Virtual reality: Embracing the gaming lifestyle
One issue that gets on my nerves is the "get a real job" attitude that pops up in comments sections whenever an article talks about the earnings of professional gamers. Even if they don't explicitly say that, they may say something along the lines of gaming not providing marketable job skills to fallback on, gaming being an unstable business, or anything that mocks or discredits the field as a valid career option. It's a perspective fueled by many underlying beliefs of what life is supposed to be about. Because it is a problem gamers like myself will run into, I'm going to take the time to address it.
The endgame of technology
The Matrix (1999) presents a dystopian future where artificial intelligence has taken over humanity and plugged humans into a massive virtual reality called The Matrix to keep them under control while they are used as biological batteries for the machines. The movie was all about fighting for freedom from the machines because The Matrix wasn't real and everyone was forced into it while being completely oblivious. On the surface, The Matrix looks like a terrible future for humanity where we are destroyed by our own hubris in technology. However, we create technology to make our lives easier so we can spend more time doing the things we actually enjoy while abstracting away the hard stuff. As we develop more advanced automation, there will come a point where there really is nothing left to do but to plug yourself into a virtual dream world where you can do what you want while the machines take care of everything. The human power plant in the movie isn't so much about oppression, but a future where humans spend most of their time in virtual reality pods. What if we could have The Matrix, but without the oppression? What if we could have an idealized world that bends to our imagination?
Video games are a major innovation in how we live because they provide interactable virtual spaces limited only by processing power and human imagination. So many things can be replicated virtually at a fraction of the real-life cost because there are no materials, maintenance, or laws of nature to account for. Video games can satisfy many of our selfish desires while leaving out the complexities and permanent consequences since everything can be spawned in with the press of a button. In fact, it is quite realistic to consider a world where stuff is materialized out of thin air. Everybody can have their own private space where they can spawn anything and do whatever they want while the internet enables us to instantly go to public spaces to collaborate regardless of real-life geographical distance. It's no longer the stuff of science fiction; the power to do it is right in front of us. So why would anyone say it is a waste of time? Because it's not real?
How do you define real?
The perception of real is really just an interpretation of information fed into our senses. This is because without our senses, we cannot interact with the world and cannot judge value on anything, including its realness. So, if we can control the information that stimulates our senses, what does it matter if, say a statue, is carved of stone or formed out of a computational state and projected into our eyes? Either way, it exists in front of us. It took human imagination and effort to make. You can see it whenever you want and admire it for what it is. You can show it to other people and confirm its existence. Thus, it shouldn't matter if it's real or virtual; it's just made out of different methods and it's simply up to us to accept it. The Matrix pushes the idea that living in a dream world is a bad thing even though the movie itself is ironically a dream world created to immerse ourselves in as entertainment.
The pursuit of success
Money is perceived as a measure of success because if you have money, you can afford the best of all human necessities like fine food, fine housing, fine entertainment, etc. Everybody understands that those things bring a measure of happiness because we have experienced inferior and superior versions and understand that the superior is more desirable. Let us assume that acquiring these things is the definition of success. We work to make enough money so we can afford to consume those superior goods and thus, be successful. It's a social narrative that permeates from our culture. Why are big game companies not satisfied until they can make the maximum amount of money possible? How do you justify selling random loot boxes when you can just make the desired items directly purchasable? Why create an artificial scarcity for digital goods that makes people pay ridiculous premiums for something that can be duplicated at no cost by nature of computers? Why is the financial success of a game considered news? We are naturally jealous of those who have more than we do and we try to satisfy that jealousy by working to acquire what we don't have.
Getting more for less
Here's the thing: A lot of the superior goods we consume are superior because of visuals and anything that derives its value from visual aesthetics can be virtually rendered. Sceneries are nice because of the overload of visual stimulus (i.e. variety of colours, sense of scale, complex patterns). Sports cars are nice because they give us a sense of speed in addition to the car being visually stimulating. However, these things can be rendered in a game engine, infinitely duplicated, and cheaply distributed. So, by indulging in the virtual, you acquire superior goods, and because you acquired those things cheaply and quickly, you are productive. Why pursue real goods when the virtual can accomplish nearly the same thing much more easily? Consider the savings of focusing on the virtual. If your concept of success is about acquiring material wealth, playing games is actually a very productive activity. Of course, there are things you can't virtually satisfy, like food and personal hygiene. But consider that if you only need to satisfy basic needs in real life while most of your wants are satisfied virtually, that's a lot of money you save, which means you don't have to work as much to attain a high standard of living.
By using my imagination and the tools The Sims 3 gave me, I was able to create a mega-mansion that fulfilled my selfish desires in the way I saw fit and I could live in it whenever I wanted by firing up the game and immersing myself into it. What reason do I have to buy a real mansion and put up with the cost of buying and maintaining it when I have this impossible mansion that I have built to my vision by pointing and clicking? My desire for fine living surrounded by art has been fulfilled in the context of the game world, I have not wasted precious real-life resources to build it, and I don't need to work a demanding job to afford it. I could say I'm wealthy because I recognize my virtual possessions as valuable as the real things.
Value is something we arbitrarily define for ourselves and the pursuit of money is an expression of that subjective interpretation of life. We can change our perception of value at will, which changes our priorities in life. So, by embracing the virtual, you no longer need to be profit-driven. There's no need to get high-paying, but soul-sucking jobs while justifying selfish behaviour as what it takes to be successful. Why is money the only incentive to do anything? Why not self-fulfillment, seeing something cool, or making people happy? Instead of choosing a line of work or making business decisions based on how much money it makes, you can choose according to whether you are passionate about the work itself or whether you are dedicating yourself to the morally right thing.
The Sims 3 also taught me that all things material eventually become boring after a while. I rarely go back to my mansion nowadays because I know exactly what to expect and I have pretty much exhausted the novelty. Like a childhood toy, I get ecstatic when I first get it, but it eventually ends up in a box and forgotten. If I had a mansion like that in real-life, much of it would go to waste and I would just end up doing what I have always been able to do: play games and browse the internet. Instead, I could use the money to help others get off the ground to create more virtual stuff and build a physically impossible society in virtual space. The virtualization of life could even be the key to solving poverty. All you have to do is accept and embrace it.
Diverse forms of productivity
Video games are not just consumption goods because you can learn from them as you can learn from books or art. The first step to becoming an expert in an industry is to be an avid consumer of it's products. When you enjoy something enough that you want to do it every day, you will seek out information related to it, develop an understanding of it, and come up with your own ideas to improve upon it to derive even more enjoyment out of it. By drawing upon your experience, you can produce something that expresses your passion in a way that convinces others of the value of your field and the cycle repeats. If you're good enough, you may even convince those who never had much interest in it to become interested, which expands the market and normalizes a once niche activity.
Even if you don't go into game development, forming a gaming community, whether it's let's plays or game journalism, helps gamers share their knowledge to get the most enjoyment out of their games. It also provides exposure to games people don't know about or contextualize games people wouldn't normally consider playing for themselves, which allows them to discover new interests and also helps developers find customers. There's also intrinsic value in such services if people check for new content on a regular basis. If a sizable number of people get their kicks out of watching someone else play games, someone has to provide that content and that someone deserves compensation for putting in the time and effort to satisfy a demand. As long as you are providing a repeated service to other people, your work is valuable and you are productive. It is just a matter of whether you can spin it right and do what it takes to be amazing at it.
I speak from experience when I say that perpetual laziness is psychologically taxing because keeping your knowledge and imagination to yourself merely leads to a depressingly pointless life, especially when you see other people accomplishing things you could probably do. There are only so many new ideas to consume until you start seeing patterns in what gets produced and start wondering why they aren't doing what you want them to. When you're just sitting around waiting for a revolution that will never come, that is when you realize your work is cut out for you. You have to create the things you want to see because no one knows what you want. If you don't know how to do it, figure it out through trial and error because there is literally nothing else better to do with your life.
I consider laziness to be a symptom of not knowing what you really want than something just done for instant gratification. It's a state of cognitive dissonance when you have to do something you have little emotional attachment to, but you are told you have to do it to avoid social stigmatization. People are diverse. Telling people to get a real job is counter-productive because forcing them to work in jobs they don't care about sacrifices time to do what they really want, which results in wasted potential and unhappiness while creating frustration for employers who have to put up with it. Hard work is not something you can just force into people, it is something that emerges by itself when you have something you want to accomplish and have the means to do it. People need to be more patient, open-minded, and accepting of a wider range of activities as valuable and worth supporting. It is really up to everyone's attitudes that determine how free and equitable a society is.