Sunday, July 16, 2017

Videogames Uber Alles

What would we do without behavioral science? New research has shown that an increasingly large number of young men is spending more time playing video games in their parents’ basements than on the job.

Reported in the Wall Street Journal, the report showed that:

... since 2000, men who would otherwise be working are instead being drawn into immersive virtual worlds, giving up paychecks in the process.

By the numbers:

The paper’s authors note that 15% of younger men who weren’t students didn’t work in the prior year as of 2016, a notable increase from the 8% who didn’t work in 2000.

The rise of gaming “accounts for 23 to 46 percent of the decline in market work for younger men during the 2000s,” the paper’s authors write. For men ages 21 to 30, hours worked fell by 12% between 2000 and 2015, compared with a decline of 8% in hours worked for men 31 to 55.

The authors suggest that video games are addictive. Who knew?

These young videogame dropouts are now averaging 520 hours a year on the computer, with 60% of that time devoted to videogames, dwarfing other pursuits like socializing with friends in the real world.

The paper’s authors see the decline in work due in large part to rising game quality that draws essentially young men in, siren-like. “It is possible that individuals develop a habit (or addiction) for such activities.”

Are they miserable and unhappy? Not at all. They are more happy than the men who are working. Better yet, they are fully supported by their parents:

What’s more, these men are reporting higher levels of happiness compared with those who work, and they’re drawing on the support of mom and dad to stay there.


Instead, they’re enabled by family members. The researchers found that nearly 70% of these men who aren’t working lived with a close relative in 2015, versus 46% in 2000.

Yet, the Journal suggests that we have a serious correlation/causation problem. Is there a correlation between increased video game playing and unemployment? Is there a correlation between increased video game playin and employability? Or does the one cause the other.

Neel Kashkari raises the issue:

The paper is “somewhat controversial,” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari said Tuesday. “There’s some data supporting it, but it’s somewhat far-fetched” to think games are entirely behind what’s happening, he said.

Mr. Kashkari said Japan offers a reference point. “Japan has a lot of video games, too, and they’re not seeing the same effect that we are seeing here,” he said.

We may draw several salient conclusions.

First, behavioral economists like Dan Ariely are in the habit of justifying their bad advice by saying that when people take it—when they ask rude and intrusive questions on a first date—they are happier. The next time you hear this, recall that young men playing video games in the basement are significantly happier than are their peer who are out working. Feelings of intense happiness are not necessarily a sign of anything more than excessive stimulation.

Second, what does it say about today’s American parents that they are underwriting and financing this addiction? Doesn’t this suggest that we are suffering from a severe shortage of Tiger Moms and Dads? Can you imagine the Tiger Mom tolerating this sloth?

Third, for all I know, the moral desuetude of young American men, their embrace of sloth and dereliction, their rejection of responsibility as adults … has something to do with what Christina Hoff Summers called the war against boys. If boys in Japan and Hong Kong do not indulge in the same behavior, it could be that something in the American culture denigrates boys to the point where they lose all initiative. It could be that we have so thoroughly destroyed the role of the male breadwinner than many young men no longer believe that it is worth the trouble to try. They suffer from what appears to be a permanent Peter Pan Syndrome.


trigger warning said...

It seems obvious to me, ignoring for the moment the reams of studies emanating from academic business and behavioral "science" faculties fully colonized by Proglodytes, that throughout the millennia human beings have worked because if they did not work they would die. It's a point so obvious it's noted in Genesis.

However, people have Progressed, or "evolved" if you like that word, and now, in the West, there is sufficient accumulated wealth sloshing around that it seems obvious that work should be fulfilling, authentic, satisfying. What color is your parachute?

Why, even some billionaires (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg) are proposing a minimum guaranteed income (as it happens, as a callow youth I beat the streets and voted for George McGovern and that exact "new idea" in 1972). But, as it turns out, the "new idea" is not very new, and is in fact a staple of BBC dramas sneering at the Victorian idle rich. With a minimum guaranteed income, people can check out and learn to play the rebec, dabble [ahem] in menstrual art, or simply play video games via the modern high bandwidth, digital version of the stereoscope. I owned a View-Master myself.

So I disagree with the "scientific" notion that young men are checking out because of a War on Boys (an idea with which I have some sympathy) or the notion of "rising game quality" (the Victorian rich certainly lacked "game quality", if not loos).

Having said that, I have no problem with parents supporting their offspring in idle pursuits. Nor do I have a problem with Mark Zuckerberg spending his billions (although I suspect he has designs on my resources as well) to mollify and pacify the burgeoning Safe Space crowd. Not sure who will pick up the garbage and the >de rigeur recycling bins, but they tell us that AI and robotics will have that problem solved very soon.

I just hope I'm around to watch when the Venezuela Point is reached and the money runs out.

David Foster said...

Here's a well-written article by one of the academics cited in the WSJ piece:

"To summarize, technology for lower-skilled workers has both reduced labor demand and potentially reduced their labor supply by increasing their reservation wage."

I would note that not only has technology reduced labor demand (this is nothing new, which people seem to lose sight of), work process changes have also made many jobs less-satisfying. (Again, this is nothing new--the unpleasant aspects of working on the assembly line were the real reason why Henry Ford had to pay his workers $5/day...but the disaggregation and micromanagement of work has also spread to many other areas, in some of which it lacks the efficiency justification of the assembly line)

Now, one could say that there have always been leisure-time activities that competed with work...playing baseball, for example, or just hanging out at the pub....but they weren't being *systematically designed* to be all-involving in the way that today's videogames are.

David Foster said...

Highly related--from 2010:

"James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle “Avatar” may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora." (CNN)

According to the article, there have been more than 1000 posts to a forum for people trying to cope from the depression they experienced after seeing this film..and not being able to stay within it permanantly.

(Via Neptunus Lex, who said: “Some folks don’t get the point. You have to come home when it’s over.)

When I saw this story, I immediately thought of the old Chinese opium dens…which were largely inhabited by people whose lives were so miserable that their desire to disappear in dreams was entirely understandable.

But what misery or bleakness are the would-be permanant habitu├ęs of the Avatar den seeking to escape?

David Foster said...

See the comment thread for my 2010 post about Avatar...lots of interesting thoughts

for example, from Lexington Green:

"People now increasingly have the prospect of escape from lumpy reality. If the reality is that your reality is too lumpy to bother with, there are increasingly alternatives other than suicide and drug addiction.

We will see a migration of unhappy, unattractive, unsuccessful people into virtual fantasy worlds, and they will “commute” to work in “meatspace” to sustain their more compelling and satisfying virtual existence.

I remember the power of fantasy role playing games for unpopular teenagers — including me — when it was just cardboard counters, hexagon maps, paper, pencils and dice. Now the appeal is much more powerful, and that trend is not only continuing but rapidly increasing."

Shaun F said...

Can I frame it this way - Would you rather be playing video games at home high with all your on line peers who you like, or say doing some shit job at Starbucks with co-workers you hate?

I'm so glad I'm not young.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Sounds a bit like watching someone who is high. Kind of like a chemically-induced neurocosmological stupor. We (those who live in reality) look at them (the drug users) and recognize they're not connected to reality. You can see it.

Are we talking about an addiction? If yes, what are the symptoms? How do their lives precipitously deteriorate? That's what happens with drugs and compulsions.

If they're just blissfully checked out and receiving universal income, perhaps the basement ibecomes a modern state-supported sanitarium (of sorts). Outpatient government assistance.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Michael Jackson thought he was Peter Pan. He created his entire life as an alternative reality. And he died at 50.

Sam L. said...

If young men played video games on the job, they'd be fired!

Anonymous said...

Well, the Japanese government sees it as an issue, with the administration estimating that 500,000 teenagers are addicted to the internet. Centres are popping up across the country offering a digital detox, where visitors are told to leave their device at the door and embrace some time away from their smartphones, tablets or computers.

The Independent; June 2015 - Rich Lara

Ares Olympus said...

In the 90s after college I lived with 8 male friends in a big house and it was somewhat disturbing to see how immersed some of my friends would be when they got a new game. Some games could take 50-100 hours to "solve", and even when they'd win, they'd go back and see if they could raise their score, see what the fastest way to win was.

It makes sense that for many males computer games are attractive sources of low-risk self-esteem. And dopamine is the chemical pathway, every time you solve a new puzzle, reach a new level. Real live doesn't have that sort of intensity and control.

I admit the long declining "Male labor force participation rate" is a disturbing trend, even if it is much older than video games. But more than video games, there are simply unlimited entertainment distractions now, instant access.

Even smart phones now are practically dopamine-injection systems with unlimited distractions. I have to think in the future we'll stop letting everything be "free", and taking control over our own media time. Its need is obvious for children, but even many adults are vulnerable. So in the near future people may say "Siri, disable all phone features except emergencies for 60 minutes." And you can also ask "Siri, how many hours have I spent staring at this screen today?" And if you see that sliding from 30 minutes to 60 minutes to 4 hours/day over a few years, you'll know there's a problem. So between barriers and feedback, at least we might measure our fall into a blissful hell of distraction.

So even besides the addicted gamers, it's a brave new world for all of us, and our cavemen brains were never "designed" for all the stimulation this new world can provide. It's no wonder we're not handling this well.