So it was for me. I would rise in the early afternoon, have a pot or two of coffee, check my email, lamely skim a few Craigslist posts describing jobs for which I was spectacularly over- or under-qualified, then start in on Mogul and carry on for most of the rest of the day. It felt more like work than did the job search, because unlike a job search, videogames are actually rewarding. They're designed to be. And their system of challenges and rewards, unique in media, at times approaches the feelings of day-to-day employment. Nabbing Mark Buehrle for a handful of iffy prospects? Felt just like getting promoted at my old movie theater gig. Leading the fiscally-troubled Florida Marlins to four consecutive World Series? Not all that dissimilar, neurochemically speaking, to helping save my department's budget when I worked for the Rutgers University newspaper. Baseball Mogul provided me with a sense of having done something with my day, a sense of progress and self-worth that the generally degrading and depressing job search just couldn't compete with.
The experience is hardly unique to me. There is the aforementioned friend who played Animal Crossing, who declined to be interviewed for this article on grounds of crippling embarrassment. Another friend, Phil, went through a stretch where he devoted his days to Runescape, the immensely popular free MMORPG, alternately known as World of Warcraft for cheapskates. At the time, if one was sufficiently committed, one could make a pretty bad living off the game selling equipment and characters on eBay, presumably to the same sorts of people who buy bowling trophies for themselves. (This seems to be policed rather more effectively now.) But Phil was too pure a player to sully his love with money.
Yet another friend, Chris Muller, recently lost his job when the teacher he'd been filling in for came back from her maternity leave. His school system couldn't find another spot for him. He now plays Fallout 3 several hours a day.
"When I had a job, I played a lot of Rock Band," Muller says. "It was a good stress reliever, good way to get the aggression out. Now I have a lot more free time, so I found something more in-depth, more story-involved." He admits he sometimes feels a sense of accomplishment while playing. "Today I freed a bunch of captives from supermutants." How can a job search compare favorably with that?
My brother, also named Chris, had two sizeable stretches of unemployment both before and after law school. The Civilization and Age of Empires series filled most of his time.
"Civilization 3 takes a good eight hours to play," explains my brother. "That's a full work day. It's basically designed for unemployed people. No one who has a job has time to play a game straight through."