In the MMRPG called Unemployment in America (or as I like to call it, “the Game”), my avatar has faced many an unexpected turn, some trolls and goblins, and waaaaay too much lag. A few weeks ago, I ventured into a new world: The Land Of Unemployment Insurance (also known as “Prove you Can Work to be able to Prove You Aren’t Working!). I’ve been pretty low on HP, having lost count of positions applied for and never heard back or rejected, or whatever. So I’m trying to conserve my avatar’s playing energy. I’m still only a year and a half into my Quest, which puts me at a pretty low level, compared with some Americans, who have been exploring this world for many years.
A lot of The Game is low action PvP – you have to fight other people for positions you apply for. You actually never really know who you’re fighting until you level up into an interview and your goal becomes charming the Interviewer – usually the most white-knuckle part of the game. I have had many of these interviews (the most fun is being told you’re “over qualified, but thanks for playing!”). Last year, one of them produced some fruit and I was able to take on a temporary position that lasted to the end of the school year. For a while I was able to fool myself that I was out of the Game. But no, it was just another quest in a separate world that was still part of the Game. I am trying to increase my XP by doing subbing and finishing my 2nd master’s degree (which supposedly should give me more options in worlds I can explore, but I have my doubts these days).
The Game is degrading at times and can feel soul-sucking. But I also know that so many people have so little HP left that they are merely looking for food for their children. The big picture really does matter. Yesterday I realized that I could no longer rely on my hope alone that a position will come along. For 20+ years I have been a working professional, and for all of those years, my employers and I have paid into Unemployment Insurance. I decided a few weeks ago to apply to see if I qualified to claim some of that insurance now so that I could begin to plan for the eventuality of actually NOT finding a position in my professional field any time soon. That’s what insurance is for and why we pay into it.
In order to be able to claim the fraction of my former salary that is the insurance, I was directed to take my Quest to the Unemployment Office Maze. I confess that I had fears going in – not of what would happen (what happens, happens is the biggest thing I’ve learned in this Game), but more fears of what it would feel like. There is no small amount of shame that attaches itself this journey. We can’t escape the cultural designation of failure that haunts this Maze. So the challenge to get through it is already darkened by these distracting feelings.
But I was pleasantly surprised. The Maze wasn’t full of evil sorcerers and awful goblins. It actually contained very nice Elfin helpers who posted themselves along the way to guide me through the hours long process of proving that I was employable in order to receive acknowledgement that I was, indeed, unemployed. I did hesitate when I had to fight an AI called the “Basic Reading and Math Test.” I asked whether my already collected XPs based on my two master’s degrees might prove I already have reading comprehension skills without having to take the hour long test… but alas, no tradesies.
Once I made it through the Maze, there was no indication of where I should head next to complete this level of the Game. I decided to message a Mod. The person I spoke with at the state’s Unemployment Office was also incredibly kind and helped me figure out what I needed to do from here. To stay at this level and to be able to continue to collect its XPs, you have to reapply every week by proving you have gone on at least three new PvP Quests for positions or ventured into new worlds. If you can show you have done these each week, you can maintain your claim, at least for a few months until it runs out.
I am hoping this will help me build a small chest of tools and weapons with which I can at least build my son and I a safe place to rest and collect ourselves as we proceed through this Game. We are relying on the generosity of family right now for shelter, but I hope that that with this added benefit of the insurance, I will be able to feel less obliged and more self-sustaining.
Maintaining a sense of self is often the biggest challenge of this Game.
So at the end of this week, if the Unemployment Numbers are announced — and they’ve gone up — yep, that was me. Leveled up… and still questing.