I read a lot as a kid, mostly fantasy and science fiction. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do as an adult, but "writing fantasy" was definitely high on the list. One session, Dolores and I were talking about my fantasy life: the books I read, my fantasies about them, my imagined people and worlds, the role-playing games I'd been involved in.
Dolores told me, "You'll have to give that up someday, when you grow up."
And I got very upset with her. I didn't plan to give it up. The books I was reading were written by adults, the games I was playing were created by adults. They were played and read by adults. I didn't see why I would have to give it up.
But she insisted: "These are childish things. You'll outgrow them. You have to live in the real world eventually."
Afterwards, I asked my mother what she thought. She took my side, and she told me something every patient should know about psychiatrists: "Most people get involved in the field of psychiatry because they've had mental problems of their own. They're human, too. You may have just hit on a sensitive issue for her."
Here I am, two decades later, and I still haven't outgrown it. I don't read as much as I used to, but I still write a great deal, and still play fantasy games. I have a vivid and detailed fantasy life. Not just about the characters I use in roleplaying games or stories, but about things I've never written and don't plan to write. Mary-Sue stories, wherein I am the all-powerful heroine.
One recurring fantasy I have is about transforming the world, changing the rules of reality so that each individual is given complete control over his own existance -- and by extension, the inability to harm anyone else. A post-scarcity society, to use Puzzlebox terms, although I got the notion when I started playing on FurryMUCK and it never left me. Because on FurryMUCK, you don't need to eat, you don't get sick or die, you can look like whatever you want to and do whatever you want, you can make whatever you like (well, unless the building rules have changed) -- and in general, you're free. But so is everyone else -- you can't hurt them, and they can't hurt you. Unless you agree to it. I like that idea, as a model for the real world. It interests me, what kind of stories would be told in a world like that. All the MUCKs I've seen that involved more than just chatrooms inevitably had people consenting to be harmed by one another, or at least to have the possibility of harm. It's like something we can't give up, this idea of having power over others, or them having power over us.
But I digress.
I think that when Dolores said, "You have to give it up", what she was thinking is: "It's not real, it'll never be real, and you can never have it. You can't spend your life dreaming and wishing for things you can never have. It'll tear you apart with frustrated desire."
But she's still wrong: it doesn't. I still long to ride on a dragon's back, to gaze on alien vistas, to wield sorcerous powers, to create a world out of nothingness. But it does not eat at my heart to know that I will not have these things. My fantasies make me smile; they do not consume me with anger and envy just because I cannot touch them or possess them.
For that matter, some of the things I fantasize about would not even be good if they were real. I wrote an entire book about a world I would never want to live in. It may have more magic than this one, but it is not nearly so pleasant a place. The setting of Silver Scales charms and entertains me with all its odd touches and varied inhabitants ... but in the end, I do not think it would be all that much better as a home than my own. (Well, except for the teleportation part. This world is severely lacking in the teleportation department.) I used to have "Chosen One" story ideas, where one, or some small number of special people, have powers far beyond what everyone else can do -- but I seldom do anything with such ideas anymore, because I don't like what they imply for that "everyone else" who isn't Special and Chosen.
But my impossible dreams and ridiculous fantasies do not hurt me, or anyone else. They don't keep me awake at night with wishing, or stop me from doing my job in the "real world". It may be a peculiar pastime, but it's not a dangerous one. For me, anyway.
I suppose for some people, it might be riskier. But when I look at how many of my friends on LiveJournal and elsewhere also juggle between fantasy worlds and everyday lives ... well, it seems to me that my satisfaction with this arrangement is more the rule than the exception.