Gaming as escapism is an extremely powerful tool. Whether as a distraction from mounting homework, mundane daily tasks, a bad breakup or even the death of a loved one, the ability to transport yourself into a world outside your own is incredible, and the immersion provided by video games is unmatched by any other entertainment medium.

But what happens when those real-world events are overcome or come to pass? What happens to those games we used to escape when all the homework is finished, when you land that dream job, when you learn to love again and when you’ve finally found peace? What happens when the game transports you to a time you don’t want to remember?

Borderlands 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into the bombastic loot and shoot frenzy that is the campaign and DLC. I’ve stayed up numerous nights to unreasonable hours, grinding out bosses with friends for the chance at elusive legendary guns. It’s a marvelous achievement of writing and gameplay, so marvelous in fact, that Gearbox software clearly has had difficulty trying to replicate its success. 

But for all its strengths and the praise I will forever shower it with, Borderlands 2 is tainted. No matter how many unbeatable bosses I conquered, guns I collected or characters I maxed out, I can’t escape the highly unfortunate timing in which I first played the game.

Just after the initial cutscene ended, not even 10 minutes into the game, I was informed of my great-grandmothers death. I can’t help but be reminded of that gut-wrenching feeling of loss every time I play Borderlands 2. Don’t get me wrong, the amazing times I had playing through the game far overshadow that uneasy feeling I experience every now and then. But regardless, it is still a feeling I have.

More recently I encountered a similar feeling that I simply couldn’t shake, one that resulted in me forever putting down one of the highest games of 2018.

A little over 6 months ago, I had planned to graduate college, but didn’t.

I was spending my nights on a friends couch, unable to start renting a new place to stay for weeks. I spent my days filling out job applications, attending interviews and pondering what went wrong.

For the first time in my life there wasn’t a plan for me to follow or clear path to take. I fell into the deepest depression of my life. I was dissociating from reality on a regular basis and unable to feel emotions like I normally would.

To bring myself out of a funk during this time, I decided it would be a good idea to buy the latest God of War. In all honesty, my hope was that Sony’s highest rated exclusive on the PS4 had a story great enough to help me feel emotions again.

If anything, I felt joy during the initial boss fight with the Stranger, and worry when Kratos seemed to be so formidably challenged. It was more emotion that I had felt in weeks.

So I kept playing. At night, I’d hook up my PS4 and an old 32-inch TV near my friend’s dining room table to play God of War while he tracked down resources in Monster Hunter World. The scene resembled some semblance of normalcy in my life. Gaming was once again, pure escapism when my life was in shambles.

But as my living and employment situation miraculously came together just as I needed it to, I found myself about 20 hours into God of War’s campaign. As I moved into my new apartment and started my new job, I was itching to see Kratos and Atreus finish their journey.

But as I began to play again, I felt ill and uneasy. Throwing Kratos’ axe and calling upon Atreus to distract an enemy no longer felt satisfying, it was sickening. The experience of playing God of War had been tainted by the emotions I associated with it. I couldn’t detach the game from that period of my life in which I felt so truly lost and hopeless.

Every time I would insert the disc and reach the start menu, the same uneasy feeling crept back into my psyche and I had to turn off the console.

I can’t finish God of War because every time I play, all I can think about is how I felt the first week I played. I’m unable to remove my experience in the world surrounding the game from the game itself.

From what I played, I gather that Dad of Boy is a beautiful experience and one worthy of your $60. But because I never want to feel again how I felt when I first started playing, I can’t bring myself to complete the game.

But attaching games to a period in our lives doesn’t always sentence us to a to a myriad of bad memories.

Overwatch is a game that generates an extra oomph of  happiness for me every time I play (except when I’m being tilted off the surface of the planet by constant shield bashes). I associate Overwatch with the tournaments I’ve won, friends I’ve made and relationships that have been built while engaged in the frantic team-based combat. I first met my current girlfriend while playing Overwatch for goodness sake.

A similar feeling comes to mind every time I feel like dusting off a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. I’m reminded of late afternoons with friends in high school , camping Nuketown choke points and overall just exercising my gaming stupidity with friends throughout the night until there was just minutes until my parents woke up for work the next day.

Whether we want it to happen or not, games become ingrained into our lives more than we realize. The emotions we feel both in-game and in our everyday lives outside of our gameplay experience are intertwined with each other, as is the point in our lives in which we decide to press play.

There are dangers and benefits to starting up a game and simply forgetting about the world around us for a while. Escapism can give us a much needed break, but it can also confine us to an unhappy place. With very few exceptions, the world around you won’t change because you decided to pick up the controller.