Playing With a Broken Controller: What Video Games Teach Us about Unemployment

No matter his age, a man needs something to read when he is sitting on the toilet.

At least that’s what I told my girlfriend when, the other day, she caught me sneaking into the bathroom with my laptop.

While I was sitting in there I opened up a quote by E.B. White.

E.B. White, of course, authored the elementary school standard, Charlotte’s Web.

Not to be confused with the movie Babe. Which Wikipedia says beat out Apollo 13 for the best visual effects Oscar in 1995? No kidding.

White also coauthored the English language equivalent of Mao’s Little Red Book, which American college freshman will recognize as The Elements of Style.

Anyway, what White said was, “The time not to become a father is eighteen years before a war.”

I would counter with the time not to become someone’s child is 22 years before a global recession, as shown by a 2010 study by the International Labor Organization.

“The classic premise that youth are more vulnerable to economic shocks” is true the ILO said, and “young people are the ‘first out’ and ‘last in’ during times of economic recession.”

In the year since that report was first published things have hardly improved at all. Global youth unemployment has stalled at 12.6 percent. That’s roughly 74.6 million people, aged 15 to 24, all over the world, with no j-o-b.

In the United States alone the number of unemployed youth, as of July 2011, was 4.1 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 4.4 million a year ago.

Though the numbers suggest things are improving, the rate of recovery seems a snail’s pace.

From the time we, the American youth, were introduced to Oh! The Places You’ll Go on our first day of kindergarten, to the day we set foot on college campuses, the overarching theme to our education has been work hard, graduate and, no matter what you studied, take the first job that requires you to wear adult cloths that passes through your inbox.

The possibilities of an American diploma are supposed to be endless. Now it feels more like that same diploma is nothing better than an invite to the world’s lamest party.

A party called the unemployed American labor force. Fourteen million people will be in attendance. The keg will be kicked when we arrive.

Faith in the system we were raised on is fading. You can see it all over the country as people take to the streets and parks with their bongos and their camping gear in the name of the 99 percent.

Times are tough.

Confidence is shaken.

The future remains in question.

As we look outside and see the world as we have known it being sucked into that infinite clusterfuck of world economics, there has never been a better time to stay in, so to speak, and play video games.

Millions seem to agree. Despite hard times the video game industry has been on a bit of an uptick lately.

Fox Business recently reported sales Xbox consoles were up 20% in the month of October. Meanwhile, the AP recently reported video game publishing company Activision Blizzard Inc. had an increase in revenue to $754 million compared to $745 million last year.

And of course, there is Call of Duty 3: Modern Warfare, which made $400 million dollars in its first 24 hours on the market.

The day my older brothers broke my family’s regular Nintendo in a scuffle over who got to be Bo Jackson in Techmo Supwer Bowl was a long time ago, nearly 20 years now that I think about it.

But it seems like ancient history when you consider how the video game market has grown in order to become the, according to the December 10 issue of The Economist, 56 billion dollar monster it is today.

In 1982, Surgeon General C. Evert Koop was certain that video games, “cause aberrations in childhood behavior.”

Kids “are into it body and soul,” Koop was quoted by the A.P.’s C.W. Miranker, “everything is zap the enemy. There’s nothing constructive in the games.”

He could have been talking about Communist Martians from Space, which in 1982 at least would have given American children a thorough lesson on U.S. foreign policy.

Regardless, a handful of towns across the nation heard Koop’s warning loud and clear, and in a “trouble right here in River City” moment, either banned video game arcades all together or installed curfews to keep their children off the streets, off the joysticks and, just as Nancy Regan would have it, off the drugs.

But it was not long until video games moved into the home.

In my house, we eventually replaced the regular Nintendo with a Sega Saturn.

One game we had, I remember, was Virtua Fighter 2. I don’t think I ever won a single fight without getting help from one of my brothers.

I did however have my second introduction to alcohol with the white bearded character Shun Di, who’d drink from his wine skin after every fight.

My first introduction was my mom’s boyfriend at the time, who’d drink from a wine box after every dinner, but that’s another story all together.

From that point on really, in the way families replace dead pets, my family would replace our out dated video game systems with the latest model.

We had a Sega Dreamcast and played NBA 2k1.

We had a PlayStation 1 and played games like WCW vs. The World (the first video game I ever purchased), Space Jam, Tiger Woods ’99, and of course, the geek porn classic, Tomb Raider.

We had PlayStation 2 and played the whole GTA trilogy. We played NBA Street 1 and 2 and we played Red Dead Revolver.

I never beat any of those games.

Now that I think about it, I’ve never beaten a single video game in my life.

In his book, Everything Bad is Good for You, author Steven Johnson, in attempt to break the negative stereotypes of video games, such as their encouraging laziness and anti-social behavior, and leading to obesity and causing nocturnal emissions, and making children under the age of fourteen speak with a lisp, and whatever else there may be, writes, “The dirty little secret of gaming is how much time you spend not having fun.”

Johnson argues that when you encounter a level or a task that is challenging, you become engrossed in very deep problem solving process and gratification is ultimately delayed until you can crack the code, and beat the level.

At their best, Johnson argues, video games force the brain into a process of trial and error that, despite popular opinion, is actually beneficial to a person’s intellectual development.

And how can that be fun?

For me, however, the equation always seemed skewed a bit too far on the error side. For me, video games were just a pixelated conspiracy from the people of Sony to drive me crazy.

I would get so frustrated that I would throw remote controllers, punch walls, make personal insults about the person I was playing with; I even became violent with a friend of mine. Instead of cracking the code to beat the level, as Johnson said, I’d scream my head off, and then walk away from the system.

And just as I suspected, my experiences with video games are not unique.

A girl I work with who considers herself a gamer recently shared a similar story with me when she said she had to buy a whole new Xbox when, in a fit of frustration, she threw the entire system across the room of her apartment, and broke it.

No wonder sales are up 20%.

Maybe you know the feeling too.

For example, you’re playing Call of Duty or Madden NFL and you press the button to fire or throw to a receiver and the action doesn’t happen, and you end up being blasted in the face or sacked? And you know, you’ll sit there, sort of sarcastically tapping the button over and over again, and saying to your Xbox or PS3, “I pressed that button, I f***king pressed that button!”

You know that feeling?

Life feels a lot like that right now doesn’t it? Like we have been furiously pressing X for years now, trying to accomplish the objectives of the game we live in, but the system has responded by performing O.

The controller, the tool we have been given to play the game-our education, our sobriety- feels a bit like it is broken. Like it isn’t working for us the way it should be.

Years ago, if I were playing WWF Warzone, or Medal of Honor, I would be inclined to scream my head off and walk away from the Playstation.

But after doing that for years I’ve learned it won’t make me any better at the game.

But using the reset button and trying fresh just may.

I don’t play video games anymore but I can see plenty of things everywhere that should be reset, and a chance to press that button is coming this next November.

We saw in 2008 what youth can do to elections. We learned from that experience. Jobs or no jobs, it is no longer true that you must own property to vote. Which is something we, the American youth, should value. We should use our reset button and vote.

Because the controller may be broken but I don’t think the system is.

This article can be found, in a modified form on USA Today College, the link below.


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