We’re losing a whole generation of young men to video games
by Kyle Smith, nypost.com, 8 July 2017
One night in the mid-1990s I tried out a computer game called “Civilization.” You started with a screen that was completely black, except for one square of land. As you pushed outward from this base, you’d make discoveries about the land around you and its inhabitants. You’d start to build a society, first primitive stuff like granaries, then advancing to roads and weapons.
Trade-offs would arise: Should I build a library or a cannon? As your world advanced, you’d run into other civilizations. It was disconcerting to discover somebody else had a battleship while you were working with catapults. As I was journeyed through all of these fascinating challenges, I discovered to my surprise that the sun had come up. Something had gone haywire with time. It was already 7 a.m.
If you had asked me at any point in my relationship to “Civilization” whether I was happy, I would have said no. I was ecstatic. I was euphoric. Making simulated granaries. Building simulated roads. Firing simulated cannon. These were my obsessions.
After a while I realized that becoming master of a fake world was not worth the dozens of hours a month it was costing me, and with profound regret I stashed my floppy disk of “Civilization” in a box and pushed it deep into my closet. I hope I never get addicted to anything like “Civilization” again.
Today millions of people, disproportionately young men, are similarly caught in the throes of video games, which are far more enticing than their 1990s counterparts and often involve many players engaging at once. The hand-eye coordination of these men is no doubt impressive, plus they form friendships and learn to work through problems in teams.
Surveys tell us that these men are happy. The 1990s fear that playing first-person shooter games turns you into a violent psycho has been debunked.
The problem is that for many young men, video games have become a substitute for living. They’re so addictive and soul-consuming that they’re unlike other leisure activities. Every hour spent on “Ghost Recon” or “Grand Theft Auto V” is an hour that could have been spent more productively.
Sure, that’s also true of golf — but rarely do you hear that someone has quit his job and is living in Mom’s basement obsessing over putting.
Yet video-game addicts are engaged in a mass retreat from life. Men aged 21 to 30 worked 12 percent fewer hours in 2015 than in 2000. The percent of young men who worked zero weeks over the course of a year doubled in that period, to an alarming 15 percent. Those working hours were largely replaced by gaming, and fully 35 percent of young men now live with their parents or other close relatives, up from 23 percent in 2000. Their unemployment rate jumped by 10 percent.
A huge proportion of young men are simply dropping out of the workforce and becoming PlayStation’s willing slaves. The numbers are in a National Bureau of Economic Research study and in an essay by economist Erik Hurst of the Booth School of Economics at the University of Chicago.
Should we dismiss all this if these men say they’re happy? Heroin addicts are happy, too, as long as they’re high, but what long-term effects do they face? Consider what the future holds for men whose 20s get sucked into the maw of the Xbox. The 20s are when we pick — and begin to gain mastery in — a career.
If these men intend to start their lives at 30, they’re going to find themselves at a huge disadvantage. They’re going to be sullen when told to start at the bottom, when peers they knew in school are already in management positions.
Maybe they’ll turn down work and pick up the gaming remote. Maybe they’ll drift toward their 40s without ever really launching.
Women usually don’t go for men who are less successful than they are, so gaming is going to cause a surge in dissatisfaction among members of both sexes. Unemployed, or underemployed, men residing at Casa de la Mama whose major life skill involves pretend shoot-em-ups are not going to impress many ladies. Accomplished women are going to discover the competition for male peers even tougher than it is today, when there are about three women for every two men enrolled in college.
Happiness is not to be confused with fleeting pleasures delivered by artificial, drug-like stimulants. Genuine life satisfaction is closely linked to the feelings of productivity we derive from doing jobs well and to the security of enduring close relationships, especially marriage.
Gamer zombies risk losing touch with both the world of work and with the potential for real human relationships. The parents and friends of these young men are doing them no favors by thinking, “I never see him anymore but he seems happy.”