Millennials, Gaming, and the Real WorldJuly 21, 2015
Spoiled. Dependent. Entitled. Clueless. If you’re a Millennial like me, then you’ve felt these words attributed to you at some point (they’re mostly seen in USA Today articles written by stuffy people who don’t truly understand our generation). Still, I feel that these words are increasingly used to describe who I am as a person even though they don’t actually describe me at all.
So why is this tied into gaming? Because video games are still a large reason why Millennials are stigmatized and looked down upon by our parents’ generation(s). Many still view gaming as an unnecessary distraction that keeps us from having a meaningful, fulfilling life in the real world. However, I’m here to state that video games are what keep me tethered to sanity as the world twists and morphs into something different than what was promised us as children.
Now when I say “promised” I’m not trying to sound ungrateful or critical – instead, I’m trying to paint a picture of what life was like for (some) Millennials growing up, and why I am the way I am today. As a child, things were a little simpler. I was born in 1986, a time where internet speeds were just creeping into the Mbit/s range and mobile phones were still working with analog technology. The world of smart phones, Facebook, and the internet as we know it today were far off. Technology and life were a lot slower, and we thought it would be that way forever.
My parents were young enough to understand both technology and the harsh realities of life. Still in their early twenties when I was born, they knew I’d have to start understanding technology to make it in life, but they couldn’t know how dependent on technology we’d all be some day. Still, they saw I had a knack for video games and bought me a Sega Genesis when I was 5 to get me acquainted with new tech. However, nothing could prepare me or any of us from the rapid changes that occurred through the 90s and 2000s.
You see, I was raised by a blue-collar family who’s mantra was “hard work = payoff”. If you simply worked hard enough at anything, it would pay off in one way or another. They told me that owning a home was part of the American Dream and that I would one day live that dream. Also, if I went to college, that life would unroll a red carpet for me to have any job my heart desired. Life as a 90s child was full of promise.
Twenty-three years later, I’m living in an apartment with high rent, paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, and I struggled to get the job I currently have after 8 months of unemployment. Life didn’t turn out the way my parents told me it would. I worked hard to be where I am today, I went to college and earned two degrees (both in science fields), and I planned on owning a home, yet the reality is a lot crueler than expectations.
Still, I (and several other Millennials I know) feel a bit cheated. This doesn’t come from a feeling of entitlement or laziness. Instead, it comes from frustration after years of being told one thing only to have something completely different (and worse) happen. College tuition kept going up; student loans became more and more predatory; the housing bubble burst; the value of a college degree decreased; these things all happened right around the time I was preparing to start my “adult life” out of college. This meant that all that preparation, all that hard work, led to massive debt, low job prospects, and a decision between paying off loans and getting a house. Growing up, technology appeared as if it’d made things seem so easy, yet they were actually quite difficult.
As a child growing up, I relied on a land line to call friends and find out movie times. I had to dial-up to access the internet. Video games and the internet were things I enjoyed between long and enjoyable romps outside with friends. Summers were filled with street hockey and capture the flag as much as (if not more than) Final Fantasy VII and Call of Duty. Technology was there, but simpler and not borderline omnipotent. The world was still analog.
Then the digital revolution happened. Companies and the world understood the importance of cell phones and the internet. Rapidly and without warning, the world went viral. The internet discovered cats, people discovered the internet, and business eventually became dependent on the World Wide Web. Many Millennials in their 20s (and 30s) can recall a time when technology was on the fringe of our lives, and now cannot seem to survive without a piece of technology shining in their face. The world flipped upside-down for Millennials in more ways than one, and as a result we’re left with a reminder of simpler times with nothing to show for it but difficulty and bitterness.
This may all seem a bit whiny, and that’s understandable. I’m sure every generation has hardships and they’ve come out of the other end no worse for wear. However, when most college graduation speeches today focus on adversity and the uphill battles we’ll face after graduation, it’s easy to see how Millennials (like me) can sound and act so jaded.
And now we come back to video games, because they’re not only a staple hobby for millions of Millennials: they’re a way to cope with the real world. As I said earlier, my parents wanted me to understand technology to survive in an ever-changing world. While video games provided many awesome benefits over the year (great hand-eye coordination, problem-solving acumen, social skills), the biggest one it provides today is a distraction.
Gaming isn’t going to earn me money and it isn’t going to get me a job. I’m likely an above-average gamer, and I have a backlog longer than I’d like to admit. I’ve been through collecting phases and times when I gave up gaming. But whenever times have gotten tough, my trusty consoles have always been there to give me comfort.
Video games are typically simple things: they have a goal, a path, resolution, and an ending. Some are longer than others and provide more to do on your journey, but many games are formulaic and thus easy to gravitate towards in an increasingly complex world. When the bank told me I couldn’t afford a house as I approach 30 years old, I was bummed out, but I found solace in the world of Final Fantasy I. I was able to block out the negative news and instead focus on gathering crystals to restore order to the world.
And ultimately, that’s what I want. I want a little bit of order to the chaos that is now my life. I’m scrambling every day to do what I need to do, then scrambling even more to do things that I want to do. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day, and each day I somehow feel like I’m getting further and further away from achieving my life goals. It almost feels like the world does need four mysterious heroes to save the world from chaos.
The reality is, the world is just a tough place to handle sometimes. I continue to work hard, I provide for my little family that I have, but sometimes I need an escape. Sometimes I need something more than what the world offers: simplicity. Sure, Millennials aren’t easy to understand, and we may seem ungrateful or whiny at times. But we lived in two separate worlds growing up, and today we now live in a harsh place with none of the promise we were given as kids. Contrary to many beliefs, video games are less of an escape from the real world, and more of a way to cope and stay sane. If the world becomes a better place as a whole, perhaps then we’ll cut our dependence on the psychological benefits of gaming (but not likely)
Do you agree that Millennials are simply a generation of disillusioned people who want a place to escape harsh reality? Or do you view gaming as a means to an end of numbness to avoid tackling the world head-on like an adult? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.