Video Games Aren’t Addictive. Life Just Sucks

When you see the unfocused and bloodshot eyes of a gamer three days into a Wolfenstein binge, you’ll be tempted to call them addict.

You’d be wrong.

In a recent column, I wondered if tech writers were overestimating the draw of social media and missing how much boredom and feelings of powerlessness drive our behavior. A new study on video games, a medium far more engaging than social media, offers proof I’m right.

Researchers at Cardiff University asked 2,316 adult online gamers about their health, physical activity and lifestyle. At the start of the study, only nine participants reported experienced distress as a result of their gaming. By the end of the survey period, none reported distress from gaming.

The study participants reported feeling stress from outside of gaming, though. The researchers found that people who displayed some of the proposed symptoms of gaming addiction were unhappy in other areas of life, such as relationships or their professional life.

Video games didn’t seem like a main driver of behavior and emotions for the study participants, which is a sign that video games are a hobby, not an addiction. When you’re truly addicted to something, it controls your life. Everything in your life revolves around it. Video games seem to be a way to escape the things that are actually exerting control over modern life, like dwindling economic opportunities.

Economists seem eager for the opposite to be true. Last year, a study found that young men without college degrees are rejecting work to live at their parents home and busy themselves with video games. The economists behind the study seem perplexed that the gamers would choose games over productive lives in a robust economy. They seem to ignore a reality about the contemporary employment: today’s jobs pay worse and offer less security than the ones available to previous generations entering the work force.

The story offers fairly compelling evidence that conditions in the material world are driving people into video games. And it’s not hidden, either. This is the first sentence of the article: “Danny Izquierdo, a 22-year-old who lives with his parents in Silver Spring, Md., has found little satisfaction in a series of part-time, low-wage jobs he’s held since graduating from high school.” Another gamer is quoted saying he wishes he could find a career like his grandfather, who joined the phone company after high school and worked there for decades but doesn’t believe there’s no option to do that.

And then it notes that low income households spend more time playing video games than wealthy ones. The researchers believe that video games are keeping young men out of the workforce but they are mistaken. The conclusion is not just obvious, it’s smacking them in the face: the workforce has little need for these young men; playing games passes the time they’d otherwise spend building a life.

A 2016 Princeton study found that the overwhelming majority of the 10 million jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were part time, independent contractor work.

In August, a CareerBuilder study found that low paying jobs, defined as jobs paying less than $14.25 an hour, are growing at a faster rate than jobs offering higher pay.

These aren’t the kinds of jobs that you can build a life around. You’re not going to be able to support a partner or afford a home on a part time job with no security. Burning through a couple of days on a video game seems like a sensible reaction to a situation that often lacks better options.