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Life rarely goes the way we want. That's an overused, but accurate assessment of the way many people feel, especially at a time when our freedoms have been limited by the spread of the coronavirus.

During this time, many of us have chosen to play games, like the wildly popular Animal Crossing, which seems to have come along at just the right time, and escape into a virtual world to socialise and find some comfort away from the problems posed by our real lives.

I'm no exception.

I play computer games to escape the problems of my life, and, unlike many in the media, I believe it to be a vital mechanism for dealing with stress.

In reality I'm a 35 year-old graduate stuck at home, trying to deal with the alcoholism of a family member who lives far away, whilst attempting to reconcile my own mental health problems, and deal with the financial fallout the extended lockdown in the UK has caused for me personally.

In a game such as Animal Crossing, I live on a remote island paradise that I can control. There are no obligations, and I can indulge my passion for design to my heart's content. There are no money worries, because you directly 'earn' rewards that are proportionate to the amount of effort you put into the game. This 'other life' is completely under my thumb. I dictate everything, including how long I spend there. An hour a day is sufficient to bring a feeling of calm before returning to reality.

In actuality, it bears little difference to other forms of escapism, such as reading books, watching TV or going to the movies. The only exception I have noticed is that the interactivity of video games makes them more engrossing.

Granted, escapism does very little to actually deal with the problems directly, but indirectly it helps me to see my choices more clearly by calming me down. The calm is better for my physical health too, which obviously can become another source of stress at a time when I don't need more.

As long as those of us who indulge in this form of escapism take the time to act in our real lives, and don't retreat into the fantasy completely, it can be healthy and at least for me, a vital link in the mental health chain for which I have found no substitute.

I believe it should be noted that escapism is the opposite of mindfulness, and that too is something that can be used to deal with stressful thoughts by grounding ourselves in reality and the present moment. Both methods are valid, although at times when we've all had too much reality, switching off from the problems of the world and our lives by taking a virtual holiday seems more logical than a real one, especially when you take potential virus transmission into account.

In short: stay home, stop reading the paper, put your phone on silent and play a game for an hour a day. You might find a solution to one of those problems suddenly hits you when you're not paying it any attention.

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