Teen Idle


It’s a long tradition in America that kids annoy their parents with their generation’s version of rock & roll. My parents were teenagers when Bill Haley rocked around the clock and The Penguins sang about an angel on earth. While it wasn’t particularly extreme, it was different than what their parents listened to, and it set their generation apart. By the time I got to my teenage years, rock & roll had progressed substantially, and my parents couldn’t comprehend Slayer. Clearly there is something wrong with our son, they thought, but hopefully he’s not dangerous.

As a devoted fan of extreme metal music, I thought I would break the cycle of generational rock & roll annoyance. My kids would never find music more severe than mine. I was right about that, but their musical proclivities have troubled me in a different way. For example, my daughter is a fan of country music and show tunes. It’s more disappointing than inscrutably annoying. She’s set herself apart by aligning herself musically with her grandmother; the one who listened to Bill Haley, but preferred Rodgers and Hammerstein.

My son, on the other hand, found a different way to draw a generational line in the sand: video games. I was never much of a gamer despite being there at the beginning when Pong came out. I played Asteroids, Zaxxon, Pac Man, and Defender, but my gaming career ended around 1982. I wasn’t very skilled with a controller, and I lost interest. Instead of playing Final Fantasy, Mortal Kombat, and Super Mario Bros., I played Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax.

My son’s devotion to the digital arts didn’t bother me much until last week when I observed my boy sitting in front of a computer, looking at the monitor, his hands nowhere near the mouse. On the screen was a colorful digital scoreboard, the kind of thing I’d seen appear in video games at the conclusion of a battle or adventure; a statistical summary of the spoils of war. The difference in this case was the numerical tallies were steadily increasing as I watched. I asked what he was playing, and, being a teenager, he helpfully said, “A game.” When I pressed for more information, he said it was an “idle game.” A what? He breathed a sigh that conveyed two messages:

  1. Dad, you just won’t “get it”
  2. It’s true, this is a little strange.

I know that feeling. Trying to explain Slayer to my mother made me sigh like that. But I wanted to understand, and my son showed an unusual level of magnanimity by calling up an explanatory video on YouTube. I encourage you to watch, but if you can’t afford the time, let me share Wikipedia’s definition:

Idle games are video games whose gameplay consists of the player performing simple actions (such as clicking on the screen) repeatedly to gain currency. This can be used to obtain items or abilities that increase the rate at which currency accrues.

If you read that last sentence carefully you’ll discover the truth of idle games. After a few clicks, the game proceeds without any action by the user. You can click to increase the rate at which things happen, but you don’t have to. You can sit idly by and watch your assets accumulate, and you’ll never lose anything through inactivity.

I was incredulous and began a rant about the problem with kids today, but he talked me off the ledge. He got me thinking: Is idle gaming any worse than my endless scrolling through facebook posts? Could it even be soothing to have an idle game running as I work on some difficult writing task? When I start to feel anxious and frustrated, I could just click over to the game and see how good things are going. I wasn’t completely convinced, but neither was I ready to kick him out of the house for being incorrigible. He’s very corrigible.

The next day, I strolled past his laptop sitting on the kitchen table and saw a session of Minecraft unfolding on the screen. Minecraft is a game in which players can build things in a virtual world. Digitally speaking, it’s labor-intensive work. The images on the monitor suggested he was busily stacking up construction cubes or some such activity. I was confused at what I was witnessing because my son was sitting across the room. How could he be playing Minecraft in the kitchen while sitting on the couch? Minecraft is not an idle game.

I asked if he was playing or if it was a video. That’s a thing, by the way. You can – and my son often does – watch videos of other people playing video games. He said he was, in fact, playing. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he explained that he had taped down the mouse button so it would click continuously, saving him the trouble.

At this point in the post, I was going to insert a gif of the head-exploding scene from the movie Scanners, but it’s very graphic, and I don’t want to offend anyone. The point is, my mind was figuratively blown as I processed the fact that he put a piece of Scotch tape on his mouse to spare him the toil of clicking.

I love my son, and I refused to accept the possibility that he had entirely given up on physical exertion, achieving a divine level of sloth. There had to be another explanation, and, in that moment, a question came to mind: is it laziness or ingenuity? Is my son the Ely Whitney of gaming? Is that piece of tape the cotton gin of the digital generation? Has my son transcended this worldly realm? Is he approaching true enlightenment? Probably not, but he’s certainly making me look at the world a little differently, and he’s adhering to my motto: he’s being who he is, liking what he likes, and, quite possibly, he’s doing some really cool stuff.  I just hope he’s not dangerous.


One thought on “Teen Idle

  1. I bet idle games are an outgrowth of those little digital “pets” you could buy, that grew and flourished as long as you paid them some attention now and again. Idle games (a concept new to me, also) seem a logical next step. The “point” of the game is a bit obscure, but the “everyone wins; some just win better than others” concept seems right in line with this newest generation.

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