Forget violence. The real sin of videogaming is sloth.

, | Games

According to an article on The Economist’s online magazine:

…games have got [sic] immeasurably better. They are often beautiful, narratively interesting, enriching and social. Indeed, it is possible that they are too good. Today’s games seem to be displacing careers, friendships and families, and thus stopping young people (particularly men) from starting real, adult lives.

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man. Oh, what? You have some data?

Between 2000 and 2015, the employment rate for men in their 20s without a college education dropped ten percentage points, from 82% to 72%. In 2015, remarkably, 22% of men in this group – a cohort of people in the most consequential years of their working lives – reported to surveyors that they had not worked at all in the prior 12 months. That was in 2015: when the unemployment rate nationwide fell to 5%, and the American economy added 2.7m new jobs. Back in 2000, less than 10% of such men were in similar circumstances.

And what’s that got to do with videogames?

Economists typically (and reasonably) assume that people tend to buy more things as they earn more money. But as they grow richer, they buy proportionately more of some things and less of others. Spending on necessities, as a share of all consumption, declines as incomes rise. Economists label “luxuries” the things that account for an increased share of spending as income goes up. There is a similar logic to leisure luxuries. As the amount of time people spend at leisure (as opposed to work) rises, some activities (like bathing or sleep) account for a shrinking share of total leisure time. Others the leisure luxuries account for more.

(What does it say about me that as I read that article, I imagined how that model would fit into The Sims?)

Among those predisposed to the leisure-luxury life, better games mean people are quicker to swap working hours for gaming hours; given nes-era [sic] gaming technology, a twenty-something might decline an opportunity for overtime work to have a little longer with Mario and Luigi. Now, a part-time job might be all they are willing to do, so good are the worlds and characters waiting at home. For those with the means, any hour on the job is an hour too much.

A lot of writer Ryan Avent’s anecdotes smack of videogaming guilt, a unique phenomena which doesn’t exist to the same degree for other forms of entertainment. His attempt to draw a parallel between life and game design is cringe-worthy, particularly his conclusion that the real world needs better dynamic difficulty adjustment. But his basic premise isn’t the usual mainstream alarmism. While I believe videogames belong alongside other forms of leisure and entertainment, their capacity to suck up time is unique. The long-term and widespread effects can’t be negligible.

FacebookEmailTwitterGoogle+