Game of Life

Sometimes life can feel like a game that’s not in your favour. It can feel like a game of poker and you’ve been dealt a bad hand, or it can feel like a game of Scrabble and all your letters are consonants. Life can feel like a game of snakes and ladders and you keep landing on snakes and tumbling down. I know I’ve belaboured the point but that’s how life can be. Life can sometimes feel like a game in which the odds are stacked against you.

Therefore, to cope with the losses the game of life gives us, some of us decide to get lost in our own games. Take my old man, for instance, when I was nine he was out of work for quite some time. And every day I’d come home from school I’d find him on the computer. His eyes glued to the monitor playing Freecell. Every. Single. Day.

I’m not sure how many hours he spent playing Freecell, but from the look in his bloodshot eyes, I’d say he spent quite a lot of time playing the game. Unlike Spider Solitaire or Solitaire, Freecell is a rather mundane card game in my opinion. How he played it tirelessly daily is beyond my understanding. I guess to each his own.

Fast forward to 14 years later and I was caught in a somewhat similar predicament to my dad’s. I was fresh off campus and looking for a job. I applied for jobs that required five years experience and I applied for jobs that required entry-level experience. I applied for jobs that were advertised and jobs that weren’t. I applied for internships. I even applied for jobs I was overqualified for and jobs I was underqualified for but none of my applications was successful. Nada.

Speaking of jobs I was underqualified for, there was this one job I applied for yet I was grossly underqualified for it. It was a digital marketing job and the ideal candidate basically had to be a social media manager, digital strategist, graphic designer, copywriter, video editor, videographer, photographer and events planner. In a nutshell, the ideal candidate needed to be The Pretender.

I imagine the person (probably works in HR) who advertised the job had a deadline to get a digital marketer for the organization. So one lazy afternoon after procrastinating for ages, he finally decided to get to it because no motivator compares to a fast-approaching deadline. While swinging in his seat he typed digital marketer in the Google search bar. And after skimming through a couple of websites, he listed everything and anything he discovered about digital marketing and included it in the job description. And then in the evening, he went home very pleased with himself because he had put in a hard day’s work and had gotten a massive boulder out of the way. Smh.

To all people who work in HR and recruitment, if you’re unfamiliar with the skills required for a particular job a simple Google search won’t do. Please research and consult with people who work in a similar position to the one you’re advertising before you post a job.

Don’t employ someone, give him a mind-boggling list of tasks, berate him when he doesn’t deliver and then complain about how our universities produce half-baked graduates. Instead, you’re better off getting a candidate who has specialized in a specific field or a couple rather than a jack of all trades who is a master of none. I hope that has sunk in. Back to the story.

After several months of searching for a job without any success, I called it quits. I gave up. I threw in the towel. My experience job hunting broke me. I was bitter and angry most of the time. I was even more incensed by the thought that a couple of months earlier I had done a series of interviews, passed them and got called for a job that I ended up not getting. Boy didn’t that rile me, but that’s a long story for another day.

Joblessness threw me into the depths of despair. I severed ties with close family and friends. I became lonely and desolate. And so to cope with my difficult situation, I sought solace in video games.

I played a couple of video games but I spent most of my time buried in FIFA. Holed up in my bedroom, I played like five seasons of FIFA’s manager mode. Ask any avid FIFA gamers and they’ll tell you those are a lot of hours spent gaming. Day and night, I’d eat, sleep, play FIFA, repeat.

FIFA gave me an escape from my cruel reality. It numbed the pain of joblessness. It made me feel like I was in control. In FIFA’s manager mode, I was a manager managing big football clubs with a huge budget for buying players and paying their wages. Plus, I was winning trophies even though they were only virtual ones. So the game kind of gave me a sense of purpose.

FIFA gave me purpose and distracted me but it also gave me direction. The game’s manager mode had various objectives to complete and completing them gave me a sense of achievement. It gave me satisfaction. In the real world, I was taking l’s daily and I was jobless, but in FIFA I was winning and at least I had a job even though it was just a virtual one.

Twisted, right? Games are deceptive like that. They’ll make you feel like you’re working towards something significant yet you aren’t. It’s virtual success. FIFA was playing tricks on my brain by giving me a false sense of self-worth. But apart from this cunning ability to trick gamers by making the game feel job like, there are other ingenious tactics games deploy to hook gamers.

In many games, the player has the ability to change the games difficulty level. Like in FIFA, the player has the ability to choose from six difficulty levels: Beginner, Amateur, Semi-Pro, Professional, World Class and Legendary. I hate to admit it but during my early gaming days when I wasn’t as seasoned as I am now, I’d often switch between the various difficulty levels whenever I was on a losing streak because I hated losing (who doesn’t?). Resultantly, I won games I would otherwise have lost on a higher difficulty level.

Many other games allow players to use cheat codes to “cheat” the game giving the player an upper hand. The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series of games particularly stands out for this. I remember when I was younger I’d spend long hours at a cyber cafe near home combing and poring through various websites to get cheat codes that would give my character in the game unlimited weapons, immortality and many other advantages.

And these traits are what make video games so alluring. Not only are they job like with their endless objectives, but many are also designed to allow the player to win or at least adjust to the player’s skill level. Unlike real-life, video games create these utopian like conditions that aren’t present in the real world. All these traits may make video games come across as sort of insidious but are they totally bad? Yes and no.

Video games are actually good for your well being and some of the strongest friendships I’ve forged are thanks to video games. Plus, in the short term playing FIFA gave me temporary relief. A respite from my bitter reality. But late at night I’d stay up in bed plagued by existential thoughts rueing another day lost.

I was consumed by a never-ending void because I would spend entire days playing a game of no actual significant value to others. But I couldn’t stop. I was a slave to the game and gaming made unemployment seem desirable and employment not worth aspiring to.

Fortunately, after much intervention and persistence, I eventually landed a job that saved me from the potential snare of video game addiction due to unemployment.

I was lucky. Video game addiction is pernicious but there are addictions like drugs and alcohol that are far more harmful than it. And sadly, many Kenyan youths have succumbed to these addictions due to unemployment. Because like video games, they are a form of escapism from their cruel reality.

But perhaps the Kenyan youth are to blame for their joblessness. Perhaps they should stop having a false sense of entitlement and stop expecting to get handed jobs on a silver platter as Walter Mong’are the┬ádirector of youth programmes in the Office of the President said. Perhaps the Kenyan youth should exert themselves more. Or perhaps unemployment is a systemic problem. Perhaps like video games, the system should adjust to the skill level of every individual giving every individual a chance to win instead of giving cheat codes to a select few giving them an unfair advantage.

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