American Consequences - April 2021


high school friends’ devotion to gaming that held them back from seizing on his valuable advice. Daumer doesn’t go that far, but he entertains the analogy. “It’s like an addiction,” he says of his trading hobby. “They get excited playing video games – it gives them that dopamine. And it’s the same reaction with me when I’m trading.” DOPAMINE STOCK TICKERS Sensation-seeking is what the headshrinkers call this. Gaming, and even just the pace of mass media these days, programs out the modern brain to crave and expect more excitement. And more, and more... Addictive boredom-avoidance isn’t new, but according to psychiatrist and MarketPsych cofounder Richard Peterson, it’s a powerful force behind the WallStreetBets approach to the game. “You’ve got real money being made and lost, real consequences that feel emotional. Emotionally you’re engaged, you’ve got the physiological arousal of the ups and the downs,” he explains. “And you’ve got the risk, the real-life consequences of what you’re doing.” The fun, in other words, is fully real. But so is the fear. Peterson compares advice from bombastic YouTube gurus and rude meme-purveyors on Reddit to a radical form of participatory talk radio, or a type of professional sport you can play right alongside the team you’re rooting for. Yes, it’s like a video game, he says, but “people are playing the game alongside Dave [Portnoy].” (Portnoy just so happens to have risen to public prominence as a sports

about the thrills of finance when he was in high school: “I used to watch a lot of these movies, so sophomore year, I got myself a MarketWatch account. I was doing paper trading competitions and getting myself more involved in understanding these companies – and listening to podcasts, and watching Warren Buffett’s speeches.” The latter-day financial gurus – brash YouTube personalities – don’t appeal to him as much. Redditors post their losses as well as their wins. It’s almost as though the losses, and not the wins, are what bind them together. The compulsion only grows stronger when you’re in it together with a crew, propelled by that fraternal loyalty and ancient associations with war. Daumer’s unpretentious Midwesternness – his distance from, and disinterest in, the excess of Wall Street life – makes him an appealing poster boy for the populist uprising and certain cinema-ready reading of the Reddit- GameStop phenomenon. Except for one problem: “I don’t play video games,” he tells me. “And I’m not a big Redditor,” he adds. “It’s more due diligence done by myself rather than seeing what some [jerk] on YouTube is going on about.”

And as for the subreddit the world is watching? “They’ve got 3 million new

members, but people lose money every single day.” In fact, I theorize it could even be his


April 2021

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