget. She thought the sims might help. In there, I'm strong. And I never have to lose anyone. But then I come back out... here. Where children play in the street, and I remember. Where I see Dr. Ezkibel, and I remember.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Chaotic, the heroes' best friend is constantly avoiding Real Life through a trading card game. Then this trope is subverted when Chaotic turns out to be real.
  • Discussed during the credits of Gravity Falls episode "Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons"; Soos, Blues, Durland and Toby Determined are doing a LARP when Durland (Of all people) posits that they're just using fantasy to ignore their real-life problems, and should use the time to better themselves. Blubs just tells him that "Fortresses can't talk" (Durland's role) and the subject is forgotten.
    • In "Weirdmageddon Part 2: Escape From Reality", Dipper realizes that this is why Mabel doesn't want to leave the personal Lotus-Eater Machine; it lets her avoid the Growing Up Sucks trope that's been her character arc for the series.
  • Gaz of Invader Zim is obsessed with video games. In her world humans are generally stupid, ignorant and repulsive and the world they live in is polluted and unclean. She uses video games and apathy to escape her reality.
  • Jem: It's implied that the "Jem" persona is escapism to Jerrica. As Jem she can be free-spirited and do things she normally couldn't do.
  • Moral Orel: Nurse Bendy's room looks like that of a little girl, full of bright colors and toys. She acts out the role of a mother to a loving family with a teddy bear husband and teddy bear son. She does it to escape from being constantly used, being utterly alone, and having no one who really thinks about her thoughts and feelings and treats her like a real person. However, once she is reunited with her actual son Joe, she throws away her "son" doll, because she finally has a real son who cares about her a lot. Very arguably one of the most positive portrayals of anti-escapism in television.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Castle Sweet Castle" is about this: Twilight does everything in her power to stay away from her new castle, which has replaced the old library destroyed by Lord Tirek's attack at the end of the previous season. When the others realize this, they try to make it seem more inviting to her.
  • This is referenced in a Phineas and Ferb commercial were Phineas tells the audience to turn off their computers and enjoy life outside.
  • In the South Park episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft", there is a nerd that is depicted as completely obsessed with World of Warcraft and completely out of touch of reality. He is described as having "no life" by the characters.

Alternative Title(s): Character Escapist Phase, Escapist

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