There’s this genre of writing called isekai, which I think roughly translates to “other world”. In isekai novels, the main character is whisked away from our normal, boring world to another place by some means. This new realm usually has swords, magic, and plenty of opportunities to use them on things that would otherwise kill you; the protagonist walks around figuring out how all this works while slaughtering goblins wholesale.
This concept touches on why video games are so popular with young men. They get the sense of accomplishment by leveling up or questing and a feeling of productivity by converting their time into achievements. It feels good b/c men need purpose. (Of course women do too, but in fundamentally different ways IMO). The only issue is that these things are 1) not real and 2) far easier to accomplish than IRL. As a result you have people that feel disempowered in many/all domains of their life and like water finding it's path, pour into video games for a sense of accomplishment, achievement, and purpose. The great irony is that in many cases this eats up discretionary time and exacerbates their failures in the non-digital world, creating a vicious cycle.
I see this same thing happen in my life, though not with video games. (As a result, I self-righteously tell myself I'm a better person as a result). I'm learning a language via an app, working through a book, and working out (more than is productively necessary). Whenever I find myself with some free time or feel overwhelmed, I'll turn to one of these outlets and tell myself I'm a good person b/c I'm not wasting my time on video games like immature children, but the reality is that I'm escaping meaningful relationships or business ventures via something much more easily accessible (and thus fleeting and less meaningful).
Being cognizant of this is hugely powerful.
Boy I hate to be the bearer of bad news RC, but it seems like you ought to be drinking more alcohol.
I used to work at a seafood restaurant when I was in my early twenties where we would lay down ringed rubber mats over the tiled kitchen floor, so no one would slip. At the end of the night we would drag them out back caked with batter and breadcrumbs for cleaning. I would often volunteer for this firstly because I was a smoker and I could probably smoke 2-3 Marlboros in the time it took to clean the dozen or so mats. But the second reason that I volunteered for this otherwise disgusting task was I was granted license to operate the magestic machine called a power washer, and I'll just say that the folks on the internet got this one right, I did in fact maintain an erection throughout. No great feat perhaps for a man of twenty two, nevertheless I remember it fondly.
You articulated the tension in my life brilliantly. I go through stages. Sometimes I'll feel almost proud, that I have eradicated most of those forms of isekai I was obsessed with - drugs, video games, porn, thinking up idealist socialist utopias. But then, at least every second day, I'll stop myself and say, what the fuck, aren't you acting the same way today, but with different isekai? Instead of doing your PhD work, you decide to stay home all day to write your novel - that you'd be lucky if you mother even reads. Instead of showing up for your psychology tutorial that you teach, you ask for cover because you are going to watch a sport, live. Instead of actually getting out there and getting a girlfriend, you scroll tinder and imagine not only the sex you'd have with these quasi-real people, but the babies you'd have too.
I know what is real, is staying in uni, completing my PhD in Clinical Psychology, and becoming a Clinical Psychologist. But writing novels is real fun. And the escapism is so encapsulating.
So the thing I find striking, is how "productivity" itself can become a malignant escapism. "Smart" watch tracking, breaking down every last enzyme and protein of what you're eating, creating "sleep stacks", listening to podcasts at 2x while running every morning at 4am...
.... are you REALLY getting anything done?
What's profound about this is taking responsibility for the person your activities will create.
It's more than moderation as counter-steering away from vices, or straw-man arguments about being good because you're not so bad.
It recognizes that striving humans (read: authors and readers) are essentially psychotic: separated from reality by delusions of power, grandeur, attractiveness, intelligence, fear, conspiracies, etc. because -- as all the preachers and self-help gurus and bootstrappers say -- you have to imagine it before you can be it (and you're off the hook if you can blame someone else).
Socrates, on hearing an old man complaining of being overtaken by time, said that evil is even faster than time, and one should assiduously avoid it. Remember, Socrates as a strong stonemason was also a war hero, largely from a losing battle; his conscience was by no means clear. The greatest evil to Socrates was sophistry, the intelligence that leads astray.
My mom often scolded me: make yourself useful!
I need to get hit by a truck a little bit
The following has nothing to do with this article. I'm commenting here because it's the latest place I _can_ direct a comment to RC.
This morning I received an emailed cross post titled "Isaac King’s Whales vs. Minnows and Pitfalls of Prediction Markets" and had no way to comment on it. More correctly, I received it because I subscribe to *this* substack and had no way to comment on it on its author's substack. (i.e. here.)
This is, IMO, a very unfortunate feature of substack. There's no point in me going there and saying something like "prediction markets are rubbish; this just demonstrates why I despise them," since that topic is the other substack's whole reason for existing.
OTOH, I might very well want to say something similar, though more nuanced, right here, directed to its actual author, with whom I have some history and shared context. (We've both followed Scott Alexander longer than RC has had his own substack.)
If substack is going to support crossposts, it should also automatically include a way to comment *on the author's blog*. Otherwise, crossposts should not be sent to the author's subscribers. (If substack got rid of this feature, authors could cross post manually, in their own blogs, which would automatically provide a place for their own subscribers to comment.)
Thanks for letting me sign up for free (I'll probably be dropping some $$ your way on off months, but, being old, retired, and cheap, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your courtesy in letting us read your blog and pay for it as we can.
I'll be starting up this next Wednesday over at my place and will get back to my long-term addiction to blogging (Substack will be be the third platform spread out over 18 years).
I very much liked this piece. I have the guilty pleasure of actually enjoying the 1632 series by Eric Flint which slots in neatly to your description of Isekai. I enjoy it because it tells simple stories that show folks trying accomplish things that are morally ambiguous but necessary. The good guys tend to win, the bad guys tend to lose.
It isn't real, but as long as you keep your escapism within reasonable bounds, who are other's to judge.
Excellent post. I have more to add to the list later, bc I'm sort of a philosopher
I've been there with video games, but now I feel like I'm in the opposite situation. Currently life is affording me no time to escape and I'm constantly dealing with important work, family, food on the table, and roof over our head issues. I'm exhausted but have to keep going. If it keeps up much longer I might just stop and yell at the world to give me fucking minute.
You could *write* an Isekai instead!
I'm a helper.
Nice take on philosophy! Very zen!
I hope you got rid of that clover!