Video games keep getting more complex and visually appealing, so it's no wonder more people are drawn to them nowadays. But this new era of compelling digital entertainment could have a dark side for unemployed young men.
It might sound like something an old man shouts from his rocking chair, but kids these days appear to be more interested in escapism than diving into the job market. A preliminary report from economists at Princeton, the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago suggests a strong link between electronic leisure activities and unemployment rates for men in their 20s.
Many of us at Lifehacker are big fans of video games. Our esteemed Editor-in-Chief, however, is sceptical that gaming offers any value beyond simple entertainment...
According to their data, the employment rate for young men without a university education has dropped considerably since 2000, and a lot of these unemployed men aren't married and live with their parents or other family members. No work and no responsibility means they have more time for leisure activities, and gaming takes up 75 per cent of that time. In fact, the report suggests that up to 1/3 of the decline in work hours done by men in this group can be attributed to the increased use of technology for entertainment. Essentially, a lot of young, non-university educated men are living in their parents' basement playing video games all day. But why?
For starters, the study points to video games getting more and more sophisticated as time goes on. Gaming is now a multi-billion dollar industry filled with beautiful, engaging games that can take upwards of 100 hours to complete. It's much easier to get lost in an immersive, virtual world than it used to be. But it isn't just about how amazing video games are now. As Erik Hurst, one of the report's lead authors, explained in an interview with Econ Focus, living a leisure lifestyle is also a little easier than it was before:
In 1980, if you were in your 20s and you weren't working, you were pretty isolated. You were sitting by yourself. You could watch a few channels on TV but no one else was out there. Now if you're not working, you could be online on social media or you could be playing video games in an interactive way, things that make not working more attractive than before. And those video games and leisure goods generally are relatively cheap compared to what they were in 1980. So when you're making your choice of working relative to your reservation wage, your reservation wage has gone up some because the outside option of not working is a lot more attractive.
You don't require a workplace to interact with people any more, so there's much less of a social drive when it comes to job searching. And gaming gives you instant gratification and a sense of reward every time you sit down to play. Everything you need is right at home — satisfaction, social interaction and purpose — and it's cheap to boot. I mean, who wouldn't honestly enjoy some extended, responsibility-free down time to play games, watch movies and read books? Heck, I know I'd disappear headfirst into Persona 5 for a few weeks if I wasn't working right now.
Still, it's best not to jump to conclusions based on this data alone, especially since this study is preliminary and has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal. Despite the apparent link between the two, video games are certainly not the sole cause of unemployment for young men. They are more likely a side effect of the current economic state, as well as the ever-increasing popularity of gaming in our culture. Basically, video games are a fun way to pass the time and feel good about yourself when you have too much free time forced into your life.
That said, it's not a bad idea to treat this as a cautionary tale. Escapism has it's benefits, sure, but too much of it takes time and energy away from more productive ventures, like taking care of essentials and job searching. There's no need to give up on gaming, but it couldn't hurt to take a look at how much you actually play. If you aren't getting any traction in your professional life, maybe it's time to cut back and use that time for something more advantageous. After all, if you spend most of your time saving virtual worlds, you won't have the time to aggressively pursue saving your own.
Life can be full of hardships, so it's nice to take a step back from reality and get lost in the fantasies of our own minds. That's why we read books about faraway lands and explore virtual worlds with powerful avatars. Too much of it, however, can be detrimental to your productivity and personal growth.