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By providing status and self-esteem, MMORPG play (pun intended) the same role as unions and workers social clubs did. An otherwise intelligent guy was told all day long to shut up. Then he would go to the Moose or Union Local and competently organise something complex to public thanks and recognition.

Yep. As Roissy would say, getting a steady but low-status job and becoming a beta-provider won't get a boy laid anyway, nowadays. Learn PUA, or WoW. Two different versions of "game". (Isn't that a picture of Roosh in David Wong's Cracked piece? Or just someone wearing his hat?)

Not sure about that blue woman, though.

Jacques - and if you believe that things like social clubs play a valuable role in creating social capital, trust, and other good things - the Putnam thesis...

As noted gaming expert David Wong writes, satisfying work requires autonomy, complexity, and connection between effort and reward, noting:

"Most people, particularly in the young gamer demographics, don't have this in their jobs or in any aspect of their everyday lives. But the most addictive video games are specifically geared to give us all three... or at least the illusion of all three."

That seems to me to be the real issue here, the failure of the modern economy to create satisfying work. We, as a society, have completely failed to determine what the market needs to do and ensure that it does it.

In my neck of the woods, the Moose hall was big enough to contain 500-600 guys and there were regular activities including a lot of socially useful and charitable ones. Now, even though there are the same numbers of workers in the iron ore plants and a 1000 more in the aluminum smelters, the Moose lodge could fit in my office.
Individually, there is no difference between being a hero to the WoW community and your city but socially , the former social capital was far more useful.
Just for fun: the aluminum plant HR administers psychological tests to potential recruits. Anyone interested in charitable activities is rejected as unfit for employment. Too easilly swayed by the sirens of unionization.

Jacques "Anyone interested in charitable activities is rejected as unfit for employment." I find this hard to believe. If it is true, that's really really sad.

It's an international phenomenon too. My father-in-law was a prominent and active member of the local social club in his home town in England, but it folded a few years ago, and the remaining members meet down the pub instead every so often.

Determinant: "the failure of the modern economy to create satisfying work."

What I find interesting is the way that autonomy and complexity is disappearing from jobs. Here's an example. My car's engine light came on the other day. Nick Rowe (who, in real life, is not the kind of @#$# who uses PUA routines) has this cool gizmo that reads cars' diagnostic codes. I attached the gizmo to the car and it flashed up P0133. Some on-line research revealed that this was either a defective oxygen sensor or, in the case of my particular car, meant that the computer needed to be reprogrammed. O.k., all of this is by way of background.

I took it into the dealer and explained the situation. A few hours later they called me up and said, "we've figured out the problem, it's a defective oxygen censor" At that moment I realized - those guys aren't looking under the hood and figuring out what's wrong. They've got the same gizmo as Nick has. They read the code, look in the book, and do whatever it says. No autonomy. No problem solving. No complexity. Just the pain of dealing with smart-ass customers who think they know what's wrong with their car.

I think that this is a provocative idea (that would be extremely depressing if true). That being said, why would the effect of gaming differentially target boys? Why would there not be parallel games for young women?

Or to put it another way, I wonder at the direction of causality. Could games have evolved because society has changed to make young men feel like they are not rewarded for participation? That seems jsut as plausible as games leading to the social disengagement of young men.

Or am I missing a key point in the argument?

Frances:

Sure, that's efficiency for your.

We have created a perverse price/wage signalling system whereby satisfying work for the masses isn't valued, it's attacked as a cost. You can't farm, factories just don't need that many people, and retail doesn't pay that well.

Even if you want to join a profession you have to pass through the purgatory of waiting months to get through a successful hiring process. Add in economic uncertainty for employers and that can add up to a very long time indeed.

Joseph: "That being said, why would the effect of gaming differentially target boys?"

There is a large literature on boys declining academic performance and video games, and certainly there are a large number of games out there that target boys -- all those games where your screen ends up splattered in blood before your character dies. And this post was all about boys originally.

But as I did more research, I found out that a lot of MMPRPGs games, e.g. Sims, Second Life, have a large female fan base.

But even if people are having serious relationships on the Sims and Second Life, my guess is that these are substitutes for, rather than compliments to, real life relationships. Sure, there are the newspaper headlines about people who met in Second Life who then get married in real life - but my guess is that these stories make headlines because they're reasonably rare. I'm sorry, no one is as beautiful/handsome as her/his avatar, and loving the avatar is not the same as loving the flesh and blood person.

Asking out of total ignorance: when Jacques talks about "Moose Hall" do other people here know what he's talking about? I have a vague image of Red Green. Is that just because I'm an ex-Brit, or spent too long in grad skool? What was it? Is this something that was common? Was it guys only?

I'm going to speak in defence of the PUA "community". Underneath the veneer of nihilism, egoism, and the focus on sex, why would they be spending so much time and effort merely creating more competition for themselves? They have a mission (though they would deny it). They are teaching boys the practical lessons needed for "social engagement" (yes, OK, but what else is going to get them off the video games?). And everything else the boys are being taught officially at school and university is just wrong. Boys see it doesn't lead anywhere, so why not WoW? Fathers don't count any more. There is no Moose Hall. PUA or WoW are all that's left.


Jacques "Anyone interested in charitable activities is rejected as unfit for employment." I find this hard to believe. If it is true, that's really really sad.

I teaches econmics at the cegep. Iam also a union organizer. Long story on demand only.
We tried to organized the plant , like most other smelters are in QC. We discovered that during our pre-drive research. And one of my former colleagues at the Business administration dept. where I teach was by then at the plant HR and confirmed.

Here in Qc the Conseil du Patronat is once again extolling the virtues of the right-to-work laws in the Confederate states. Economic freedon meaning freedom to own slaves...and then having the lowest life expectancies, higher mortality rates and so on. What's the use of retirement for slaves?

This morning I received the last issue of the St-Louis FED Review JAN-FEB 2011 vol 93 #1
LEAD ARTICLE
Economic freedom and employment growth in U.S. states (Thomas A. Garrett and Russel M. Rhine ) online at
http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/11/01/1-18Garrett.pdf

Depressing...

Joseph - "Could games have evolved because society has changed to make young men feel like they are not rewarded for participation?"

Sure, the market deplores a vaccuum. Yet there are powerful feedback effects - school is boring therefore boys spend time playing high adrenalin games instead of doing homework, which means they fall behind making school less satisfying. Plus the comparison to the rush of negotiating some post-apocalyptic dystopia makes school seem even more dull.

Jaques, I'm not surprised. I know of one manufacturing plant here in Ontario that took a year-long strike, fired all of its workers and then declared itself decertified and union-free. Apparently this is legal.

Nick: the Moose http://www.mooseintl.org/public/default.asp
were , like the Elks and others, a workingmen social association.
Poolhall, outdoor activity and various others entertainment mixed witth witth charitable activities and suppoting scholarship and so on. An assemmbly-line guy could the Grand-Master of his lodge and direct the activities of a 1000 families. A parallel city council like the union was a parallel plant management ( but by people you could trust).So important were such clubs in those days that
"Fred Flintstones belonged to "Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes" (Lodge No. 26), a men-only club paralleling real-life fraternities such as the Loyal Order of Moose" (Wikipedia)


Joseph: biologically, men are disposable. You send them into the wilds, the survivors come back, being by defn. the best-adapted gene packages.
Once you get your food in a can and no longer practice mass warfare, you have to shunt the extraneous biomass somewhere...WoW is as good as it gets as a substitute for AlTharir square...

What is PUA?

RSJ. You don't want to know. Pick Up Artists.

Jacques: thanks. A world I was only vaguely aware of.

Actually, as a person who derives a significant bit of income through Second Life (incidentally female) I have to say I have met about the same proportion of my colleagues in real life as I did when I was working professionally in digital divide advocacy in the 90s. This is surely more true of producers in SL rather than consumers (the majority for 5+ years)

It really isn't much different for us than any professional community that mostly exists in email, web pages, journals and the occasional conference. That a globalized community of business or academic interest may exist almost entirely without face time doesn't make them less real.

How many of your own contacts do you know by phone, email, or (e.g. in close knit open source dev) by IRC and forums? Is this morphologically different from game and metagame communities that are not geolocal?

Jacques Giguere, I'd argue that people who are "interested in charitable activities" will probably gravitate towards other kinds of social and political engagement.

Television was as much of a time sink in past decades as videogames are now, particularly as it was then a novel form of entertainment, just like MMORPG's today. Novelties wear off over time, but intellectual engagement and community building are more attractive in the long run. Also, many people are especially motivated by efforts which will give them recognition in the "real world".

What I find interesting is that Internet blogs and forums are changing this 'social engagement' landscape in hard-to-predict ways. From a purely informational standpoint, the WCI blog is quite influential in the econblogosphere--yet it's difficult to tell how much of this benefits its authors and sponsors. And I'm not even considering other scholarly blogs, either in econ or other disciplines.

I think this whole discussion is a little unfair to gamers. I don't see gaming, even hard-core gaming, as any different than any other hobby or recreation that consumes large amounts of time. It also plays on terrible, and inaccurate stereotypes. Firstly, it's my understanding that about 40% of all gamers are women, though it may be the case that they are more likely to be casual gamers than hard-core gamers. Secondly, the notion that hard-core gamers are all young geeks who couldn't make it in sports is wrong. The median gamer these days is likely in their mid-to-late 20s, possibly married, and has a full-time job.

To an outsider, hard-core gaming may appear to be a sinkhole for time that could be spent building human or social capital. Society would be worse off if gaming actaully caused gamers (I'm not restricting it to men here) to underinvest in their human capital or social relationships. The hypothesis is that hard-core gaming provides utility to the gamer, and output that is, non-tradeable, and therefore useless to the rest of society. And as they spend more time doing it, their human capital is increasingly invested generating utility from gaming with rising productivity. This model is flawed. One flaw is that the model assumes that the only budget constraint is a time constraint. But in reality, gaming is an expensive hobby. A gamer needs to generate income to maintain a stock of gaming hardware (which because of technology and built-in obsolescence, requires a certain amount of periodic expenditure). Therefore, a gamer is at least incentivized to generate sufficient income to meet these expenditures. A rational gamer would invest at least a sufficient amount of time into developing their human capital in order to maximise the utility from gaming (assuming that other pursuits are not relevant). More human capital generates more income for the gamer, allowing them to devote more time to gaming, and less time to working. But gaming does not nullify the need to invest in human capital.

Secondly, the model assumes that the productivity of utility generation continues to rise as a gamer devotes time to gaming. This is not realistic. At some point (different for each person), there is declining marginal utility from investing time in gaming. We could call this a boredom point. All gamers eventually abandon a game they have been playing. In the case of MMORPGs, this is likely cause by network effects as gamers leave the MMORPG universe. As the number of gamers in the MMORPG declines, the benefits of being in the network decline. Likewise, in both MMORPGs and more traditional games, the gamer has either "mastered" the game or become so frustrated with the time spent "investing" in their gaming utility productivity that they do not wish to spend any more time doing it. Investing time in utility generation from games is by no means guaranteed. Some games a gamer likes, and some they don't. A gamer may not know where the boredom point is before they start investing their time in playing it, just like a book.

So, my main criticism of the model presented is that it oversimplifies the situation. I don't think gaming is any more dangerous than any other leisurely pursuit. Moreover, it is clearly one with less negative externalities than, say, gambling, alcohol or recreational drug use.

Hmmm. And I only met Stephen a couple of months back, and have never met Mike. And most regular commenters here I feel I know well, but don't even know if some are male or female! WCI=WoW? Shurely not. At least we are talking about the real world.....errr.

Anon: "Television was as much of a time sink in past decades as videogames are now".

Perhaps, but there is an important distinction. Until recently, television's schedule was based on conventional social norms. Unless one was content with watching re-runs (which, in the pre-500 channel universe was a challenge for even the laziest of us. I admit to once skipping classes in undergrad to watch 48 hours of Eastwood on TBS - it was painful.), your ability to lose yourself in television was limited to prime-time during weekdays. All the other times when people were expected to be working, spending time with families and friends, etc. (weekdays, weekends) were television wastelands. Moreover, even the hard-core television addict was subject to imposed breaks in the form of commercials every 10 minutes

But that isn't true of video games. Even in old-fashioned one-player against the machine videogames, one could waste countless hours only to look up and realize it was dawn the next day and, oops, you're late for your economics class. With the rise of MMORPG, that's even more attractive. Moreover, they're interactive. The gamer has control over the game in a way the TV viewer doesn't ("whaddaya mean I have to wait until next week to see how this ends???"). That doesn't make video games bad (although we see those sad cases out of South Korea of gaming addicts either dying or failing to care for their children, who then die. I gather South Korea is trying to impose mandatory black out periods on gamers to deal with those issues), but it does make them materially different from TV.

In any even, if my wife's (and my friends' wives') reaction to video gaming is any indication, there's something to Frances' thesis. They recognize video games as a threat to their already small allocation of family time.

"That seems to me to be the real issue here, the failure of the modern economy to create satisfying work."

Was work ever "satisfying"? I mean, did 18th century coal miners derive satisfaction from doing man-breaking (or, commonly, child-breaking) labour in dark and dangerous mines? I suppose it was probably more "exciting" than working at radio shack, in that the prospect of being buried alive tends to get the adrenaline pumping. Did the scullery maids of Victorian England derive satisfaction of being at the beck and call of 19th century matrons for 14 hours a day? Maybe, but doesn't sound all the different from working at Montana's, except that the hours are worse. Was a subsistence existence really that satisfying for agricultural workers before the modern era? And, if so, why haven't people reverted to it?

I think that before we condemn the modern economy for its supposed failure to create "satisfying work" it might be worth considering the very meaning of the expression. To abuse an old joke: "If it were satisfying, they wouldn't call it work".

Bob Smith, good points, especially about misplaced nostalgia. "The gamer has control over the game in a way the TV viewer doesn't..." I'd suggest that you click on the link to the David Wong article http://www.cracked.com/article_18461_5-creepy-ways-video-games-are-trying-to-get-you-addicted.html - how games are designed without natural stopping breaks so that players keep playing.

Robilliard - "Firstly, it's my understanding that about 40% of all gamers are women, though it may be the case that they are more likely to be casual gamers than hard-core gamers." - If you read carefully, other than one reference to what other people have written about boys/gaming/academic achievement, and that link about God of War that I just couldn't resist, I don't talk about gaming being a male phenomenon. The #s that I read said 2/3 of on-line gamers are women, but that might include a lot of people playing bejewelled on Facebook.

You're right that the crux of the issue is the effect of gaming on investment in human capital and social relations. My family has been pointing out to me that I've neglected the social aspect of gaming - getting together and having a big Mario Cart party, or DDR contests, or playing guitar hero. So I may be wrong in arguing that there is a trade-off between gaming and investment in relationships.

I don't know that gaming is so expensive, however, that the need to finance gaming activities would cause an increase in work hours - a used PS3 game costs less than a couple of beers and dinner for two at the local pub. On the boredom point - some of the articles that I've been reading on gaming have been complaining about the lack of games for the intelligent sophisticated gamer, so you may have a point there. I don't know.

anon: "From a purely informational standpoint, the WCI blog is quite influential in the econblogosphere--yet it's difficult to tell how much of this benefits its authors and sponsors." yes, well, we're trying to work that out too! Have family members ever mentioned that I spend a lot of time blogging? Yes. We don't call it the crack cocaine of research for nothing.

Shava - on deriving real income from Second Life - this is an excellent example as it really gets to the heart of the matter. You've probably invested a lot of human capital in SL and you're getting rewards - it's providing you with output that satisfy a lot of your life's needs. Does this conflict with having the kind of conventional household/family Gary Becker talks about in his economics of the household? Or is it possible to find balance between SL and geolocal life?

"Hmmm. And I only met Stephen a couple of months back, and have never met Mike."

It's true - nobody has ever seen me in the same room as Nick, Stephen or Frances. I'm the Polkaroo of Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.

Aww, he was here and I missed him again! - customary remark by co-host who didn't meet the Polkaroo in that episode. :)

I've seen you on TV. You're actually the only contributor I've seen in video.

PUA, huh? I'm not a hermit; I get out, talk to people. In fact, in mere minutes, I'm about to drink a Sazerac in one of those bars that hired a good designer and has art on the walls. And yet I've never heard of PUA. Is this a Canadian sub-culture (Perhaps because it's so cold up there :P)


RSJ: it's American. Maybe it's *because* you are not a hermit. Google Roissy, Roosh, or PUA. First hits. Compare the number of comments to this and other economics blogs.

"I've seen you on TV. You're actually the only contributor I've seen in video."

Wow.. really? That's too funny.

I used to do a lot of TV in the 1970s, though if you look closely you can tell I'm a puppet. A clip is available here.

Video is good but to get the full experience, you need to see one of my powerpoint webinars. Last night I discovered one is available for the low price of $247! I'm not joking.

Underneath the veneer of nihilism, egoism, and the focus on sex, why would they be spending so much time and effort merely creating more competition for themselves?

Because sex is not enough. They also crave status (from other men). And the sad thing, is that they seem to get it, in spades...

If you're in the Ottawa area, you can watch Nick Rowe on Friday mornings: .

Sorry, that hyperlink didn't come out: http://www1.carleton.ca/cuol/ccms/wp-content/ccms-files/CUOL-broadt_sched_W11.pdf ECON 1000 is the course you're looking for.

Trivia hit: "Pua" is also a cat sized Tamandua anteater. Adoraboble. http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/3569562

Noni

Work was for slaves.
Bob Smith:
"Labor" is used for one of the most painful episodes mankind (ok womankind) can endure.
Professionnal pride,for most, is merely the internalization of our own slavery.
There is a Dilbert episode where the nameless corp. has leased surplus office space to a private prison. One inmate, having discovered that the cubicle is smaller than human rights standards for cells, ask Dilbert to join in a bingo (prison riot). D answere: "I am not an inmate. I am a volunteer". And the prisoner mutters:" Damn. They put me in the psycho ward."
We work for prestige. Soldiers die for medals. Someone who fights for money is a mercenary. Prostitutes are despised not because of what they do but because they do it for money.

Frances,

Gaming gets to be an expensive hobby when you shell out $1-3,000 every 2-3 years on new computer equipment and software. Hard core gamers often spend considerable sums upgrading their PCs. Gaming consoles are cheaper, but they can't match the raw processing power and versatility of the PC. Most of the MMORPGs on the market are PC-based, not console-based. Likewise, the PC is the favoured platform for real time and turn-based strategy games. Factor in the cost of high speed internet access as well, and you have a hobby that costs considerably more than beers and dinner at the local pub.

Robilard: Gaming gets to be an expensive hobby when you shell out $1-3,000 every 2-3 years on new co mputer equipment and software. Hard core gamers often spend considerable sums upgrading their PCs. Gaming consoles are cheaper, but they can't match the raw processing power and versatility of the PC. Most of the MMORPGs on the market are PC-based, not console-based. Likewise, the PC is the favoured platform for real time and turn-based strategy games. Factor in the cost of high speed internet access as well, and you have a hobby that costs considerably more than beers and dinner at the local pub.


I'm not sure that this isn't consistent with Frances' point. Gaming is an expensive hobby, sure, but so is having a mate (anyone try ordering flowers this week?). If you accept the contention that the virtual world can provide an alternative to achievement in the real world, it's not clear that the cost advantage (in terms of dollars, time, frustration) doesn't work in favour of the virtual world.

anon: "From a purely informational standpoint, the WCI blog is quite influential in the econblogosphere--yet it's difficult to tell how much of this benefits its authors and sponsors."
The blogger put its thoughts in order, which it ( I am being gender neutral) can do in the privacy of its office but it gains by the wider discussion. You may weel be the only one in tour dept. in your specific field.

You also gain recognition and enhanced status ( "From a purely informational standpoint, the WCI blog is quite influential in the econblogosphere".)
Responders gain the same advantage plus what biologists call lekking
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lek_(biology)
Alpha males congregate and the betas get the crumbs. See any bar for same among humans…
A beta thinker will get more exposure by responding in a first-rate blog than establishing his own.
A few months ago , a lot a posters on Krugman’s blog were spouting nonsense about Canada in the 90’s to which I responded. After a few weeks the good Pr. K posted using my references. Was he aware of those articles before? Maybe. Tired of me posting? Who knows. My students were proud of that achievement by their humble local teacher.
Maybe I’ll now post under the handle « The proud beta ». Or start my own blog.

Jacques: "A beta thinker will get more exposure by responding in a first-rate blog than establishing his own." That's a fascinating insight. I think it explains a lot about the comments sections of our major national newspapers!

"See any bar for same among humans…" Those are just the poor guys who haven't read the PUA advice yet ;-)

Jacques Giguere, sure, bloggers can gain recognition in the blogosphere, but it can be hard to parlay that into something that's valuable in the "real world". Though there are obvious exceptions, such as the Huffington Post which is being acquired by Aol.

Commenters are playing a different game altogether: unlike blog authors they have sort of a captive audience, so they can be snarky and to the point while authors do the 'hard work' of attracting interest.

Anon: "it can be hard to parlay that into something that's valuable in the "real world"" - I don't know. The post that I did on the Decline of American Economists was picked up all sorts of places, and even found its way into Freakonomics eventually. I emailed the authors about it - the first response I got was a polite pat on the head type response, the second response (after the Freakonomics appearance) was a "thank you!!!". Now one of the authors of that article is a director of a major research institute in Germany. In the small world of academia, what goes around comes around - often very quickly.

Anon: slowly building your audience in somebody else's turf is the whole point of lekking. We pay our otherwise free-riding by providing the alpha with click-count and an adoring crowd of courtesans.
As for selling your blog to AOL and watch it being crashed to the ground as is AOL usual MO
1) this a tournament-type game. A few win big while the deluded hope forever. Like show business. Check the lyrics of "Je me voyais déjà " by Charles Aznavour...
2) being snarky is one of many competing strategies. In most societies, the bullies end up alone. Check the resident troll "Sean from Florida" on Krugman's. Mine is to try to be serious ( I use my real name), ingratiate myself with my betters and one day launch on my own. Call it the alpha-of-the-betas strategy. See how it worked with Frances?

from marginal revolution.
http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2011/02/sovereign_debt

If only I'd had time to comment on this a week ago.

@Frances: Thank you for this post. This is a topic very close to my own heart. I can attest that it is difficult to strike a balance between a game with the level of immersion of WoW and the rest of your life.

A few points.

Your skill itself in MMORPGs is a tradable good. As typically you need to band together to overcome threats (or at least the game is more enjoyable if you do so), a good player is quite sought-after (though the remuneration is usually simply having more capable, fun people to play with).

The level of time investment you speak of is much, MUCH higher for games like Second Life or World of Warcraft than games like God of War or Halo. When games like Halo DO receive that kind of investment, it is typically to play in multiplayer (such as with Counterstrike). I would argue that the degree of time investment is directly related to a social aspect to the game.

There may be something to the type of game and the social implications, and whether it has negative implications for a household or not. Your suggestion is that MMORPGs are substitutes for the social reward of a household. I think games like Rock Band are compliments for this household (many of the best parties are where the host whips out Rock Band?), while games like God of War are neither a compliment nor substitute, just a leisure activity.

Finally, what about households where all of the members are gamers? I myself know a couple who both regularly play WoW. Is the game then not then something holding their household together?

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