Escape from Reality

By Sharon Chow

“I’ll sacrifice myself. Run, run, run,” Chris Lee ’16 commands with one hand on the keyboard of his computer and the other continuously clicking his mouse. Lee strategizes with Brandon Kuwada ’16, planning the best way to destroy the other team’s nexus, or base.
Lee and Kuwada are playing League of Legends, first released in October 2007 and now the most-played game in the world with gamers logging a combined total of nearly 1.3 billion hours of game play, according to Forbes online. Players can also watch thousands of live streams of League of Legends on twitch.tv, the website where players can film themselves playing in real time.Amazon recently purchased twitch.tv for $970 million.
This popular game has spread to Harvard-Westlake, with students swapping their old video games for interactive computer games. These games allow students to play with other people, so each game is always different from the others.
There are more than a hundred characters from which to choose, depending on the user’s style of play. Each character has its own detailed backstory and is part of a huge interconnected world.
“I used to play Call of Duty a lot,” Kuwada said. “I just spend a lot more time on this game.”
League of Legends is popular in part because of the variety of characters and skills required.
Kuwada and other players also enjoy the cutthroat nature of the game.
“It’s really competitive, and it keeps the game really fun,” Kuwada said. “There are just so many people playing the game that there’s always going to be someone better than you.”
Psychologist Luba Bek said that the obsession for playing has always been an inherent part of society, and that’s not a bad thing.
“People play because the right hemisphere of the brain wants to do something other than be logical and rational,” Bek said. “It’s so important to escape the daily routine of Harvard-Westlake, of being an overachiever and of competing.”
Games like League of Legends can, in fact, be seen as a reprieve from daily life. With the burden of schoolwork, practices, games and outside obligations, it is hard to find time to relax.
“It’s a fun pastime that takes my mind off things,” Nic Smith ’16 said.
Playing games and escaping reality for a short period of time can actually have cognitive benefits, Bek said. In a case study published in 2013 by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that playing a moderate amount of games improves cognitive skills and quickens the ability to make spontaneous decisions.
“It’s definitely a fun way to just relieve the stress from school and just relax,” Lee said.
But there can be a downside.
“Sometimes, I can lose track of time and keep playing matches,” he said. “This can either lead to staying up late at night to finish homework or just going to sleep early and doing homework early in the morning.”
Smith also thinks the game is so addictive it can throw off his schedule.
“I sleep less so I can play more,” Smith added.
In League of Legends, players choose and improve their characters by playing more games, which create new realities that need to be constantly managed.
“Usually I like to get one or two games per night, which can go from 20 minutes to a hour for each game, but I try to finish my homework first,” Kuwada said.
Bek offers an explanation for why students make time to log on and compete despite the burden of homework.
“From the psychoanalytical perspective, Freud actually said that when we are anxious or overwhelmed, our psyche has defensive mechanisms to protect ourselves from the anxiety of being overwhelmed: avoidance,” Bek said. “This is a little like self-sabotage, but according to Freud, it is also protecting your mental health.”

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