Big Kids in Tough Times

A generation of adult gamers trying to make the most of a struggling world

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Among Us by InnerSloth

I recently played Among Us with my cousins. It’s one of two games this year — along with Biden HQ in Animal Crossing — that was popular and casual enough to be used as a political platform in the contentious US election. AOC did a livestream on Twitch and hit over 400,000 viewers. The game involves trying to complete tasks on a ship with your crewmates while trying to figure out who’s the alien imposter trying to kill everyone. This, oddly enough, also mirrors the 2020 US election.

It was fun to see my sweet, innocent cousins try to lie while getting away with sabotage and murder. I was definitely the worst player of the bunch. I had no idea what I was doing, so I tried to focus on doing my tasks but would always be the first to get killed. Whenever I was randomly assigned the Imposter, that was even worse. I’m a terrible liar and couldn’t get away with murder no matter how hard I tried.

My cousins are part of the younger generation of kids on my mom’s side. They’re anywhere from grade 8 teens, to university students, and early graduates. I’m 35 going on 36. I’m the middle child in my own family, and part of the older generation of cousins, but I still love to play games whenever I can. One of my cousins actually gave me her Playstation 4 so I could play Last of Us 2 and God of War because they’ve been on my list for a while. I was really excited about it, even though it seemed like no big deal for her. She’s been gaming most of her life like me and the rest of the cousins. It’s just a part of who we are.

This seems to be the norm for the Millennial and post-Millennial generations starting to come into their prime. I’ve noticed that many of my very responsible, very adult co-workers, with and without kids, love to play games too. It was actually by boss and his work buddies that brought me, and other newcomers, into their board game lunchtime circle when I first started at the company. When COVID hit and we locked down, he still played Rainbow 6 online with whoever he could. I also had a friend couple that lived in my neighbourhood, that have a love for tabletop games, Minecraft, and Lego that their son shares deeply. My just-married younger sister plays Nintendo Switch and watches anime with her new Funko Pop! collecting husband. My two best friends are super hyped for Cyberpunk 2077 to come out this holiday season. There is a part of us that doesn’t want to let go of the fun and freedom of youth.

Millennial Woes

Much of the Millennial generation, of which I’m at the cusp, were faced with a unfortunate set of circumstances growing up. In the post-war period, North America took the lead in growth and prosperity. It became the land of opportunity and freedom where the university degree was a golden ticket to the middle-class. So, these expectations bled into our timeline, and we were constantly pressed to perform without knowing these beliefs were now becoming outdated. Instead of riches and stability, it turned out a lot more like a life-long purgatory. Degrees in hand, we were faced with a stagnant economy, ending up being the first generation to live at home longer than ever before. This isn’t by choice, as many upset Boomers would like you to believe. Many Millenials would love nothing more than to start their own independent lives but just seem stuck. This is partly because of the extra college years themselves, but much of it comes down to the dollar.

Housing prices in the past decade have risen at over twice the rate of the wage. It makes sense if you follow the dual-income trap that Elizabeth Warren laid out years prior. Double the income meant double the price. I’m all for gender equality and narrowing the pay gap women face, yet this was the unfortunate side effect of splitting the role of breadwinner. Now a single person would have to earn nearly twice as much to have the same buying power as the last generation. This rapid inflation coupled with diminished job prospects created all kinds of lingering anxiety. Not to mention the string of recessions from the housing crisis of 2008, the oil crash of 2016, and the latest Covid-19 shutdown. It’s all more than enough to push the idea of having a future to the back of our minds. Might as well focus on having fun right now.

Rich Brains, Poor Brains, and Avocado Toast

There have been many studies on the effect of poverty and wealth on human psychology, ranging from its impact on greed and power to its effects on life choices. One involving an explicitly rigged game of Monopoly saw those, who were given an unfair advantage, start to take credit for their good fortune and pity those given the short stick. Others have shown that the non-wealthy are essentially invisible to the wealthy.

The one finding that always stuck with me was the impact of poverty on time. Money doesn’t buy happiness (at least not past 60-70k), but it does buy time. Those in poverty struggle to see into the future, to plan, because there isn’t a means to. The immediate threats of living paycheck to paycheck narrows people’s focus, stuck in tunnel vision. Saving for a house? Starting a family? Retirement? Those are the last things on a their mind with rent and food costs growing, and a stack of bills consuming their shrinking account balance.

At one point, the anti-Millennial forces narrowed in on something peculiar. Avocado toast. The argument was that kids were wasting their money on frivolous expenses, like $15 avocado toast, instead of penny pinching and living within their means. It caught wind and fanned the flames of the generational battle. To clear the air, BBC did the math to see if there was something to this avocado argument. If the cost of once-a-day precious toast money was saved, it would take 44 years to afford a 20% down-payment on a house in lovely Vancouver. And that’s not even the highest number on the index. That honor goes to London, UK with 67 years. At the lowest end, 9 years are needed for Mexico City. It turns out the whole thing was as ridiculous as it sounded. Oh yeah, the original rant on avocados was written by a millionaire. Just like the Monopoly players that were given good fortune, he probably believes he earned what he has and everyone who doesn’t have it should simply work harder.

Gaming in Tough Times

It’s easy to think that these kids just need to cut back. That’s probably what many in the last generation also did. But the looming doom and gloom really lies in the numbers. Cutting back in this new world is not enough when everything is so much more expensive. Real change will only be possible when the wages and economy improve, which, I’m starting to believe, may not happen for us. There is a massive aging population poised to create a heavy silver weight on governments and economies, a shift of power and wealth from the West to the East, climate change, and a global pandemic with no immediate end in sight. It is literally the downfall of an era that Millennials are inheriting. We are stuck between an expensive rock and an N95 mask.

So, rather than focusing on the insanity and misfortune of the world around us, we try to focus on making the most with what we are able to have. We play our games. Buy our toys. Enjoy our avocado toast. We pay our rent. Polish our resumes. Take pride in our work. We care for the environment. We recycle and compost. We make ourselves out to be respectable and educated people while living a humble life. This is just a different time with modern challenges that, in some ways have stunted our growth as a generation, but that also makes us appreciate and cherish the good that came from our youth.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to hold onto the things we loved as kids and wanting to delay growing up until the world is ready for us to do so. And when did it become such a bad thing to have some fun?

A software designer-developer figuring out how the brain bits work and sharing the findings along the way

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