The GPU shortage deepened my existential fear

My preteen son laptop had been warning us for months that it was ready to stop working forever. The battery had stopped charging properly, the hinge was loose, and after years of Minecraft orders, the W the key had fallen. When he finally died on New Years Day, West was panicked. His eyes widened as he looked up at me and whispered in horror, “Oh no.”

After our schools closed last spring, online gambling has become her lifeline, her only source of connection with peers. I tried to convince him that it wasn’t so bad: he had been saving money to build a gaming PC for a year. Now that her laptop was dead, I would help her with the cost. But West was not reassured. He explained that he could buy almost any part of a gaming PC, but we’d be hard pressed to find a graphics card he needed to complete it. Covid-19, he told me, had increased demand and led to a shortage. “I’m sure everything will be fine,” I said. I assumed the graphics card shortage would be like the toilet paper shortage we witnessed last March: a fleeting problem that the market would fix. I was totally wrong.

If I had done my own research I would have learned that several factors caused the shortage of graphics cards, starting with manufacturing and shipping delays when the pandemic began. Just as supply fell, demand grew exponentially as people trapped at home turned to online games for entertainment and to connect. The problem has been compounded, as my son has repeatedly explained to me with moral indignation in his voice, by robots buying the limited supply as it becomes available and reselling it at an astronomical price. The shortage would continue in the long run, not to mention people buying graphics cards for cryptocurrency mining.

Many parents like me have seen their children withdraw in the past year, become brooding and angry, and have difficulty sleeping and eating. In the first few months of social distancing, West spent hours in the bathroom with the door locked and the fan on. When we shouted through the door to ask him to join us, he told us he wanted to be alone. It took intense negotiation to get her to shower and eat. Little seemed to cheer him up, and yet I heard a distinct uplift in his voice when he played Minecraft While speaking on Discord with friends. He often carried his laptop downstairs and typed in his headphones while finally eating the sandwich I had offered him hours before.

West had grown so many inches in quarantine that he barely looked like his pre-Covid self. His voice had dropped and his feet had grown 3 sizes, but when he was playing I got a glimpse of who my son would be if Covid hadn’t turned our routines upside down. For the West, the Minecraft server was a world that existed outside of Covid, a site free from the restrictions that defined social distancing. Villagers didn’t need to stand 6 feet apart or wear masks, and players could avoid death by simply switching to Creative Mode.

I was surprised to see how his regular social development continued there. It was noisy Minecraft; he made new friends Minecraft. I even listened to him and his peers resolve social conflicts by playing Minecraft. When a player falsely accused my son’s oldest friend of stealing cobblestone and a fire baton, West intervened on his behalf and threatened to temporarily shut down his server. I was proud of him for taking a stand and grateful Minecraft offered me a window into who my son was among his peers.

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