Well, sorta… I turn 30 this year.
After reading through Athena’s post that rips apart the asinine argument that videogames turning us youths into unemployed basement dwellers, I knew that I needed to get something off of my chest. This may come off as a bit of a rant, but I want to let it serve as an open letter of sorts to all the people out there that think that videogames have been ruining lives and killing the job market.
Consider this a supplement to my other rant about The New York Times’ article.
And Here We Go
I’ve been in and out of work since the middle of last year. Technically, I’m currently out of work, having been accepted into a program that offered a sizable scholarship to help my pay for school and make ends meet. It wasn’t all roses and sunshine when I started college though.
Brace yourself, this is a long read.
My family is pretty well off as far as statistics go. I won’t delve into the numbers, but when I started my college education in 2005, they were living comfortably. I, on the other hand, was not (that’s no fault of theirs though).
I found myself wedged into the gap between being considered too well-off to deserve financial aid, and not having a family that could afford to send me off to college. So I struggled, paying for tuition with student loans. After a month of living in my studio apartment in Albuquerque, in a bad neighborhood, I found a job working as a night stockroom worker at a Target store that was in the process of being remodeled.
Now when I say “bad neighborhood”, I mean that it was honestly a bad neighborhood. Bad stuff happened throughout my time there, like my car being broken into the first night I was there, being solicited by drug dealers in broad daylight, and my block being locked down because the local SWAT team was tracking down an active shooter in the area. It wasn’t like I was living in Compton in the ’90s, but in retrospect it was pretty sketchy.
And that was the best that I could afford on $7.00 an hour.
In my time attending college on and off over the course of 12 years, I’m finally around to the point of having something to show for it. During that time, I’ve been an avid gamer, and I’ve worked my ass off trying to keep my head above water. My parents helped me out a number of times when I couldn’t quite make ends meet, but I did the best I could do as a moderately irresponsible and dumb kid.
Eventually, I moved from New Mexico to Oklahoma, in an attempt at a fresh start. I enrolled in a state university and began taking classes so I could join the Marines as an officer to fly helicopters (hopefully). After all, I aced the aptitude tests, passed my MEPS evaluations, and showed an affinity for flight systems.
Then I met Jennifer, the love of my life. Her presence in my life helped stabilize me, forced me to re-evaluate my priorities, and I knew that I needed to do whatever I could for her. She stole me away from a life alone. To this day, she’s been my motivating force, providing a suitable mix of harsh truths and loving encouragement. I wouldn’t be who I am without her.
She was there for me when a tornado ripped through my neighborhood and turned my world upside-down. I had already been applying for a new job when that tornado uprooted my life, and my boss from Walgreens calling to coerce me to come to work when I had no sleep and a disaster zone to clean up was the final straw.
I took an interview at GameStop the next day, and would later start as a Game Advisor. I eventually dropped out of college and proceeded to work my ass off for promotions, until I lucked into a Store Manager position.
What A Tangent!
Sorry about that. I delved pretty deeply into my past. Trust me, it will all make sense soon.
The point I’m trying to make is that I apply myself at work, and I’ve always been one to work as hard as reasonably possible. When I commit to something, like a job or my wife, I give my all.
My work at Kodak was no different; I did every crap job imaginable, but I gave no less than 100%. I cleaned the floors, served as an assistant and underling to everyone else (including other temps), and even had the pleasure of doing yard work (despite my boss knowing I have skin cancer); not to mention that I did all that manual labor despite suffering from an extremely painful hernia. It was my only choice, because I couldn’t find other work.
So imagine my frustration in July of last year, when my temp agency’s client, Kodak, let me go.
I left work early on a Friday to take my mother to a doctor’s appointment to get an MRI scan of her spine about 3 1/2 hours away, but I couldn’t find a supervisor. My immediate Kodak supervisor had left for the day for personal reasons, and the next person in line was nowhere to be found. My temp agency contact never spoke to me, so it didn’t occur to me to get a hold of her.
I went to work Saturday for a 9 1/2 hour shift and worked through my breaks. However, when I returned to work Monday morning, my Kodak supervisor called me into his office to let me know that I had voluntarily abandoned my job, and that he was firing me.
It was avoidable, but I felt my track record of no prior infractions would have at least earned me the benefit of the doubt.
I was out of work for over two months, and it was the worst experience I can think of to this day. I filed for unemployment, and was granted benefits, only to later have my former temp agency come back with an appeal, claiming that I turned down an suitable job offer of theirs. A “suitable” job offer that would require me to commute two hours a day and drop out of college, for a job offering $12 an hour. I had previously indicated before I started work with them that I would not be willing to commute more than 15 minutes.
Eventually, the appeal resulted in a tribunal. The officiate ruled that I had not turned down a suitable job offer because it was in conflict with the terms of my contract, but by leaving work early that Friday, I had abandoned my job.
Fair enough. The ruling resulted in me having to pay back every cent of my unemployment benefits under penalty of fines and jail time, and the inability to collect unemployment for an undisclosed amount of time.
Being Unemployed Is Stressful Enough
Remember earlier when I said that being unemployed was the worst experience of my life? I wasn’t exaggerating. It really was the worst.
Looking for work is stressful enough, but to be looking while under the gun of trying to make ends meet while your spouse works to make up the deficit in income is something else entirely. I know that she went through great pains to convince me that she wasn’t resentful towards me for spending time at home while she worked and attended her courses, but the thought of her busting her ass while I sat at home between classes ate me up inside.
It still does, even now as I am taking part in a research project for my scholarship. Despite being required to devote 350 hours to my research over a two month period, I still feel like I should be working in addition to that.
I’ve coped with stress over the years by playing video games, and I’ve played a lot of video games lately. Playing games and writing gives me an outlet that would just be filled with something else. There’s only so much I can reasonably do in a day’s time and a limited number of applications I can fill out before scraping the bottom of the barrel. Even when I started scraping the bottom of the barrel, and applying for jobs that paid far below what I needed, I still felt as if I wasn’t doing enough.
I still feel that way. Having free time feels like a burden when you’re out of work. It makes you feel like you’re a worthless sack of crap.
It’s not always a simple matter of finding something that gives you money. Sometimes you have physical constraints that limit what you can apply to do, sometimes you need a job to work around another job, sometimes
you have a master’s degree and are labeled as “too qualified” because they can get the labor cheaper from someone elseyou’re flipping resumes and waiting to hear back from prospective employers. Sometimes the jobs don’t offer you as many hours as you needed or wanted.
Sometimes you just wind up with more time on your hands than you expected, or even wanted.
And maybe no one’s ever said this, but video games are sort of fun to play and make the endless hours of waiting for phone calls a little more bearable.
The best job I could land after getting canned by Kodak was a job at a clothing store in the next town over. Despite having numerous, valuable skills, and a resume which shows that I’m a dedicated, qualified employee, I couldn’t get a job.
When ACE Hardware answered my call, finally, they told me that they already had plenty of applications from other students. Sherwin-Williams was replacing a college student who had worked there for over eight years, and wanted another long-term, pharmacy student to fill the position. One bank I applied hired another student with little-to-no money handling experience.
Tractor Supply, numerous banks, and countless retail stores never bothered to call me back. My own university didn’t feel I was a good pick to work in the kitchen, let alone at the college at all. The clothing store location I originally applied to passed off my application to the location that ended up hiring me, even though they themselves were looking for employees.
During that time, I wrote posts here and played video games. I had a ton of time on my hands, waiting for phone calls and praying that someone would hire me. Worse still, the clothing store that hired me could only offer me 10 hours a week; about 20 hours a week shy of what I was looking for. When I was offered another job at a water park by one of my customers who liked my customer service skills, I later found that I’d only be able to work on the weekends, and was left with the choice to work 5 hour shifts, or 13 hours shifts (with one 30-minute break).
I couldn’t find extra work that would fit in with my new work schedule, and the 18 hours of college courses I was taking during the week. I eventually left that job after being offered the scholarship, because the summer hours at the water park would mean I’d be working 40 hours a week, leaving no time for me to devote to my internship.
A Word To The Previous Generations
Those jobs that previous generations were able to get with no qualifications or education don’t exist anymore. Just ask my wife if you think that being a bank teller means you can earn a decent paycheck. Doing anything in retail short of running a store doesn’t pay the bills, and even then you’re lucky if you make a decent paycheck. Working in manufacturing pays just well enough to keep you from starving, as long a you don’t have a family.
If you’re lucky enough to have a decent work history, you’re difficult to employ, even if you indicate that you’re willing to be paid far below what your level of experience is actually worth. Low-paying, entry-level jobs require experience, but don’t compensate accordingly.
If you decide to try getting an education, you live at the mercy of student loans and the hope that you’ll stumble into a scholarship that can help you afford your tuition and books. If you work, you sacrifice the ability to land internships you need to be competitive in the job market after college, and you’re lucky if your job pays enough to put anything more nutritious than Maruchan ramen and Kraft Mac & Cheese in your cupboard.
Quite frankly, the job market is crap right now, and sometimes folks need something to take their minds off their debt and responsibilities that doesn’t involve alcohol. Many people of the younger generations (like myself) play videogames as a way to escape from the daily grind that looms over them constantly. If they have free time to be able to play games, it’s likely not because they quit the workforce to be a bum. They likely play games because they can’t sleep, are in between jobs, are underemployed, or just can’t find work at all.
Hell, at least if they’re playing games, they aren’t spending all of their time watching TV or staring at a wall. But apparently spending an average of 17 hours a week watching TV is socially acceptable, while playing video games 5-10 hours a week is not.
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