Dear Mr Hurst,
I read the article by Graphics Editor Quoctrung Bui entitled Why Some Men Don’t Work: Video Games Have Gotten Really Good when it was published on the New York Times website last month. It was the author’s opening question that caught my attention: if innovations in housework helped free women to enter the labour force in the 1960s and 1970s, could innovations in leisure be taking men out of the labour force today?
This post persuaded me to read your paper Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men, which explains why you and your colleagues believe video games are responsible for reducing the amount of work completed by young men between 15 and 30 hours each year since 2004. It’s unfortunate that most of the general public won’t have the opportunity to do the same without paying $5 to the National Bureau of Economics; luckily for me, the nature of my job means I’m able to access it.
Now I have to admit I’m not the most scholarly person. I’m not a Professor of Economics with a PhD like yourself, and I guess you’d class me as one of those ‘lower-skilled workers’ you talk about – those uneducated undesirables ‘without a bachelors degree’. The majority of your paper therefore went over my head but I was able to understand its conclusion with a lot of effort. I won’t quote it here for the sake of copyright, but let me paraphrase:
Advancements in technology and gaming may have an effect on labour supply. It’s possible that individuals develop ‘a habit (or addiction)’ for the activity. The physical equipment and social aspect of gaming enhance the enjoyment received from the hobby. Therefore negative impacts to labour demand could have a negative effect on labour supply as individuals first increase their available time, then develop a taste or skills for gaming.
I said wouldn’t quote but the word ‘addiction’ is taken directly from your paper – and it’s one that’s frequently mentioned in discussions around video games despite there being no clear link. I would have thought that a higher-skilled person such as yourself may have already come across last year’s study published on the American Journal of Psychiatry website but I’ve included the link here in case you need it for reference. The implication that gamers are unable to control themselves, always desperate for their next digital fix, does nothing but perpetuate the tired stereotype and continue to hold us back.
Speaking of stereotypes, I couldn’t help but notice some of your paper’s preliminary findings discussed during your speech at the University of Chicago in July 2016. We all need career advice from time to time – even those ‘with a bachelors degree or more’ for whom the ‘labour market had been relatively strong relative to that of those with less schooling’ – so I feel it’s my duty to offer you the following well-meaning guidance. It’s never a good idea to resort to tropes so you may wish to steer clear of the following references during your next talk if you’d like to show the audience your intelligence:
If they are not working, how do these young men eat? We – the parents and relatives – feed them. When they are in our basements, they come up for food from time to time and raid our refrigerators. I have no information on whether or not they are showering… In summary, these younger, lower-skilled men are now less likely to work, less likely to marry, and more likely to live with parents or close relatives.
If you’re looking for an example of how to word an argument convincingly while still being based on fact, I can recommend The Youth Are Playing Videogames Instead Of Working! by Shelby Steiner published on the Falcon Game Reviews website. Although written as a response to the New York Times rather than to yourself, this post explains why it may not be as simple as blaming the reduction in working hours on video games. This information could prove useful if you ever consider conducting a follow-up to your original paper.
I’d like to offer you some final pieces of advice before I let you get back to your research, from one parent to another. In your speech you mention that you’re experiencing how technology has changed the value of leisure firsthand, then go on to talk about your 12-year old son and how you ration video games for him. Here’s the section I’m referring to in case you don’t recall:
He is allowed a couple of hours of video game time on the weekend, when homework is done. However, if it were up to him, I have no doubt he would play video games 23-and-a-half hours per day. He told me so. If we didn’t ration video games, I am not sure he would ever eat. I am positive he wouldn’t shower.
I’m the step-parent to a 10-year old boy and a sister who grew up with a younger brother, and unfortunately I have to tell you that this is absolutely normal behavior. There’s no child on this earth who wouldn’t choose to stay at home and do whatever the hell they wanted above going to school and doing homework. In addition, the showering thing – the teenage years are coming so you’ re going to have to get used to the smell for a while.
You may not wish to speak about your son in a similar way during any future speeches, however. We all know that nothing on the internet is private and he may not appreciate hearing you speak about him like this when he’s older. In addition, your tone suggests you may have some work to do when it comes to relating to your child so it may be a good idea to put the research down in favour of some father-son bonding every once in a while.
As to what you could do together during that time, I have a good suggestion. How about stepping away from your desk, leaving your office, and going home to play a video game with your son? Not only will it give you a more balanced view of gaming in preparation for your next paper; but you never know, you might just enjoy it.