Latimer: Video games and unemployment

Kelowna columnist Paul Latimer says video games are contributing to unemployment

By Dr. Paul Latimer

Summer is here and the kids are out of school. It’s prime time for family road trips, camping, lazy days at the beach… and of course some good old fashioned boring time at home. If you have teens or middle schoolers, days at home likely means video games.

Gaming is a massive industry, raking in more than $100 billion last year – and it has exploded in popularity and quality over the past couple of decades. There are games now to appeal to virtually everyone and they range from simple single player smartphone apps to incredibly complex immersive role-playing games in which whole communities of players are linked and inhabiting a virtual world together.

Though there are games for almost anyone’s taste, gaming in general still has a particular appeal to boys and young men – and since its beginnings there has been concern over its effects on their lives.

A study published by several economists last year suggested high quality video games are contributing to a decline in employment among young men. This study found from 2000-2015, the employment rate for men in their 20s with no college education dropped 10% to 72%. Young men were more likely to live in their parents’ homes and remain unmarried. What’s more, for each hour less the group spent in work, they increased an hour in leisure activities – mostly gaming.

During this period, game quality and complexity improved dramatically and they also became more affordable.

Though this is an interesting link, it does not prove video games were the cause of lower employment. It can also be pointed out that the labour market has become more difficult for young people in the last 15 years and salaries have stagnated.

Almost half of young people finishing university end up working in a job that does not require a degree. Combine this with continuously climbing housing costs and the baby boom generation remaining in their careers well past what was long considered retirement age, and it’s not surprising to learn young people are having a harder time reaching their full employment potential.

Video games may very well be simply entertainment – time-filling distraction but not a pernicious force sucking the will for gainful employment from the minds of young people.

So – while I would advocate for summer hours to be filled getting out into the outdoors, doing something creative, reading, socializing, exploring and learning – I also wouldn’t begrudge a few entertaining hours of video games. With similar limits as other screen time, video games are not necessarily more harmful than that.

If you are concerned your teen is spending all his or her waking hours gaming to the exclusion of other typically enjoyable activities, there may be an underlying issue. Withdrawal and isolation are symptoms in depression and other mental health conditions. If you believe there is a personality change occurring, speak with your doctor. Help is available.

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