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To Escape


“Forget about what you are escaping from. Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.”

― Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Everything matters. Everything. When I think of the totality of the universe, the vastness of time and space and imagination and dirt, the conclusion seems plain: everything is important. Each small act of kindness, every bootleg Power Ranger sold at an Autobahn gas station, each drink of cool water, and every game played by every brother and sister in every home with rules made up on the fly, the stakes changing between each fitful laugh.

I have been asked over and over why I chose to write about video games rather than making them or using my penchant for words for something else. My answers have varied over the years. As a child, the answer was simple: this book of drawings of Kid Icarus and Link, their limbs impossibly soft and elongated, is a book about my friends. It’s right there in the title I scrawled in spidery letter across the cover: My Nintendo Friends. Obviously. As a man in his late 30s, my answer has focused on a desire to be part of a cultural moment.

Even now, a decade and a half into true internet ubiquity, after seemingly every conversation that could be had about Mario has been had, the reality is that video games are still in their infancy as a form of human expression. As is television. As are films. As are comic books, board games, card games, virtual reality, pop music, mashups, crossovers, cinematic universes, and fandom.

On the scale of human experience, all our strange bodies and beautiful minds and viciousness and capacity for love, every artform seems young. Painting, our first cave-dwelling hobby, has maybe reached maturity at this point. Video games are the youngest, though, providing dreamlike playgrounds where we can move something unreal about an impossible but tangible place. I remain drawn to shining a light into their strange darkness. To saying: Look! Look over here. With me. Now. How strange. How grand. What does it mean? To us? What does it say about us? About everything that matters? Which it does.

I continue to write about video games because they matter. So do you. And that both you and video games matter is a separate truth that matters.

When I was younger, I longed to write for the Escapist. My career as a writer had only just begun and each immaculately produced special issue released felt impossibly intimidating. This was when the nightmare churn of modern, 24-hour media was still a smoldering coal rather than an all-consuming fire and special issues were both novel and viable for a business. When I finally mustered up the guts to write anything, it was a response to an essay by Warren Spector. I was so fired up at the time but I can’t even remember what he said now. I chickened out of sending it. I posted it to some long lost corner of BlogSpot and figured my future lay elsewhere.

By the time I’d finally started writing about video games in earnest for doomed hippie enterprises like 61 Frames Per Second and The Gameological Society, I foolishly felt like I’d outgrown my ambitions to be a part of the Escapist. After all, I thought, escapism is a loathsome pursuit. Escaping from the world into fantasy is an act of cowardice. We should not strive to escape, but to integrate, to find meaning in between every grand quest, every sweaty palmed match, every desperate late night viewing of the final cutscene. Only a baby wants escapism. I want art.

I was — and in many ways remain — a very stupid person.

When I was first asked about joining the effort to revive Escapist Magazine in the summer of 2018, much of that haughtiness had been beaten out of me by the realities of this profession in the modern day. I have been laid off no fewer than seven times over the past decade because of restructurings, acquisitions, pivots to user-generated content, and publications focusing on social-mobile platforms and video. I was exhausted. Yet I continued to find new opportunities to write weird poetry about what Deus Ex says about the soul of cities and how Rayman Origins reflects our longing for flight. How could I resist doing it for the place that inspired me in the first place? But I also had a family to provide for now and I knew that, one way or another, this was my last shot. I would take one more turn around the bend, one final climb up the watchtower to survey the world. If this doesn’t work out, I will finally find something else to do, something else to write about. I took that shot because it was and is my dream. And I no longer believe that escapism is something to scorn.

Escapism means something very different to me at this point in my life. To be an escapist is not to run from the harsh realities of an increasingly toxic world and hide in the endless minutiae of corporate funded traps of light and shallow emotion. As a father, as a neighbor, as a citizen and soul, I’ve come to realize that it is my responsibility to escape from my prejudices and preconceptions, my stale body of knowledge, and to discover new perspectives and experiences. Escapism in this moment, at this time, is the art of breaking free of what you know the world to be and finding it to be stranger, more diverse, and grander than you thought possible.

To be an escapist is to throw off the shackles of cynicism and myopia and to know the truth: everything matters. Everything. Movies and graham crackers and television and radio, your first memory of your grandmother, that faded stop sign hanging crooked outside of town, voting, faith, squirrels, you, me, and yes video games. All of it matters. All it takes to find out how it matters, to unfurl the infinite bloom of why, is to escape the belief that it doesn’t.

I pledge to you on my life and my heart that we will escape together.

About the author

Anthony John Agnello
Anthony John Agnello has worked full-time as a journalist and critic for over a decade with outlets like The A.V. Club, Edge Magazine, Joystiq, Engadget, and many, many others. Anthony first contributed to The Escapist in 2009, with In Defense of the Friend Code, an article about how we don't know where we're going if we don't know where we come from. How even what seems like the stupidest creation in the world comes from a human place; it's the work of one person reaching out to another.