Commentary

Habitual Video Game Use Is Not a Substitute for Real Work

John Stonestreet
By John Stonestreet | June 28, 2017 | 3:26 PM EDT

(Wikimedia Commons Photo)

Are video games worthy of all the time and attention they get from young men these days? One writer thinks so. But he’s wrong.

If there is a stereotype that lives up to reality these days, it’s the unemployed, disaffected, twenty-something American male who haunts his parents’ basement, addicted to World of Warcraft. In the year 2000, 35 percent of young men without bachelor’s degrees lived in their parents’ homes. Today a majority do, and among the unemployed, that number is a staggering 70 percent. According to University of Chicago economist Erik Hurst, these men are spending the overwhelming bulk of their time playing video games.

Since 2000, writes Hurst, young men of prime employable age have increased their leisure time by an average of four hours a week. The vast majority of that time goes to video games. In total, the time these guys spend on computers and consoles has nearly doubled. Hurst admits of his own 12-year-old son, “If it were up to him, I have no doubt he would play video games 23 and a half hours per day… I am not sure he would ever eat.”

The sheer scale of all this has led to an unprecedented social transition: millions of young men, unable or uninterested in finding employment, are simply choosing instead to unplug from society and immerse themselves in digital distraction.

But in a recent piece at Reason magazine, Peter Suderman argues that it’s actually not bad news.  “Video games, like work,” he writes, “are basically a series of quests comprised of mundane and repetitive tasks.” Playing them is like having a job, he assures us, one in which “the game is your boss.”

Of course, games don’t provide paychecks, eye contact, a better world, relational security, or produce anything of lasting value. But, Suderman assures us, these young men are actually happy! Gaming offers a kind of psychological anesthetic—a job substitute that numbs the pain of unemployment and keeps young men from taking their frustration out in less socially acceptable ways.

These digital opiates provide what he calls “a baseline level of daily happiness,” “serving as a buffer between the player and despair.” As one game designer put it, they fulfill a fantasy of “work, purpose, and social and professional success.” Video games, concludes Suderman, “offer a sort of universal basic income for the soul.”

Suderman, himself an avid gamer, even goes further: “Should young men work more and play games less?” he asks. “What obligation do people have to work, raise families, or be conventionally productive in their lives? I won’t try to answer [those questions]. I’m not sure anyone can.”

Well, Mr Suderman, I’ll give it a shot. As someone who’s worked with young men for years, it’s not okay. Habitual video game use is not a substitute for real work or, for the young wives I’ve spoken with who married video game addicts, neither is it a substitute for real relationships. We’re not created for distraction.

As Russell Moore once observed, the “fake war” of video games parallels another epidemic: the “fake love” of Internet pornography. Both “simulate something for which men long,” Though games—unlike porn—are fine in moderation, they share a tendency to become addictive substitutes that sap users of their desire for the real thing.

Young men today don’t just lack employment; more and more they lack vision—of the good life, of direction and purpose for being. That’s why my co-author Brett Kunkle and I dedicated more than one chapter in our new book “A Practical Guide to Culture” to this epidemic of distraction by the glowing rectangles all around us.

One of the most important things parents can give their children, especially young men, are boundaries when it comes to games and distractions. But even more important, a sense of their God-given calling to actively engage the world around them.

John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.