Escapism is the avoidance of unpleasant, boring, arduous, scary, or banal aspects of daily life. It can also be used as a term to define the actions people take to help relieve persistent feelings of depression or general sadness.
Entire industries have sprung up to foster a growing tendency of people to remove themselves from the rigors of daily life – especially into the digital world. Many activities that are normal parts of a healthy existence (e.g., eating, sleeping, exercise, sexual activity) can also become avenues of escapism when taken to extremes or out of proper context; and as a result the word "escapism" often carries a negative connotation, suggesting that escapists are unhappy, with an inability or unwillingness to connect meaningfully with the world and to take necessary action. Indeed, the OED defined escapism as "The tendency to seek, or the practice of seeking, distraction from what normally has to be endured".
However, many challenge the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. C. S. Lewis was fond of humorously remarking that the usual enemies of escape were jailers; and considered that used in moderation escapism could serve both to refresh and to expand the imaginative powers. Similarly J. R. R. Tolkien argued for escapism in fantasy literature as the creative expression of reality within a secondary (imaginative) world, (but also emphasised that they required an element of horror in them, if they were not to be 'mere escapism'). Terry Pratchett considered that the twentieth century had seen the development over time of a more positive view of escapist literature. Apart from literature, music has been seen and valued as an artistic medium of escape, too.
Some social critics warn of attempts by the powers that control society to provide means of escapism instead of actually bettering the condition of the people – what Juvenal called “bread and the games”. Escapist societies appear often in literature. The Time Machine depicts the Eloi, a lackadaisical, insouciant race of the future, and the horror their happy lifestyle belies. The novel subtly criticizes capitalism, or at least classism, as a means of escape. Escapist societies are common in dystopian novels; for example, in the Fahrenheit 451 society, television and "seashell radios" are used to escape a life with strict regulations and the threat of a forthcoming war. In science fiction media escapism is often depicted as an extension of social evolution, as society becomes detached from physical reality and processing into a virtual one, examples include the virtual world of Oz in the 2009 Japanese animated science fiction anime Summer Wars and the game "Society" in the 2009 American science fiction film Gamer, a play on the real-life MMO game Second Life. Other escapist societies in literature include The Reality Bug by D. J. McHale, where an entire civilization leaves their world in ruin while they 'jump' into their perfect realities. The aim of the anti hero becomes a quest to make their realities seemingly less perfect in order to regain control over their dying planet.
Social philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote that utopias and images of fulfillment, however regressive they might be, also included an impetus for a radical social change. According to Bloch, social justice could not be realized without seeing things fundamentally differently. Something that is mere "daydreaming" or "escapism" from the viewpoint of a technological-rational society might be a seed for a new and more humane social order, as it can be seen as an "immature, but honest substitute for revolution".