Monday, March 19, 2012

Staying In High-Sec: It's The (Real World) Economy Stupid?

An interesting discussion is taking place in the U.S. political blogosphere that has implications for Eve Online.  It started with an op-ed in the New York Times titled "The Go Nowhere Generation".   In the piece the authors Todd G. Buchholz and Victoria Buchholz argue that bad economic times make people more risk adverse.
"But Generation Y has become Generation Why Bother. The Great Recession and the still weak economy make the trend toward risk aversion worse. Children raised during recessions ultimately take fewer risks with their investments and their jobs. Even when the recession passes, they don’t strive as hard to find new jobs, and they hang on to lousy jobs longer. Research by the economist Lisa B. Kahn of the Yale School of Management shows that those who graduated from college during a poor economy experienced a relative wage loss even 15 years after entering the work force."
I guess I am the poster child for this theory.  At 47, I experienced 4 recessions growing up, including the horrible decade from November 1973 to November 1982 that saw 3 recessions (November 1973-March 1975, January 1980-July 1980 and July 1981-November 1982) totaling 38 months.  Add in the recession of December 1969-November 1970 and the economy was in recession for a total of 4 years from the time I was in kindergarten to the time I began taking college classes waiting for my date to join the Army.  Do I fit the profile?  Regular readers who put up with all my complaining about how much time I spend working would think so.  In my defense I would say that all of the hard work got me a house, a paid-off car, 4 business trips to Europe over the last two years and I will probably travel to two new countries this year.  And that is on top of having the money to fly to Iceland to attend Fanfest in a couple of hours.  But I think the reply to that is: yes, you fit the description.

Many scholars and players speculate that we bring our attitudes and experience into our gaming virtual worlds.  If I am risk adverse because I grew up in such recession-filled times would I act the same way while playing Eve?  I am a self-described high-sec carebear who only ventures into low-sec if I have laid down a solid foundation of bookmarks in the systems.  The only missions I have ever run in low-sec are courier missions although I'll transport blueprint originals through low-sec because that is where the empty research and copy slots are.  I have lots of shiny toys in my stations from my low-risk/low-effort activities like planetary interaction, datacore mining and invention.  In short, I brought the real world into the game with me.

The theory may explain me, but what of the generation who are 20 years younger than me?  If the theory holds true, then we should see a lot of risk takers both in real life and in Eve.  In the 25 year period from November 1982 to December 2007 the U.S. economy experienced two recessions (July 1990-March 1991 and March 2001 - November 2001) totaling 16 months.  Again, from the New York Times op-ed.
"The likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has dropped well over 40 percent since the 1980s, according to calculations based on Census Bureau data. The stuck-at-home mentality hits college-educated Americans as well as those without high school degrees. According to the Pew Research Center, the proportion of young adults living at home nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008, before the Great Recession hit. Even bicycle sales are lower now than they were in 2000. Today’s generation is literally going nowhere. This is the Occupy movement we should really be worried about."
I think the authors need to find another explanation since the recession theory, in my eyes, doesn't apply.

So what do I, raised in the midst of multiple recessions with no long periods of good economic times, have in common with the younger generation raised in one of the best economic periods of U.S. history?  We are in a comfortable economic position.  In my case, I have undergone my own economic journey and reached a place that gives me a good life.  The younger generation is still figuring out how to succeed and as long as they have a good home don't see the reason to suffer a drop in their lifestyle.  In Eve terms, I'm the old vet who is tired of the antics out in low- and null sec and just wants to relax in high-sec.  The youngsters are those wondering why leave the comforts of high-sec for the uncertainty of low- and null security space.

And players in Eve Online definitely fall into that category of younger people.  While those who went to high school during The Great Recession (December 2007 - June 2009) and the aftermath today fall into those influenced by recession, Eve Online players are older than the average video game player. During the election for CSM 5, the average age of voters was 30.8 years of age, making their birth years 1980-1981, or near the beginning of a period of 25 nearly recession-free years.  These are the people who, according to theory, should be risk takers.  But just as in the real world people are staying close to (or never leave) home, a look in New Eden shows at least 70% of players remain in high-sec.  That means the average player is staying in Empire space along with all of us recession babies.

While the theory why people are risk adverse is interesting, the reality is in the real world people have become less likely to engage in risky economic activity than they were before.  For those of us who have played MMORPGs for a few years, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?  So game designers like those at CCP have a harder task than imagined to entice players to engage in riskier behavior if players are conditioned by real life to play it safe.  Of course, once a solution is found, perhaps we can apply it to the real world.  Well, we can hope, right?

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