Saturday, September 6, 2008

16-year-old drops out of school to play Guitar Hero

It happens, it's stupid, but it's the parents' right to make asinine decisions for their minor child. (Not dangerous ones, mind you, but asinine ones) He "hadn't been doing well in school and wasn't liked." So the obvious answer is a variation of school choice? This kid exemplifies why I don't follow every whim and wish of my students, why I don't like school choice (too many decisions are based on flimsy junk like this) and why I don't like the trend of catering to "the 21st Century student" and his odd little educational quirks.

Let's get beyond the question of whether any adolescent feels that he is doing well and is well-liked. Whether you believe that the gaming is the cause or effect of his loneliness or that both were caused by a third unmentioned factor as I believe, you probably can agree that this kid would be okay in a big public high school where there are lots of kids just like him and amongst whom he'd be liked and admired. His helicopter parents are screwing him up.

It's that third factor, a parental obsession with easing the daily details of their kid's life, has to be a big contributor. This is complete conjecture on my part, of course, but the fact that they are getting him a tutor for his entire education means they're not the homeschooler type of parents. They're not improving his schooling out of principle. Instead the kid wasn't "happy" and they're paying for his every whim. They're going to subsidize his gaming fad-hobby in the face of truly unrealistic images of financial return, which reeks of a spoiled child to me.
From Yahoo!Tech:
In fact, young Mr. Peebles is dropping out of high school... in order to focus on Guitar Hero full time. Peebles hopes to join the small but growing crew of players looking to make gaming a job. Citing his victories in Guitar Hero tournaments, which include "gift certificates, gaming equipment, and chicken sandwiches," Peebles thinks he has the chops to play competitively and earn actual money in the process. As the story notes, top gamers on the competitive circuit can earn up to $80,000 a year (though $25,000 is more common). Peebles, of course, can count his 52 Chick-fil-A combo meals toward that total.
I love that he "thinks he has the chops" and "earn actual money" phrases. Part of me wants to explain that "earn actual money" means "spend that actual money on everyday necessities like gas and still require a lot more" and part of me wants to let the kid and his parents make the decision and waste their money.

Then there's my favorite: lead them on with the promise that some other guy gets paid a lot of money collected from all the rubes. "Of course, kid, you're one of the elite, not a rube contributing entrance fees to pay the real winner."

The money quoted was for "some top gamers" and "up to $80,000 a year (though $25,000 is more common)" which implies that he has a reasonable chance at $25000 per year and an outside chance at $80,000, not bad for a kid playing games and easy enough to live on with no dependants and sleeping in his van. Later in the article, that's corrected to "in eight years his total earnings are about $25,000 total" -- a slightly different set of circumstances. Not to mention that it's only ONE top gamer who makes $80,000 - but that lets them bring in the suckers.

So far, he's won "gift certificates, gaming equipment, and chicken sandwiches." This set of giveaways is worth exactly zero in real money but sounds like he's won a lot. This is his ticket to financial independence? Later the Tech Blogger mentions training and the cost of travel and expresses a worry about the difficulties of breaking into the professional ranks. He's wrong to worry - it's easy to get in and stay in if your parents are right there to pay for everything. He won't win but he doesn't care. Churchill's maxim does not apply to him: "Play for more than you can afford to lose and you will learn the game." He's playing with house money now and it'll only be a shame when he hits the big 2-1 and his money supply dries up. (excuse me, his ChickFilA chicken sandwich certificate supply) Then what?

At least with a football player, there's a degree as athletic trainer or jobs as coach to fall back on. That'll make you a good living and be a lot more secure than playing a fake guitar.
I was at first inclined to disparage the decision by his parents to let Peebles drop out of school, but it seems a little less ridiculous when you delve into the facts. Peebles hahdn't been doing well in school and wasn't liked, and even now he isn't gaming full time. He has a tutor that provides a private education, and his parents say he's doing well with the more focused instruction and that their son now even does his homework without complaint. (Presumably he can hit the axe sooner after he's finished his studies.)

However, I worry that Peebles, who's just 16, may have a tough road ahead trying to break into competitive gaming. The costs of traveling to tournaments alone can totally outstrip earnings, and the amount of training can be grueling. Sponsorships are often a pipe dream. And then there's the issue of games going out of date and being replaced by something new. Traditional athletes never have to worry about, say, distance running being upgraded with a new version, but many games can go out of style, fast. In the end, there's just not much cash there: One gamer, quoted at the end of the linked article, says that in eight years his total earnings are about $25,000 total, and that's including a national championship in Halo 2.


  1. We have a kid, I swear I knew you weren't writing about him, but it comes close. Haven't seen him in school yet this year...

    You of course have seen this XKCD cartoon? I had it posted on my office door for most of last year, for kids to read.

    I didn't post this one but showed it to plenty of kids, too. The semi-concerned smiles - much funnier for me to watch them, than for anyone to read the caption.

  2. I have seen almost all of his cartoons, having gone through them all one afternoon when I first discovered them. I hadn't remembered the gruesome one. It may need to go on the classroom wall next to this one and this one.

    Math teacher, closet physics teacher/ engineer who is blown away by the sheer brilliance.