It should come as no surprise to anyone that life is a cruel mistress, especially if you’re in uni. With deadlines, exams and project work, it can quickly get overwhelming. Things can also be insanely frustrating (when for example, you put all your heart and soul into revising for a course but you screw up the exam, just because the compulsory question was about waves in the solar wind which you obviously hadn’t revised thoroughly because it barely came up until now!).

And so, with all of life’s hurdles thrown at you, no one will blame you if you look for means to escape. At Imperial, the so called ‘geek culture’ is the default entertainment for most people, where people dive into worlds of fantasy, adventure and sci-fi through video games, books or Netflix (without the chill). And that’s great, these worlds are popular for a reason and offer a great form of entertainment and release. The real world is brutal and sometimes you just need to zone out in a fantasy world.

Without the ability to escape, we would all burn out a lot faster. Sometimes we just need to step away from our problems, and return to them with a fresh mind. Just don’t take it too far. When escaping turns into a pathology of escapism, you might find you have a problem. You might recognise this as the point where you’re neglecting all your work, skipping lectures and becoming a shut in to have 15-hour sessions of League of Legends. This could be catalysed from anything remotely negative, be it a poorly marked lab report, rejection from another job application or just a bad day. The key, like most things in life, is to strike a balance and make sure you remember to snap back to reality at the right time.

“How do I strike a balance?” I hear you ask. Let’s start by identifying when you’re struggling with escapism. If you find yourself feeling disdain for the real world and its subjects, and a need for something better, something separate to this reality you might have a problem. We’re not talking about taking a break or seeking some relief. The latter is about building up your energy for something important as opposed to abandoning the real world for a ten-hour-long Overwatch session. It may seem simple, but gaining perspective and recognising when you’re crossing the line is the first fundamental step to taking back control.

More importantly though, you might want to take a closer look into the underlying reasons behind your escapist tendencies. Sooner or later, you’re going to need to face your problems. You can’t run away from your commitments forever and the longer you wait, the worse things will get. Princess Peach will always be waiting in another castle, but UROP places fill out fast. In the words of Andrew Ryan from Bioshock, “We all make choices in life, but in the end our choices make us.”

Escapism is a great defence mechanism but watching the entirety of 13 Reasons Why isn’t going to help write up your thesis (in fact if you’re struggling with depression or suicide, maybe stay away from that one). You need to sit down and identify the sources of stress and upset in your life. And when you’ve done that, think of ways to tackle them one baby step at a time. Don’t forget, it’s OK to talk to people and ask for help whenever you need it, whatever the obstacle may be. No one is perfect and most of us have at some point sought out support. Sometimes a friendly voice is all you need to get back on track.

Obviously, if you’ve been hit by something major, you’re not going to feel like tackling it or thinking about it. But it won’t do you any good to shut yourself out altogether and use artificial achievements to make up for it. Take time off to feel better and get whatever’s bothering you out of your system. Then you need to identify when you’re ready to deal with things and get back on your feet. It’ll definitely be hard, and your low self-esteem at the time might be pushing you to stick to the fantasy world, but you can beat it and rise above it. Your only worst enemy is yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, binge-watching is fun and spending my nights saving princesses is basically how I spend my holidays. Just remember that you need to live in the real world as well and no amount of levelling up can make you move forward in life (unless you’re a professional gamer but that’s another story). At the end of the day, everything comes down to you, you’re the one in control of your life. Taking time off now and again to unwind and entertain yourself is fine, just as long as you keep your priorities straight. At the end of the day, fantasy worlds are beautiful and should be fully enjoyed, not turned into harbours of guilt and denial.