Everyone I know is over sixty.
At 33, the only people I know my own age are either immediate family members or former college friends. The average age at my office- a typical professional firm- is 57. The average age of an American in 2011 is 37. The average age in 1960 was 29.
The influence of the Baby Boomer generation is profoundly felt on all levels of society and in all spheres of personal and professional life; their numbers are such that it’s impossible to escape the realities created by an immense, aging population.
Most of those realities create tension, if not outright hostility. An inherent Baby Boomer distaste for collaboration in any form, complete gridlock of professional promotion as older, less-technically-savvy professionals postpone or eliminate retirement, and economic turmoil created by years of policy decisions focused on sustaining financial growth for an aging population are bitter pills for subsequent generations to swallow.
How do we, the under-sixty crowd, find relief from the endlessly pushed Boomer agenda?
Blizzard owes its incredible popularity to the way in which it was able to respond to, and provide respite from, the challenges directly created by the Baby Boomers.
THE ABOLITION OF COLLABORATION CREATES GUILD UNITY
Baby Boomers simply cannot play well with others. It’s strange, really since there are so many of them you’d think it would be a survivalist trait. But, perhaps because there are so many peers in their group, the over-60 crowd seems bent on intractability.
For those of us whose age lies well below ambient temperature, collaboration is king. We comment on each other’s blogs, photos, Twitter snippets, Flickrs, Facebooks- everything is an opportunity for discussion. We argue, we discuss, we challenge, and we corroborate, but we consistently collaborate. ‘Could you take a look at this for me…?’ comes up constantly.
Our collaborative nature is not only unwanted but actively suppressed by uncommunicative Boomers in the workplace. Input is unwanted; decisions are top-down and not open for discussion, regardless of the topic or the decision-maker’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of the subject. Only a generation which truly loathed communication could have come up with the word ‘synergystic’.
While we have numerous outlets to work together, the guild structure of Warcraft is uniquely designed to take advantage of this personality quirk. Guild chat and guild forums let us stay in touch constantly. The addition of guild chat to the Warcraft Mobile app reinforced Blizzard’s recognition of the player base need to stay in constant contact- and contact we do.
LACK OF PROFESSIONAL MOBILITY CREATES RAID LEADERS
Like our parents and grandparents and countless generations before us, the under-sixty crowd wants very much to succeed. But where can you go with your ambition? Retirement (and past-retirement) age partners and firm owners remain steadfastly in place, nailed to their ergonomic chairs by a combination of the age-denial typical of their generation and the collapse of their retirement accounts.
There’s nowhere to go but up, unless there’s someone snoozing in the chair you planned to occupy one day.
The constipation of promotion and pay among the under-60 crowd has created a massive, stymied desire for recognition of skill and talent. You’re not going to get it at work… but what about in your raid?
The contemporary, motivated high-achiever almost certainly occupies a professional position lower than his or her natural level. Much has been written- and rightly so- on the intense stress and extensive people skills required to run a successful raid. Prioritizing, rapid response, fairness and toughness in equal measure to corral nine to twenty-four other people who don’t have to be here into doing what you need them to do at any given moment. Raid leading is a high-pressure position that requires a high-achiever, often for little or no reward (and a good chance of grief).
So why do it? Who would step up to that position? High-achievers whose professional outlets fail to recognize or reward their accomplishments, that’s who.
Thousands upon thousands of guilds launch successful raids, and sometimes field more than one team with more than one successful raid leader. There are a lot of high-achieving professionals out there whose inherent skills need a place to shine. Raid leading is just one of the outlets available to fill the internal void of personal achievement and public recognition.
ECONOMIC TURMOIL CREATES A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE
Though the Baby Boomers may not be uniquely responsible for the current economic situation, they certainly bear the burden of blame, deserved or not. The realignment of public financial priorities away from the highest-producing segment of the population and towards the aging and end-of-life population create economic realities that impact every member of our society, regardless of age.
Economic constraints have lead to the most universal factor that sustains the appeal of Warcraft: the relatively low cost per hour of entertainment.
If the typical gamer plays 20 hours a week, as they did in 2005’s Daedelus project study, that $14.99 per month cost works out to only 18 cents an hour for the average player- and that doesn’t include talking to friends about Warcraft on Twitter, writing or reading blogs, and planning your upcoming wardrobe transmogrification look in WoW Model Viewer.
The last time I went to a movie- admittedly, it’s been a while- I walked away forty dollars lighter and left only with the distinct impression that Zoe Deschanel should be drawn and quartered for ruining the Pooh song. The sensation didn’t last all month.
A lack of funds doesn’t just impact the typical movie theater example; it also limits travel, the purchase of books and reading material, gardening, even the occasional dinner or drinks with friends; all entertainment is impacted.
The Warcraft experience can alleviate- and in some cases, completely replace- expenditure on a variety of personal hobbies. If you love exotic locales, what could be easier than hopping on your flying mount and picking up an Explorer title? If it’s immersion in literature that floats your boat, each quest line and book in the game is at your disposal, as well as a rich lore history. And everyone knows ‘gardener’ is just another word for ‘Master Herbalist’.
Finding time for friends can be incredibly difficult, and the process of finding them in the first place is daunting. You say you want someone your own age, economic, social and cultural background who lives within ten miles? Good luck with that.
Warcraft is the ultimate friend-finder (“LFF”?), obliterating age, sex, and race with the nuclear blast of avatar. The only criteria for friendship in WoW is the written word, a method of communication as classically beautiful as it is deeply satisfying. You and your Warcraft friends meet up whenever it’s convenient for you both, without planning or schedules or- most importantly- expenditure. Best of all, you can do it all in the comfort of your own home- no babysitter required.
THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID
It’s easy to be consumed with rage at the Baby Boomers. That whining, entitled bunch who refuse to work together regardless of the consequences, who can’t learn and won’t get out of the way, whose self-aggrandizing politics impoverish us all.
But out of this accidental fertilizer has grown an amazing plant.
Where can we go to work as a team when our bosses and leaders seem bent on the destruction of collaboration?
Where can we find the personal rewards and recognition for our efforts we’re starved for in our professional lives?
Where can best spend our limited resources to compensate for the myriad hobbies and personal camaraderie our limited budgets force us to forgo?
The Daedulus Project
PARC PlayOn Study
The United States Census Bureau
You can stay in constant contact with the author, a card-carrying member of Generation Y who can’t stop communicating, on Twitter: @DiscoPriest
For further reading, we recommend the brilliant Generations by William Howe and Neil Strauss. Their insights on the stressors inherent between generations- and the potential avenues for resolution of those tensions- should be required reading for all ages.