Living with an incessant soundtrack can get in the way of having a purposeful and profound life.
It is 12:30 AM. Shots of a semi-automatic rifle ring through the air. Flashes of light cascade an otherwise dark room. Vibrations course through the controller as gunfire continues amid the sounds of a landing helicopter.
John’s pregnant girlfriend and two-year-old daughter have been asleep for some time. It had been another long day at his job. John’s boss is a jerk, and most of the people he works with are annoying. Some days, it is just this time spent alone at night that gets him through it all, even though he knows he probably should be sleeping. But the game takes him to another place, full of beautiful, textured graphics and adventurous missions that contradict his rather mundane life. Online with his fellow gamers, he laughed as expletives ring out when an explosion lands nearby. Just slightly younger than the average gamer (34), at times he feels like he is leading a dual life.
What began as a fun outlet as a teen has become part of a growing trend of young men such as John who find themselves pulled deeper into the virtual world. Recently, he ventured into Second Life, and has begun to correspond with another “female” whom he is curious to know more about.
John unknowingly found himself in the throngs of “adultescence” in his 20’s. He grew up in a middle class family in the suburbs, but after graduating college with a degree in anthropology, he was uncertain of what to do next. For a few years, he moved back in with his parents, and began working part-time at a nearby music exchange outlet.
He pursued a few other jobs, but they seemed unappealing. Eventually, he landed an entry position at a local bank. He broke up with his girlfriend of a few years, and other relationships came and went. He found himself slipping more into online pornography, which like many of his male friends became a way to relieve stress and “take the edge off.” He found himself more withdrawn, more emotionally detached, jumping from one adrenaline surge to the next, until he eventually began dating someone that he met online. Unexpectedly, she became pregnant quickly and they decided to move in together, only for the second baby soon to be on its way. Sitting there this night, staring at the screen, he finds himself wondering how he has gotten here, and just where it will lead. Along the way, he has become part of a growing contingent of young, middle class males struggling to take on the demands of adult life.
He is rocking forward rhythmically, seemingly oblivious to all that is around as the bus comes to a stop. Seated next to me, I can hear the music emanating from his ear buds, sounds of outrage commingled with admissions of lust. His eyes open briefly, but just as quickly his head turns downward as he retreats back to his song. Suddenly, his trance is broken by the sound of his cell ringing in his pocket. He says a few brief words, then looks up to see his stop is approaching. I watch him exit, and as he walks down the sidewalk, his head remains downward as the bus rolls by. Little do I know, but he is headed home, where the television never goes off. From an early age, it was a way of drowning out the noise of poverty, of the screams, of the gunfire, and of his grandmother yelling at him as he headed out the door.