Itís almost difficult to even remember how long Iíve been an unemployed gamer. By how long I mean exactly how many accumulated months since my college graduation in December of 2009 that I've been jobless. To this date a good estimate is a total of 20 months, split almost directly down the middle by a half year stint as a warehouse worker in Southern California, a job I left to travel to Central America for a few months, and also because it was downright miserable. In the meantime Iíve probably passed as much of my days and months applying for myriad job openings as I have been playing video games. I credit them in part for maintaining my sanity in this long, dreadful, seemingly endless search for any sort of employment, menial or otherwise.
As I sit here now, in the kitchen of my small studio apartment, I am maybe ten steps away from my video game setup. The fact that I could walk into the other room at any point during the day and finally make it past wave 40 of horde in Gears of War, or scrape away at those last miscellaneous quests hidden in the craggy reaches of Skyrim eats away at the accomplishment hungry†part of†me. To put it simply, video games have become a haven for me because they offer a tangible feeling of reward, where the monotonous job search has not, up until this point, come through. Every countless email Iíve sent out to the same ghost box in Siberia, every resume mailed off for that coveted sandwich making position that requires two plus years of sandwich making experience, never to be answered with even an automated note of insincere condolence.†
Even a virtual video game achievement is more satisfying than the daily empty inbox, the seldom charged cell phone forgotten, idle on the nightstand. Getting every achievement in Battlefield 3 or Skyrim, doing a perfect speed run in Rayman Origins, getting every question right in a homicide case in L.A. Noire -- even with a guide. None of these are recognizably tangible feats, and they may never count for anything in the real world, but that feeling of reward, of completion and achievement is extremely real, and possibly the best salve for the egos of the long-term unemployed. The sound of an achievement popping, a paycheck written out to the daily-tested pride of the unemployed gamer.
RPGs tend to be the best, as theyíre the most engrossing, distracting, and ultimately rewarding. I have very fond memories of playing the hell out of Mass Effect 2 in the late winter, hibernating in a downtown apartment in Madison, WI. Later, in the Spring, working my way back through the Southwest landscapes of my childhood in Red Dead Redemption, the black forests of the Alan Wakeís Pacific Northwest, recalling both my current obsession with Twin Peaks and my past Stephen King obsessions from middle school. Most recently a hundred hours spent in Skyrim, its snowy world a preview of the harsh Winter I expected to find eventually outside of my apartment in Chicago, that seems, perhaps mercifully, to be indefinitely stalled. Each of these games mark the vast spaces of time, of the days and months Iíve spent unemployed. They filled the long afternoons and evenings with memorable experiences and important distraction, with gaming sessions played across reaches of the US with strangers, new and old friends, played on the couch of whichever apartment in whatever city, during late night rounds of Left 4 Dead with my girlfriend. Instead of remembering how many unanswered emails I sent out, how few job interviews I walked into and home from, I recall instead the special gaming moments, the interim accomplishments that continue to get me through tough times today.
Today, out of principle, I donít play anything before four or five in the afternoon, when normal, money-earning gamers would be getting off work, or just stepping inside to fire up their XBOX 360s and PS3s. Iíd like to say I do it out of respect, but itís primarily because I cannot fathom the dangerous erosion of guilt that would eventually take me, to play without any kind of self-regulation throughout the day. I can only get lost in a game for so long before I eventually have to resurface, jobless and ashamed.
Thereís a tremendous amount of guilt that comes along with being an unemployed gamer. One could argue that this guilt stems from the much outdated societal perspective of gamers in general, though in this situation it feels, at least personally, much more burdensome. Those six matches of Battlefield in the evening, those few cold beers accompanying them, no matter how long you sat yourself down in front of the computer screen, the deathless job search machine, never feel decidedly earned. Itís a terrible feeling, and honestly to successfully enjoy my gaming sessions anymore Iíve had to learn to ignore it (pro tip: alcohol helps). Iíve had to learn to take weekends even though they feel like undeserved vacation days, to sit down during a Saturday afternoon and play with college friends who will always be several states away, to take advantage of their free time in order to feel more like a normal person, or at least a normal gamer.
I write these reassuring words down but Iím still not honestly convinced of their validity, not truly. The guilt still lingers. I write them regardless of this feeling because theyíre the exact sentiments Iíd like to read somewhere else, written by a stranger who knows this strange situation. Iím sorry to say Iíve not discovered it yet, so Iím writing this for you, perhaps less of a solution as it is simply a reaffirmation of the joy of virtual achievement, the hole that it fills in those of us who toil at home, as a final, sympathetic recognition of the incongruous guilt that is the unemployed gamerís burden. To play or not to play is still the question, but you are not alone. Letís commiserate together on XBOX Live (any time on the weekends, on weekdays after 5).