Virtual Feats, But A Real Sense Of Accomplishment

Virtual Feats, But A Real Sense Of Accomplishment

The last time I talked to my mum on the phone she told me I should be starting to think about retirement. She told me I should be thinking about my future. I was thinking about where I was gonna get the $US150 ($219) I needed for my insurance premium and still eat. After I hung up with my mum, I played Dwarf Fortress until 6 am.

I mean, she's right, as she so frustratingly insists on being. I've entered the latter half of my 20s, and I should really start thinking about where I'm going with all this. But it's hard not to laugh when I'm also trying to figure out how to get an Illinois LINK card for food stamps.. As with most of my friends — mostly young, passionate artist types or people who have gone back to school — I'm struggling financially, even with the help that I get from my parents. I don't really make plans for myself for more than a week in the future. Who knows where I'm gonna be by then? These days, we're all sinking slowly into a dystopic intermediate.

We laud or deride games on their reliance on escapism. Sometimes we need an escape. Games like Dwarf Fortress give me something I cannot have in life. Maybe this is true for you as well. The point of Dwarf Fortress is to build a fortress and then to survive. You have to survive enemy attacks, which, thankfully, don't start happening until you reach a quota of 80 dwarves living in your settlement. You also must withstand food shortages, navigate trading with other civilizations, provide people jobs and ensure there are places to eat and drink. You have to build a life for each one of the dwarves you're taking care of. It's charming in its obtuseness. It lets you fail spectacularly. The point, really, is to build something that lasts. In Dwarf Fortress, "something that lasts," is often a trial by very literal fire. Even if it doesn't last very long, you have a real legacy to point at. "Look," you can say, "I did something."

Virtual Feats, But A Real Sense Of Accomplishment

I'm a Millennial with Boomer parents and while they're both old hippies, it's still hard to explain the reality how I have to live. Jobs — real jobs that turn into careers, not retail or service industry jobs, I mean — are scarce. The field in which I've hunkered down, writing professionally, is venturing into a wild west of discovery and terror as we all try to figure out how journalism survives in the age of the internet. I exist in a series of liminal states, bouncing from one in between to another. And it's not different for anyone else I know. We are all such busy people, but what are the "somethings" we can say we've done?

The past year was really big for me. I'm working on a game I'm excited about. I get offered an editorial job about once every two weeks. There's a book, a physical book, with my writing in it. I'm still having a hard time with the future. I'm having a hard time with the idea of legacy. Sometimes I think about all the obstacles, particularly the financial ones, between me and being able to have children. I get into a dark mood that lasts for hours. I don't know if I'm going to have something that lasts in my life.

People my age keep moving. My group of friends is a kind of wavering circle, as people pack up from Chicago to New York and Los Angeles, hoping for better opportunities. I've moved each of the past three years. Again, not very different from my friends. We avoid accumulating things. We don't want to deal with them when we change apartments. My dad bought me an incredible blender — it has a bullet attachment and a food processor — and when I first saw it, what I thought was, "Should I keep all the cardboard for when I move?" The box is still in my kitchen. When I moved from my last apartment to the one I live in now, I left my couch in the alleyway. It was too heavy, and besides, like everything else I own it was a piece of junk.

If you end up moving in The Sims, it's because you want to, not because the rent got too high, or your landlord won't renew your lease, or because you can't find a job. You are not tasked with updating your addresses on your Amazon.com account once a year. You have a space, a space that is consistent. You have what is commonly referred to as a home. I usually use the cheat "motherlode" to get enough money to build a giant house that will last for generations, and then keep building and building on it, until I have the most expensive and lush furniture in every room. Even when I play the way The Sims wants me to, I know that all my sims will have steady jobs and most likely earn enough money to remodel their kitchens or have children or buy a car. In The Sims, you aren't going to be running from odd job to odd job. You don't go back to school because it's less depressing than being unemployed. In The Sims it isn't prohibitively expensive to raise kids. If you're a writer in The Sims, you won't be forced to choose between your passion and your family.

Virtual Feats, But A Real Sense Of Accomplishment

Games are often about fantasy, and nothing seems more fantastical than a stable life. We often talk about wish fulfilment in this space, but usually in a grander way. We talk about wish fulfilment as being the saviour of humanity, or being able to shoot a lot of bad guys. There's a YouTube video I show people sometimes when I try to explain why I find those conversations a little boring or tedious. A young man made it. He's being very earnest when he says that he prefers games to reality, that in games he can be anything. The original video has been deleted, and the only one that exists on YouTube now was re-uploaded to mock him. Yes, it is a little funny when this young man says that he prefers Mass Effect to the idea of going to college so he can end up in a dead end job. The problem is that he is a little bit right.

In games, you can be anything, and increasingly they are spaces where you can make anything. Even if you have supposedly done nothing in your life, you can point to your home base in Minecraft and say, "I made that." You can point to your tricked-out, modded Sims game where everyone looks like they're Instagram-famous and say, "I made that, and here's their story." I promised my friend I'd tell her the story of my Dwarf Fortress game when everyone inevitably died. Here's what happened: I accidentally mined into an aquifer and everyone drowned, but before that I had a thriving economy making porcelain crafts encrusted with opals and quartz. Udidkeshak became a barony of the larger kingdom, and Shorast Abelgugash was made baron. We had been trying to build a well when, suddenly, my dormitories flooded. We lasted a few more years until everything else flooded, too.

Virtual Feats, But A Real Sense Of Accomplishment

The fortress is still there. Even if everyone's dead, the fortress will last.

It's easy to get lulled into a sense of satisfaction in games. In many ways, making you feel good and accomplished is their goal. But it isn't real. Even if my fantasy is banal, it is a fantasy like any other. I'm of two minds about it. It feels like I am wasting my time. Maybe my parents are right, as they frustratingly insist on being. Maybe I am just coasting through my twenties, avoiding getting serious. Then again, maybe I need to indulge the fantasy of stability every once in a while. Like so many of my peers, I need something to stop myself from drowning in the uncertainty of my reality.


Comments

    I thought the whole game was ascii. Or have they updated it?

      it will be one of the graphics plugins you can get now.

    This is the most human piece of journalism I've read in a long time. Granted, I only really read Kotaku, but that's besides the point. I really enjoyed this, so thank you.

    "I’m struggling financially, even with the help that I get from my parents. I don’t really make plans for myself for more than a week in the future. Who knows where I’m gonna be by then? These days, we’re all sinking slowly into a dystopic intermediate." - This is quite a typical comment from people in their 20's, markedly different from my 20's (in the 1990's) where there was still a sense of optimism and working hard to get things, rather than expecting someone to notice our unique talents and bring those things to us.

    "Jobs — real jobs that turn into careers, not retail or service industry jobs, I mean — are scarce." You say this, then talk about your 'chosen field' of writing. So what exactly are you doing to get one of dem 'real jobs that turn into careers'? Or have you chosen what is likely to be a non-starter career for most people who venture into it? One that's not going to be a sustainable income? Can you really complain that real jobs are so scarce when you're clearly moving in entirely the opposite direction from them?

    My workplace takes on people all the time into roles with a base of at least $50k (AUD) with bonuses and benefits... and all we need are people who are switched on and customer-focussed. This is a frontline environment for a very large employer. Right now I'm trying to hire 10 new people and I am struggling to fill these spots (with a near $60k base/benefits/bonus)... but i reckon I would haven't to throw too many rocks to far to hit someone complaining about how there isn't any jobs when what they (you) seem to really mean are there aren't any jobs they want to work at.

    I get that this writing is human and it's real and I'm not saying you're wrong to feel that way... but I am saying that what you've pretty much done here is justify your efforts with not moving your life forward by making judgement calls about the type of work you feel is appropriate for you. Those service industries you seem to malign exist for people who don't have the education or skills to earn more money... and a lot of those people are getting shit done in their life outside of dem vidya games.

    And also, just how long can you justify taking on contributions from your parents? Why are they subsidising your life choices?

    Last edited 19/01/16 1:03 pm

      Good for you and your company and whomever you end hiring. I'm a professional Graphic Designer with 5 years of experience working for mid-sized advertising agencies. However, after relocating to Australia, I was unable to work within the industry for the few first years due the work limitations imposed by my visa conditions, so I had to work in hospitality and retail while doing freelance on the side. Now I have full work rights, I have been sending CVs for over a year but apparently no one will hire or even interview a foreign designer with no recent Australian or otherwise industry experience.

      For people who have it good and easy, like you, it is common to believe that those who claim to have it hard are just incompetent, ignorant or lazy and the sole culprits of their misfortune. You don't know people's circumstances so you do not have the right to judge.

      Even though both my freelance and retail jobs have provided me with with lots of customer service experience, I doubt that you'd hire me. You make it sound as though you are struggling because there are no applicants, when in truth, what is hard to find is people that meet an extensive set of requirements that guarantee that only a tiny percentage of the working population is fit to apply.

      How do I know this? Because I've been reading and applying to hundreds of job ads for 15 months. I've seen it all: "entry level" positions that ask for 5 years of experience; finished artist positions (the lowest rung of designers within an agency) that are also asked to be video-editing "wizards" but are only offered 45k; "junior" designers that are also asked to have illustration, 3D and coding skills; senior positions that ask you to have 8+ years of experience in a very specific area, and so it goes. So please don't come here with an entitled and patronising attitude from your cosy position, pretending that a degree of luck, in addition to effort and talent, doesn't have a role in drawing a line between those employed and those desperately wanting to be.

      Learn to be thankful about what you have and perhaps it will make you compassionate for those who do not have.

        I tend to agree with darkmellie.

        I was in the exact same position as Gita and a lot of this article really resonated with me and I completely appreciate Pylgryms points too. I hate job searching and I think it's insane that someone with your experience is unable to find a job.

        But to darkmellie's point: the only way I was able to turn things around was, for me, breaking the victim mentality of having things happen "to me" by starting to focus on thing that were happening because of me, both good and bad. When you hold the mirror up and go "What am I doing to make a change" more often than not the answer is "Not much".

        Only one person in life will make a change for you, and that's you. It's not anyone else's fault or responsibility, you can be the awesome force which whips your life in to shape, or you can stay the same. But don't think anyone else will help and don't hold anyone else responsible. As soon as you do that it'll either kick your arse in to gear or you keep the status quo you've grown to accept. Realise it's a choice you've made to accept the state your life is in and make another choice to change it.

        For me that involved going to university at 26, working a minimum wage job while studying full time through 5 years and jumping in to an industry that was hungry for employees but was completely alien to me: agriculture. Now I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.

        Yes there are exceptions but for every Pylgrym, there's 50 of the people darkmellie is talking about.

        Oh and a final thought, maybe get some sleep and play less games (coming from a recovering gaming addict :-) )

    Doing it tough is an all too common experience these days. I might be going on a semi-relevant rant here, but recently I found a fantastic book purely by coincidence, a hard Psychology text called Fantasy and Daydreams. It's so old, the author refers to wartime experiences and calls African Americans Negroes (as was politically correct at the time).

    What lies within however, is an enlightening understanding of the Human mind. Reading about fantasy in a pre-Internet era, it's almost amusing to realize how alike we've been for centuries. Everyone has always turned to an internal imagination and fantasy to pass the time, no matter the situation. Overtime, it becomes less socially acceptable to express it rather than repress it. Great artists are merely the kind of people who've continued to master the art of expressing.

    It gave me a brilliant realization as a reader in the modern times, how actually wonderful the Internet is. Sure, we've associated the fact about the anonymity of it all creates some truly terrible behavior without the threat of being brought to account, it also has allowed expression and imagination without threat of disdain. What cracked me up at one point, was the author detailing a stream of thought, such as devising narratives that today people would publish on the Internet under the label of "AU Fanfiction". Guess we never change.

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