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The Real Poop

"f you hate bright lights and loud beeping noises, you're barking up the wrong tree. If, however, you like the idea of working at a place designed to make people smile, and don't care too much about being able to feed and clothe your family, read on.

Your coworkers are probably fun people. The staff break room probably has a sweet video game setup. You might meet a cute girl 'ho loves Dead Heat as much as you do.

Indeed, those are all reasons why it's an excellen summer job. But as a career? Are you kidding? We don't mean to suggest that choosing a career means choosing between becoming a doctor, lawyer, or a teacher. Of course not. There are all sorts of careers out there. But careers, unlike a summer job, usually involve a skill or a passion that you can continue to develop for decades.

Imagine what it would be like to be an amusement arcade worker for the next 30 years of your life. Actually, we'll do the imagining for you. When you first got your job at the amusement arcade, way back in, say, 1985, it took you only a week to know how to operate and repair the pinball machine, the air hockey table, and the claw crane. Another week and a half max to know how to operate all the video games, like Pac-Man.

After that, there wasn't much else to learn. (Arcade games really haven’t changed much since the '90s. The greatest innovators of our time seem to be working with other technologies, like, ahem, the Internet.) The only thing that kept your job at the amusement arcade from being a total waste of your summer was the flirty little thing you had with the girl working at the nearby Ferris wheel. But as summers turned into years, you never really moved on—or up. And now, 30 years later, you're still pressing the same buttons and resetting the same malfunctioning controllers. (In fact, you're a little thankful for this. Not a whole lot of amusement arcades from the '80s have stayed in business like yours has. More on that later.)

Basically, becoming an amusement arcade worker is going to be a pretty boring, tiring drudge of a life without much career advancement. No climbing ladders for you unless you can somehow own your own amusement arcade.

And whether you own your own amusement arcade or just work at one, it's going to be a very, very poor life. Let's say you’re just working at an amusement arcade. It shouldn'’t take long before you realize that the happier you make your customers and the faster you move them down the line, the more money you’re going to make. See here. Each customer pays $1 to play that creepy claw machine. (Because it's totally normal and not sadistic at all to use a metal claw to poke, prod, and kidnap innocent teddy bears.) The owner notices that only one in every 50 customers manages to capture and win a stuffed animal victim. (For all you arcade-goers out there, that's code for, Stop paying to play the claw machine, no matter how much you love arcade games.) The stuffed animal only costs the owner $5, so every time 50 people use the claw machine, the owner makes a solid $45 in gross profit.

Not too shabby.

But wait, there are definitely more expenses involved here. First, there's your salary. You didn't really do much (anything), but you still get paid minimum wage. Owner's down to $35 in profit.

Still, not too shabby.

But hold up. What about rent? Insurance? How much did it cost to buy the machine in the first place? The numbers don't matter so much as the realization that the owner and his or her employees aren't raking in as much as it might seem. After all, these numbers assume that the arcade is operating at full capacity, with 50 people—roughly one person per minute—playing that one single arcade game. It's pretty hard to imagine there's an arcade out there that has 50 people lined up just to play the claw machine.

Ready for some real talk? The video game industry, and traditional arcades along with it, crashed in the early '80s and has been in free fall after a short-lived renaissance in the early '90s. In New York, once the unofficial amusement arcade capital of the world with hundreds of arcades, there are today fewer than ten arcades. These few straggling arcades aren't exactly thriving either. Becoming an amusement arcade worker is like announcing that you’re becoming a "knocker-up man" in a time when we all set the alarms on our iPhones.

So in theory, an amusement arcade sounds like a pretty sweet racket. In reality, though, working at one of the two remaining amusement arcades in the world—or god forbid, opening your own one—is like trying to climb up a super steep hill while riding on the back of a three-legged fever-stricken, crippled, and dying horse. No matter how much you want to get up that hill, it ain't gonna happen.

Bottom line? This isn't a matter of choosing what you love over what pays really well. We know you love arcade games. So does every loner kid in middle school with a couple extra dollars in his pocket. But working at an amusement arcade in the hopes of earning money and providing for yourself is a very different animal. (We just told you what kind of animal. Don't make us repeat.) These jobs don't just "not pay well."

This is one horse best shot in the head as soon as possible. Now go play a couple video games while you decide what next steps to take.