About five years ago, I had to make a difficult confession to my wife: I was addicted to killing zombies. Over the previous couple of months I’d been sucked in by a smartphone game that put me in the role of a warplane pilot in a post-a pocalyptic world, tasked with blasting the undead into smithereens from the sky. Eager to notch a new high score and be rewarded with a powerful new in-game weapon, I massacred hordes of digital ghouls on my daily subway commute, during bathroom breaks and TV ad breaks, and while lying in bed wondering why I couldn’t get to sleep. After my wife commented one night that I hadn’t picked up a book in a few weeks, I decided to go cold turkey, deleting the app and promising myself I’d never download another video game.
I’m far from the only person to chase virtual kicks at the expense of real life. A new report by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that men in their 20s worked 12 percent fewer hours in 2015 than in 2000, and that those working hours had been largely replaced by video gaming. (See Talking Points.) Researchers note that many of these young men find more satisfaction in fantastical, immersive games like World of Warcraft than in working a minimum-wage gig. And as virtual reality takes off in coming years, and the real and digital worlds get ever harder to distinguish, the number of videogaming dropouts will only grow. Tech firms are developing haptic suits that will let players feel what their onscreen avatar is experiencing: the recoil of a rifle, say, or the ground shaking as a tank passes nearby. Other companies are working in the charmingly named field of teledildonics, creating immersive, high-tech sexual experiences that include a sense of touch. When young men can bed beauties and save the planet without ever leaving their parents’ basement, will any of them ever go to work?