Let’s Discuss: Video Games aid in The Demise of Guys?

Originally posted BY MYASHARONA at GamerFitNation

Recently I came across a lecture by Psychologist Philip Zimbardo that had been posted to ted.com. In his discussion titled “The Demise of Guys”, Mr. Zimbardo  shares some statistics (lower graduation rates, higher rates of unemployment) and suggests a few reasons — and challenges the TED community to think about solutions.

Mr. Zimbardo talks about drop out rates, educational statistics, and social awkwardness among college aged males.

“[guys] don’t know the language of face contact, the non verbal and verbal set of rules that enable you to comfortably talk to somebody else and listen to somebody else.”  he says. 

What does he blame this ‘demise’ on?

“excessive internet use in general, excessive video games, and new access to pornography.” 

“Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired.” he says.

Have a listen for yourself:


Among his suggested reasons he calls upon video games as a contributing factor, even referring to the work of Jane McGonigal , for isolation and social ineptness.

I had the opportunity to hear Jane McGonigal speak this past March. While her views can be interpreted as overly optimistic she formidably challenges the stereotypes surrounding the usefulness and value in ‘games’.

Have a listen to her discussion “Gaming can make a Better World”:

“Gamers are virtuosos at weaving a tight social fabric. There is a lot of interesting research that shows that we like people better after we play a game with them. Even if they have beaten us badly. ” says Ms. McGonigal

“Playing a game together builds bonds and trust and cooperation. And we actually build stronger social relationships as a result.” -Jane McGonigal

So let’s discuss. We have two opposing ideas here. Are video games a contributing factor to the demise of guys or are they helping us build a better world? Is the stereotype of the socially awkward gamer still valid and if so is that awkwardness causing us to flunk out of school and life in general?

I may not be the best person to weigh in here for two reasons, firstly I am not a ‘guy’ in fact I’m a girl and secondly I was always academic despite my interests in technology, computers, and video games so I do not fit into his declining demographic.  However, as someone who shares social interactions with the very guys Mr. Zimbardo talks about, I may be inclined to disagree with him.

What do you think?

P.S. I don’t know about you but I always hold my controller at arm’s length. :p

Tell me your thoughts in response to these two lectures. Share your personal experiences and ideas. I want to hear from you!

About Sharon

Sharon is an artist who freelances in illustration, graphics, and web content. Be sure to follow her on twitter @myasharona and catch her as co-host of podcast The DPOD From The D-Pad.

Posted on October 29, 2011, in For GFN, Uncategorized, Video Games and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Very interesting juxtaposition of these two talks. 🙂

    Scientifically, I found Zimbardo’s talk very weak. This may have to do with the time limit or with his assumptions about the audience, but even then, neglecting basic principles of good argumentation is a bit embarrassing for a man who is an authority in his field. My main problems with his argument are these:

    He shows data about boys performing worse than girls in a number of ways, presents this as a worsening situation for which the cause needs to be found, and then suggests computer games and pornography as such a cause. However, he does not:

    – demonstrate that the effect of boys performing worse than girls isn’t natural. There’s a lot of evidence that being male is (and has always been) a risk factor in childhood and adolescence. Boys have a higher risk of developing most childhood disorders, and even their death risk at birth is slightly higher than that of girls – just as men have, on average, a shorter life expectancy than women. Zimbardo imho fails to demonstrate that the data he presents in the beginning is just the outcome of this effect – a well-known and well-researched natural gender difference. Unfortunately, his whole argument hinges on that data.

    – Zimbardo also doesn’t demonstrate convincingly that the alleged effect (boys performing worse) is _caused_ by gaming and porn consumption, as he claims. If it were, then this would be easy to observe: Take gaming and non-gaming boys and girls and correlate their gaming habits with their success in school, in finding friends, or with their frequency of showing psychological disorders. Yet the proper studies I know of which checked for such correlations couldn’t find them. Of course, a teen who spends his whole time without social contact won’t be very “skilled” at a date. However, this is the case no matter whether he spent his time playing games, reading textbooks, drinking heavily, consuming porn, or composing music. Imho, Zimbardo’s “rewiring of the brain” is a much too complicated explanation for the simple effect that social interaction needs practice.

    – Zimbardo’s explanation of the way (constant arousal) how his alleged cause actually causes the alleged effects is sketchy at best.

    In short, I got the impression that Zimbardo is trying to scapegoat video games and porn to cause effects that he hasn’t even shown to be unusual.

    Next, McGonigal’s talk. In many respects, this talk is even weaker, because doesn’t even seem concerned with any hard data. Her whole argument is based on “her research”, but she tells us very little about what was researched specifically, how it was researched, and what the exact results were. The results are just being glossed over and then made fit into McGonigal’s argument. Where they don’t suffice, far-fetched historical theories and interpretations of Homeric scripture are thrown into the mix. Her whole talk is a rather eclectic mixture of assumptions whose actual scientific substance remains questionable – it may be there somewhere, but she doesn’t show it.

    There’s also a lot of hyperbole in her talk, and her characterization of gamers is extremely idealized. In my experience, the percentage of gamers which actually come up with creative solutions is current gaming environments is rather small. Most of the time “solving the problem” is a matter of “consulting the wiki” (McGonigal herself describes its popularity) and then following the laid-out plan, which often includes mind-numbingly repetitive actions, in order to achieve the next step in a cunningly designed long list of externally defined rewards. I don’t deny that the very positive gamer personality as McGonigal describes it _does_ exist, but declaring it as the norm is very far-fetched.

    However, McGonigal’s talk has one advantage over Zimbardo’s: Despite being overly optimistic, and despite the very non-scientific presentation, the basic reasoning behind it actually makes sense: People can learn from games, and this can have a positive effect on their lives. This reasoning is solidly grounded on learning theory, much better than Zimbardo’s “digital rewiring for constant arousal” hypothesis. It also matches the original purpose of games as a simulation in which kids could train the skills that they would need as adults.

    In the end, I disagree with both talks on many accounts, though the quintessence of McGonigal’s talk makes more sense to me than that of Zimbardo’s. However, it’s interesting to note that there are areas in which the two talks don’t necessarily disagree. Even McGonigal probably won’t deny that there are games which _don’t_ favor the idealized gamer personality that she described – actually she states that designing games that improve on this aspect is her mission. And even Zimbardo won’t deny that games are a powerful learning tool and can be very useful in this regard. The synthesis of the two talks is, then, this: We need better games. Games that favor creative interaction with one’s environment and/or social interaction over constant arousal and mind-numbing repetition of prescribed plans and plots. And that I can certainly agree with. 🙂

    • Firstly, thank you for your feedback. Not only was I not expecting to entice many with my provocation but neither did I expect such a well thought out and articulate response. 🙂

      I absolutely agree with your analysis of both discussions.

      In terms of Zimbardo’s discussion about children in schools, (as a former teacher, I can attest to some of the learning challenges that young males face and the higher percentage of struggle over their female classmates) but I feel rather adamantly that perhaps many of the challenges facing young men (and women) academically are more related to the way in which our education system is structured. Therefore I too believe his information is somewhat pieced together to help demonstrate a point.

      As for McGonigal’s discussion, you are right, her idealistic view of the average ‘gamer’ may be just that but isn’t that a little refreshing? All to often the stigma is quite the opposite. The lecture in which I saw her speak was in regards to the gamification of everyday life, specifically when overcoming hardships. Her ‘science’ was just a vague then but I felt her purpose was more of a pep-talk in nature as apposed to actual scientific evidence. In any event I agree with you that her information is being presented in a way that helps only to propel her argument.

      Where I disagree with you slightly is in your implied suggestion that “mind-numbingly repetitive actions, in order to achieve the next step” are not a catalyst for further creativity and problem solving. Before I could learn to write I needed to learn how to print. In order to learn how to print I needed to spend mind-numbing amounts of time practicing the alphabet letter by letter. The same is true for mathematics, There was a lot of level grinding before I was able to tackle the next step, equations.

      Regardless of that point, however, I too feel that the majority of skills being developed through this type of medium has yet to be transferred in a practical way on a mass scale. Whether new games are the answer, as you suggest, I’m not sure. Perhaps, as both Zimbardo and McGonigal sort-of suggest, we need to teach ourselves to understand how that which we have learned digitally relates (or can relate) to our real world relationships and development.


  2. I agree that McGonigal’s positive outlook on gamers is quite refreshing, and a welcome counterpoint to the demonization that takes place elsewhere. Though as an academically minded, research-oriented person myself, I still find it important to point out that her glasses are bit rose-tinted. 😉

    You raise an interesting point with regard to the importance of repetition for learning. You’re certainly correct where spelling or mathematics are concerned. However, I’m not so sure which skills people actually learn in certain games. A common (pointed) example: Gamer X currently spends 2-4 hours a day grinding experience in an online game. This includes using a highly specialized character build (that he has taken from the game’s wiki), going solo into the same area hundreds of times, and killing the same enemies time and time again. If he does this long enough, his character will reach the next level, which means that he may get new skills, and may be eligible to farm other areas in order to get the next level after that. Now, does this player really learn any skills that can be used to build bigger skills, in the way that learning to write characters enables someone to learn writing words later? I don’t see much in that regard. The player is probably training his discipline (i.e. his skill to work diligently on rather boring tasks in order to reach a far goal), which is not a bad thing, but is there anything beyond that?

    Granted, my example is cherry-picked for the point I’m trying to make. 🙂 But it’s not unrealistic, imho. Other gaming environments train more skills – for example, MMOs often train the ability to function as part of a team, which is an important skill to have in real life as well. But again, the question is: Which skills are trained beyond that, and are these actually useful?

    Just like TV programs are providing different levels of stimulation (compare Discovery Channel to Beverly Hills 90210), games can train very different sets of skills. I’m a bit worried that today’s games have a tendency to focus on training skills that aren’t actually very useful, because that’s currently the economically more viable route. Games like e.g. “Ultima IV”, in which the main quest was not to kill the big baddie, but to evolve into a role model of an intricate philosophy based on love, truth, and courage, simply don’t seem to be produced any more.

    Regarding this, I think it’s important to research which skills are actually trained by today’s games, and whether games could be made more useful for acquiring meaningful skills without becoming less appealing or relaxing. I think that’s actually the mission that McGonigal is following, and I’m curious now to see more of her results. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: