BreakPoint: Numbed by Video Games

Anesthetic for the Male Soul?

Are video games worthy of all the time and attention they get from young men these days? One writer thinks so. But he’s wrong.

If there is a stereotype that lives up to reality these days, it’s the unemployed, disaffected, twenty-something American male who haunts his parents’ basement, addicted to World of Warcraft. In the year 2000, 35 percent of young men without bachelor’s degrees lived in their parents’ homes. Today a majority do, and among the unemployed, that number is a staggering 70 percent. According to University of Chicago economist Erik Hurst, these men are spending the overwhelming bulk of their time playing video games.

Since 2000, writes Hurst, young men of prime employable age have increased their leisure time by an average of four hours a week. The vast majority of that time goes to video games. In total, the time these guys spend on computers and consoles has nearly doubled. Hurst admits of his own 12-year-old son, “If it were up to him, I have no doubt he would play video games 23 and a half hours per day…I am not sure he would ever eat.”

The sheer scale of all this has led to an unprecedented social transition: millions of young men, unable or uninterested in finding employment, are simply choosing instead to unplug from society and immerse themselves in digital distraction.

But in a recent piece at Reason magazine, Peter Suderman argues that it’s actually not bad news.  “Video games, like work,” he writes, “are basically a series of quests comprised of mundane and repetitive tasks.” Playing them is like having a job, he assures us, one in which “the game is your boss.”

Of course, games don’t provide paychecks, eye contact, a better world, relational security, or produce anything of lasting value. But, Suderman assures us, these young men are actually happy! Gaming offers a kind of psychological anesthetic—a job substitute that numbs the pain of unemployment and keeps young men from taking their frustration out in less socially acceptable ways.

These digital opiates provide what he calls “a baseline level of daily happiness,” “serving as a buffer between the player and despair.” As one game designer put it, they fulfill a fantasy of “work, purpose, and social and professional success.” Video games, concludes Suderman, “offer a sort of universal basic income for the soul.”

Suderman, himself an avid gamer, even goes further: “Should young men work more and play games less?” he asks. “What obligation do people have to work, raise families, or be conventionally productive in their lives? I won’t try to answer [those questions]. I’m not sure anyone can.”

Well, Mr Suderman, I’ll give it a shot. As someone who’s worked with young men for years, it’s not okay. Habitual video game use is not a substitute for real work or, for the young wives I’ve spoken with who married video game addicts, neither is it a substitute for real relationships. We’re not created for distraction.

As Russell Moore once observed, the “fake war” of video games parallels another epidemic: the “fake love” of Internet pornography. Both “simulate something for which men long,” Though games—unlike porn—are fine in moderation, they share a tendency to become addictive substitutes that sap users of their desire for the real thing.

Young men today don’t just lack employment; more and more they lack vision—of the good life, of direction and purpose for being. That’s why my co-author Brett Kunkle and I dedicated more than one chapter in our new book A Practical Guide to Culture to this epidemic of distraction by the glowing rectangles all around us.

One of the most important things parents can give their children, especially young men, are boundaries when it comes to games and distractions. But even more important, a sense of their God-given calling to actively engage the world around them. Pick up a copy of “A Practical Guide to Culture” by visiting our website,


Numbed by Video Games: Anesthetic for the Male Soul?

Encourage the young men you know to be engaged in the activities of real life. For practical suggestions to strengthen relationships and self-motivation, pick up a copy of “A Practical Guide to Culture,” available at the online bookstore.


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A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today's World
  • John Stonestreet, Brett Kunkle | David C. Cook Publishers | June 2017
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  • Erik Hurst | | September 1, 2016

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Phoenix1977

    “One of the most important things parents can give their children, especially young men, are boundaries when it comes to games and distractions. But even more important, a sense of their God-given calling to actively engage the world around them.”
    That is your opinion. And although you are entitled to it it’s nothing more than that: your opinion. The average gamer, if you could get him away from his videogame long enough to read this article, would shrug and return to shooting up digital bad guys.

    It’s fine if you don’t want to live your life like that and it’s even fine if you want to discourage your children living like this. But to say, in general, “Well, Mr Suderman, I’ll give it a shot. As someone who’s worked with young men for years, it’s not okay” goes a bit far, don’t you think? After all, the majority of society nowadays doesn’t think it okay for you to be a Christian 24/7. Would it be okay for them to tell you it’s not okay and to give you “boundaries” where you can and cannot be a Christian? If you say yes, I will call you a hypocrite, pointing out the various law suits throughout the country by Christians battling for their “right” to discriminate against LGBTs with their religion as excuse. And if you say no, I will also call you a hypocrite for demanding the right to live however you see fit while denying others that right.

    • Steve

      Phoenix, it is clear that you have problems with Christianity and LGBT issues.
      How you shoehorned that into a discussion about video game addiction is interesting.
      Your declarations such as “the majority of society nowadays doesn’t think it okay for you to be a Christian 24/7” are really baseless. Where do you get these conclusions?
      Perhaps you could look at things more objectively. Just because Christianity teaches things about homosexuality that are contrary to what some people in culture believe does not mean that Christians are trying to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The discussion centers on whether Christians can be forced to go against their religious beliefs to be forced to participate in ceremonies etc. It has nothing to do with serving LGBTQ people or dealing with them in society.
      So it comes down to the balancing of rights. This is what society is about. You need to look at the “tolerance” of activist LGBTQ people as well. It would seem to me that they are trying to force people into accepting their lifestyle even if they don’t. Perhaps there could be some true tolerance shown by them as well.
      What are your thoughts regarding Islam and Sharia law and the treatment of LGBTQ people in predominantly Muslim countries?

      • Phoenix1977

        According to recent polls 67% to 83% (depending on the poll you read) of the Americans now support same sex marriage and is against opt-outs for Christians or other religious people. So I’d say that is quite the majority.
        There is no tolerance from LGBTs towards Christians. I have said that several times already. And Christians don’t have to expect that tolerance either. Christians have not preached tolerance towards LGBTs when Christians were still in a position of power. Only now that Christians are confronted with a shifting balance in society Christians demand tolerance. However, Christians are no longer in a position to demand anything and LGBTs refuse to be tolerant towards those who have treated LGBTs intolerant throughout the course of history.
        You reap what you sow and Christians did not sow tolerance when dealing with LGBTs. So tolerance won’t be your harvest either.

        • Gina Dalfonzo

          I’m going to intervene and ask that all of you get back on topic. Further comments not related to the commentary will be deleted. You can have this particular discussion on posts related to the LGBT topic. Thanks for your cooperation.

  • jason taylor

    Phoenix I cannot be a Christian in your house without your permission or rather I cannot show my piety and if I needs must insist on it you have every right to refuse me entrance on that as indeed on any other terms. What makes you so sympathetic to gays who violate other people’s property and insist they have a right to it because they are gay? You are right now using your right to free speech to discriminate against Christians and a Christian sight is tolerating you-far beyond what it has to by the way. Or should we perhaps declare Breakpoint a Safe Space against you because you are in fact being annoying not to mention presumptuous?

  • ElrondPA

    Soma, soma, soma, soma!
    I’ve long thought “Brave New World” was a much better depiction of the direction our society was headed than “1984.” This is another confirmation. We choose mind-numbing “happiness” over truthful facing of reality and real accomplishment.
    “Fine in moderation”? That of course presupposes that one can maintain the “moderation.” I personally don’t play video games at all because I’ve had problems in the past with obsessive use (with very early video games that were far less engrossing than what’s out now). I treat them more or less like a recovering alcoholic treats alcohol–I’m not going to get started for fear that I won’t be able to keep it under control.
    Who’s enabling this unproductive life? Parents who let their infantilized adult children live this way need to develop some backbone.

    • Just one of many voices

      “I treat them more or less like a recovering alcoholic treats alcohol–I’m not going to get started for fear that I won’t be able to keep it under control.”

      My thought exactly. I have the same in regards to television at large.

  • Just one of many voices

    I’m a young parent. I have one boy of 2 years and another on the way. I try not to worry–but I still do at times–on how I’m going to tackle this whole topic of digital entertainment & technology. The whole topic is not just one elephant in the room, but an entire herd!

    Pretty sure I’ll be picking up the “Practical Guide to Culture” at some point! 🙂 For now though, I’ve been reading a few books by Dobson & letting those teaching points sink in.

    • gladys1071

      i mean this will all due respect, but i am always dumbfounded at the desire to bring children into this world despite all of the “elephants” as you call or challenges facing parents today in raising children. I have been married for 20 years and have never desired children, I just don’t understand the desire to take us such a challenge. I can’t fathom having to navigate the entertainment technology mine field with children/teenagers, seems so daunting, maybe you can enlighten me on what motivates you to do it?

      • Zarm

        I don’t know if I can explain the desire; I think it’s God-given (and not given to all). Some are called to be parents, I believe, and some aren’t. For those that are, there is a part of that desire that is innate and beyond words.

        But I also think that, for a Christian (and this is just off of my own personal experience), the reasons include obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, a desire to pass on what we have learned and experience an aspect of life that does exist in married life alone, the desire to have a new outlet of love and creativity; to go on sharing new things as we once got to with our spouse as we introduced them to all of our old affections and traditions and favorite things… and I think it is something God uses to build our relationship with Him. Children, and the way they behave toward us, our mirrors toward our tendencies toward Him that can open our eyes and convict us before they can even talk.

        When the little one that we’ve never once failed to delivery every meal, on time, when he indicated hunger, cries for food as if he’s afraid none will ever come again- suddenly, we’re reminded of how we can tend to be the same with the lack of trust with God in the situations of our life, despite the fact that He’s never failed us or let us down…

        And honestly, the reciprocation of affection (as they grow and become capable of it) is like nothing else in this life. There are plenty of costs and challenges to being a parent, but the rewards outweigh them in the end, bringing a fullness, a richness, the experience of an entirely new aspect of life that will otherwise be forever absent. As Fraisier Crane once said, ‘you don’t just love your kids… you fall in love with them.’ It’s much like your spouse; once, you were perfectly content without them, couldn’t have imagined needing more- but once they entered your life, a whole new realm of experience and joy was opened that had been previously closed. Children- though relating differently- are each the same; a wellspring of new experiences and new relationships and new loves that, while not necessary to have a fulfilling life, immeasurably enhance and enrich it. (And it does not remain a thankless job forever- just until the kids get old enough to start understanding what they should be grateful for. Or so it was with me and my parents- and so I *hope* it will be with my kids.) 😉

        That’s my perspective, at least; I don’t know if I’ve done anything to properly articulate it. But despite the pitfalls and fears for the future and various trends that concern me about the culture and world my kids will grow up in, everything wonderful that comes with them really does outweigh the bad.

  • The Bechtloff

    Once again a Baby Boomer writes an article where he seems to sit in judgement over millennial for enjoying an art form he doesn’t understand. I swear, an “Are video games the devil?” segment happens at least once a month of Fox News. You Boomers really despise video games. I suppose it’s simply that you didn’t grow up with them.
    And gee, I wonder why young millennial men are underemployed and unmarried. Could it be that the baby boomers wrecked the economy, making it far more difficult to make the living our parents did. Most of my friends my age work 40-50 hour weeks and enjoy a far lower standard of living than their parents took for granted at the same age with a 40 hour week. Because Boomers inherited the greatest wealth the world ever saw and left their children the greatest debt it ever saw. Because Boomers thought that that wonderful economy they enjoyed was somehow just there because of their inherent awesomeness rather than a rare and fragile thing that needed to be preserved and passed down. And why don’t men my age marry? Well for one thing divorce and family court laws written by Boomers make it incredibly risky. Also the feminism and sexual revolution Boomers gave us poisoned the relations between the sexes.
    Yeah Millenials are pretty messed up. But you Boomers don’t have one inch to talk. Especially when it’s just shaking your fist at something just because it’s unfamiliar to you.

  • gladys1071

    it was not my intent to offend at all , i sincerely was just wondering why anyone would want to raise children in this day an age, but i thank you for you answer. To answer no, i am not interested in raising children at all , not biological or fostering or adopting, i don’t want to be a parent to anyone. I am glad it is worth it for you, I am an odd ball in that the idea of raising children seems so daunting and seems like a thankless job, but i am glad it has worked out for you.

    Good thing their are enough people that will procreate, so don’t think you need to worry about humans going extinct anytime soon.

  • Gina Dalfonzo

    I published your comments, utera, but I’m going to give you a warning. I’ve seen too many websites that had their comment sections taken over by MRAs/MGTOWs, and turned into cesspools of misogyny. That’s not going to happen here. The core beliefs of those groups, which are built on hatred of women as a group, go against what we’re trying to do here, and the way they generally express themselves will nearly always constitute a violation of our comment policy. So bear that in mind if you want to keep commenting here. I will not hesitate to ban you if necessary.

  • gladys1071

    Yes i agree, i am child of the 80’s , i remember being able to play outside and use our imaginations, so much more creativity then.

    • jason taylor

      I am also a child of the 80’s and also remember being able to play outside and use our imaginations and it does not seem to me that there was more imagination or creativity in one circumstance then the other. What is there to imagine or create specifically that is outside that is not inside? Sports, except for those with an acute strategic emphasis like baseball or football require exertion, not creativity(and when I played in those the ones who dominated it were to intellectually unambitious to exploit that aspect of those games properly). Natural recreation is absorbing the creation of Another rather then creating. And juvenile honor-games which indeed often require imagination and creativity in a sometimes rather creepy sense are played just as well inside as outside and are in any case often rather unhealthy, sometimes more unhealthy and definitely of less practical benefit to society then the adult version(read Surprised by Joy and ask whether Lewis liked compulsory adoration of the Jocks outside or reading inside better) and more to the point were played and will go on being played, whether or not there are video games many of whom have the negative virtue of being played by people completely uninterested in being the Big Man or Woman on Campus.

      Video games can indeed require a lot of imagination and creativity especially the more advanced forms some of which are more complex then chess or have almost as highly developed narrative frameworks as an epic movie. And “fake war” is something we have always had. We call it “literature”. If the problem is that men are playing video games instead of working the problem is that they are not working and that is not always their fault. They would be just as much unemployed if they were playing baseball. As for living in parent’s homes, some societies do that all the time, it saves a lot in apartment space and provides free domestic service(which does not seem to have been counted as “work”) for older people as well as shelter for younger not to mention encouraging community which value one should think this site is biased towards. It is not clear why such a potentially efficient arrangement should be in itself disturbing.

      The problem with all of this is that it is blaming technology instinctively. The new is not automatically bad nor the old good. Nor the reverse. There is a mixture of good and bad in everything.

  • jason taylor

    Sean, by your definition, steel driving is not actually a job because you are surely not using your brain to actually think. And if games are not a way to think surely Gary Kasparov cannot think.

    Oh and I distinctly remember that there was a time within living memory when America and Japan worked on real jobs and put real thought into it and that job consisted of really blowing each other up instead of making video games about blowing each other up. Which was also not beneficial to Japanese families. Which is of no relevance to the argument over whether dodgeball or video games are more conducive to moral fiber but does bring up the point that the good old days when people worked and played outside instead of playing video games had their downside.

  • C.T. Casberg

    My, what great lungs you have! To have blown down all these straw men in one short puff is doubtless an incredible feat. However, while the author’s attack on stereotype and caricatures—not to mention curiously resigning an entire artistic medium to the garbage bin—may be an effective sales pitch for his book, the ratiocination is less than persuasive and leaves much to be desired. If a paying publication is interested in earnest in perspectives on videogames from someone who might actually know a thing or two about the medium, I am easy to find.