Life Is Not A Game.

According to United States government statistics the opt-out rate of 25 to 54 year old males (referred to as the prime income earning years) from the labour pool has doubled since the late 1970’s. For men in their 20’s, more than one in four are not employed. The media often calls these people ‘the lost workers’ due to the fact that they don’t turn up on unemployment benefit registers, on actively looking for work lists, on prison in-mate lists, on single father or home duty surveys but appear to be nowhere at all. Their participation in the workforce in America would give the labour market there an additional pool equal to the population of some small countries and help push back the dubious claim that the United States does not have enough labour to meet demand in key sectors such as construction.

Most analysts and government officials have been at a loss to find out where these people are. They haven’t vanished but they don’t appear on any registers.

A recent study by The Economist magazine however has shed new light on where these men have gone. And it’s more than a bit scary. What they have demonstrated is a direct correlation between job participation in this age group and computer game activity. Meaning, the vast majority of these people would rather stay living with mum and dad and play computer games that get out into the workforce. The American Time Use Survey backs this up.

If Jack Ma of Alibaba has his way, whole swathes of jobs will disappear through the power of technology and automation so perhaps this is a moot point. However, computer games are getting more and more realistic and the physiological addiction they create – according to some researchers – will lead to evolutionary distortions to brain function that will be lasting and profound. Not to mention the social and economic impact of a growing reduction in the domestic labour force.

According to some social commentators, the problem is getting even worse in Australia. Such a trend is an alarming one for retail as it gains pace in spreading across gender and socio-economics. Not only does it affect the labour pool for retail but it also impacts the consumption pool and communication strategies needed to reach people who increasingly inhabit a ‘virtual world’.

The morality of the computer gaming industry and its social impact are being fought out at many levels between the industry and social scientists, government agencies, academics and even the medical profession. But from a purely pragmatic point of view, retailers need to carefully think through the strategies needed to work with or around this trend – depending on your model.

Merely adopting augmented reality and virtual reality ‘toys’ is not developing a strategy and may actually make the problem worse for your business. Because at the end of the day, the products and services you sell exist in the real world and many rely on physical interaction. We need to engage and employ real people in physical scenarios to generate economic benefit for us all.

Life is not a game. Nor is the increasing impact of technology and the gaming industry. Its time for retail to work out how we are going to play against this trend before it gets too big to fight.