An article on CNN prompted quite the response from the video game community, as one might expect.
We at PSXE responded as well , challenging the assumption that video games are part of the reason why boys are slow to turn into young men. But we also wanted to tackle a few more difficult questions, so we approached the authors of the book, "The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling And What We Can Do About It" to see if we could get some answers.
Dr. Philip Zimbardo was out of the country and unable to participate, but psychologist Nikita Duncan was good enough to participate; the following are her replies to our relatively complex (and admittedly leading) questions, and we thank her for her time.
PSXE: Historically, video games have been seen as a "nerd" hobby. They're mostly mainstream now, but those who grew up with games were typically seen as geeks; therefore, would it be correct to assume that they were – based on definitions of nerds and geeks – smarter and less likely to be involved with vices and bad behavior?
Duncan: "If you're Generation X or a Millennial pretty much everyone plays or has played games and it doesn't make you a geek at all, rather gaming is normal activity. Gamers aren't necessarily smarter, different games attract different kinds of people and there's a game out there for everyone. It doesn't make you less likely to be involved in vices or other bad behavior except that physically you're most likely sitting down somewhere focusing on the game so your options for causing trouble are limited. Games can be a way to blow off steam, so in that way they'd be a good alternative to negative coping behaviors."
PSXE: The Atlantic's "The End of Men" article had a lot of merit, but didn't necessarily mention video games as a possible cause. What aspects of interactive entertainment do you believe hinders the maturity process?
Duncan: "We focus on the excessive use of video games and porn and the book is meant to raise awareness about the possible consequences of that, especially for guys that use both excessively. Porn and video games are also symptoms of a larger problem: that, as Jane McGonigal put it, reality is broken. If you're a young guy and you're literally being left to your own devices (i.e. parents are not parenting or father is absent, school is not interesting or challenging, no clear need for you in society), why wouldn't you engage in fun activities, and in the case of video games, a fun challenge that provides results?
The main problem with these activities currently is that in many ways they are socially isolating and they can be addictive, potentially undermining guys' abilities in other areas of their lives (such academic motivation and later succeeding and deriving satisfaction in a career, or socializing with girls and later being sexual with women). The sheer amount of time spent on gaming – the average teenage guy plays 13 hours a week or 676 hours a year or the entire month of February – takes away from exploring other talents or developing social skills."
PSXE: Do you believe gaming's tendency towards violence has an effect on all ages, or only younger children?
Duncan: "Children with more propensities to be aggressive are more attracted to violent video media, but violent media, in turn, can also make them more aggressive. This could be related to the fact that most video games reward players for violent acts, often permitting them to move to the next level in a game.
Yet recent research suggests a link between violent video games and real-life aggression — given the opportunity, both adults and children were more aggressive after playing violent games. And people who identify themselves with violent perpetrators in video games are able to take aggressive action while playing that role, reinforcing aggressive behavior."
PSXE: "Constant stimulation" is a major premise of your work, it seems. And although this is anecdotal, I must say that those I grew up with are actually some of the most patient, grounded people I know, and I would argue that the elements of CERTAIN games (those that task our problem-solving abilities, engage us in an emotional story, etc.) are actually helpful. Why aren't more studies being conducted on this positive aspect?
Duncan: "That's a valid point and there should be more studies conducted on the positive benefits of gaming. The people you're talking about probably didn't play games to excess over long periods of time. Again, there are both positive aspects and potential negative consequences.
There is now evidence for reciprocal causality (A causes B and B causes A) for attention problems and impulsiveness, and video game playing though. Researchers at Iowa State University and Singapore examined over 3,000 children and adolescents over 3 years and found that even when controlled for sex, age, race, SES, and earlier attention problems, kids who spend more time playing video games have a higher rate of attention problems. They also found that kids who are more impulsive or start out with more attention problems will then spend more time playing video games, thus leading to a higher likelihood of additional attention problems or impulsivity."
PSXE: The numbers say more women are playing games these days. Now, because many games are essentially "male-oriented," do you think this may be contributing to what some are calling "role confusion" in society today?
Duncan: "I'm 25 and the first game I played was Sonic the Hedgehog on the old Sega system in the early 90s. Since then I've played several games; my brother and I used to play Doom II and James Bond The World Is Not Enough with each other when we were kids and more recently my ex and I played Portal 2 together. It definitely didn't cause role confusion with me, or anyone else I've spoken with. Role confusion isn't really related to gaming. We can see how games are a wonderful escape from a world where there is a lot of gender confusion though.
In games guys get to be whoever they want to be, they can live their fantasies of being violent or romantic, or being the hero. Women too, can live out their fantasies. Why do you think FarmVille was so popular? Women love social games because they get to be cultivators and strengthen bonds with friends and family."
PSXE: Is it more accurate to say video games have addictive qualities, or those with addictive personalities – who are prone to becoming addicted to just about anything – are the ones getting in the news, and this is giving the well-adjusted gamers a bad name?
Duncan: "Games have addictive qualities. Most games are perfectly in tune with a user's pleasure center because they have scheduled rewards like higher levels, weapons, or tools, reinforcing the user's desire to perform and keep them coming back for more. That's not to say gamers can't be well adjusted, most are."
Awfully informative, I must say. We still have lingering questions and we continue to wonder why we're not seeing more work done on the positive side of gaming, but at least we can get some answers from educated and open-minded individuals. In our experience, most researchers qualify.
If you have an interest in the subject, you should look into the book in question , which is available now. Thanks again to Nikita Duncan for giving us some food for thought.