Excess unemployment is a burden to the economy. A few of its costs include the erosion of skills, reductions in the savings rate and slowed growth. It also negatively impacts less apparent metrics, such as pessimism toward the value of education. There are many factors that cause unemployment but here I will, unsurprisingly, discuss the potential effect that video games may have played in recent unemployment trends.
My proposition is as follows: free time is a luxury when scarce, but a burden when abundant. Work has always been helpful for filling people’s time. We’re urged to do something we love, because that’s where most of us will spend our time. Full time employment saves people from having too much free time, but for the first time, having too much free time is no longer such a burden. Leisure time for young men and women is being filled up with rewarding on and offline gaming experiences. This increases people’s tolerance for free time, thus reducing their incentive to work. In Australia, labour market competition is as high as ever, and many of us cringe at the mention of real wages. Furthermore, weekly working hours are longer than they’ve ever been. These are among the many factors that are likely discourage would-be labour market participants from entering the workforce. The increase in diverse and high-quality gaming options is of course not solely causing unemployment, but it makes for an attractive alternative. If gaming addictions aren’t explicitly causing people to quit their jobs, they’re certainly lengthening the time individuals spend frictionally unemployed. 40% of university graduates in Australia in 2017 are working in jobs that do not require a degree, and with young people living at home for longer and longer, it becomes possible to sustain a gaming addiction quite easily.
The ages between 20 and 30 are crucial years for an individual’s, and on a much broader scale, a country’s long term financial security. A high propensity for tertiary qualifications, work experience and the acquisition of marketable skills are essential for an individual, and the foundations for these are laid in the 20s. A decrease in employment reduces national taxation revenue, and in turn government spending. While it is unlikely that any knock-on effects will be felt imminently, long term economic prosperity is threatened when faced with a depleted, unskilled, and unqualified labour force. If you’ve read some of my previous articles, you will know that the 20s happen to be the primary age bracket worldwide for video gaming, particularly in men.
The isolation of unemployment is far less significant than it used to be. The advent of online gaming, social media, streaming, team play and fully fledged online communities dedicated to each game creates a very welcoming environment for anybody wishing to spend days at a time online. Voluntary frictional unemployment becomes far more attractive as workers leave unfulfilling jobs to pursue fulfilling gaming pastimes. The attractiveness of escapism outweighing the reality of the workforce is a dangerously difficult choice for an increasingly high number of young and discouraged workers. Fantastically deep, complex and social campaigns and formats leave players feeling more rewarded and entertained throughout their gaming experiences. To me, this sounds a lot like what people seek in their everyday lives from employment. The main difference is of course that 99% of gamers don’t get paid to play. Let me reiterate that the relationship between unemployment and video games is one of both correlation and causation. I believe gaming must follow labour market trends, in that it is heavily influenced by the range of factors that have always caused unemployment. It is, however, somewhat causative to the extent that people are incentivised to remain unemployed for as long as they can afford, if it brings them a marginal benefit in utility.
I must not forget the family economics involved with this theory. Firstly, intra-house bargaining is likely to be thrown out of balance in a household where one party decides to play video games rather than work. Sub-optimal outcomes result from non-cooperative behaviour within a household. I recommend researching the game theory on cooperative vs non-cooperative behaviour in this context. Secondly, household dynamics will be changed, because a conflict of interest arises when not all parties behave altruistically towards the others. Gaming can be looked as a sort of stagnation of a party within a household. Individual utility maximisation is unlikely to maximise the utility of all members in this game. Lastly, there will be an inequality of bargaining power in a household with a gamer discouraged from work. Social norms and stigmas around gaming addiction would likely have a detrimental effect on family continuity and bonds.