Are Video Games and Porn Really Ruining Men?

Hey there, ladies and gents! We’re back to our usual fare today.

As I often do, I decided to engage in a marathon writing session last night. Taking a break towards the end, I noticed a rather interesting article published on CNN. See, there’s this psychologist who thinks we’re in the midst of a crisis that affects thousands- maybe hundreds of thousands- of young men across society. The death of adult behavior, a digital addiction that culminates in the need for instant gratification, and the failure to accomplish…well, anything. More and more guys are becoming ‘hooked on arousal.’ The two culprits? Video games…and Pornography.

Because clearly, those two have everything to do with one another.

The novel, titled The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It is one Professor Phillip Zimbardo, the fellow behind the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, and his assistant, Nikita Duncan. According to Zimbardo and Duncan, video games, combined with the inundation of pornography provided to us by the Internet era, have created a generation of young men who are socially awkward, shy, emotionally stunted, and either unable or unwilling to take risks.

Basically, it’s creating a generation of stereotypical ‘nerds.’

The work compares Video games and Pornography (I’m still trying to figure out why they decided to group the two together, myself) to compulsive gambling and drug addiction, and claims that young men everywhere are becoming hooked on arousal, sacrificing relationships, schoolwork, and personal well-being in order to get their ‘buzz.’ The difference is, while other addicts desire more and different levels of arousal, games and porn addicts get hooked on ‘sameness.’

He looks trustworthy.

What’s more, young men across the modern world are starting to demand instant gratification in all things, leading to stuntend romantic and interpersonal relationships. Good things come to those who wait, but Zimbardo says that these immature fellows are unwilling to wait. They’re emotionally detached. Psychologically distant. Stunted in their development.

As a result of their addiction, they’ve…lost something.

“The excessive use of video games and online porn,” reads an excerpt “in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real life relationships, school, and employment.”

The stories about this “terrible degeneration” are thrown at the reader in droves- but you’ve heard them all before. The South Korean man who went into cardiac arrest because he refused to stop playing Starcraft. The man who was kicked out of his home for watching too much porn. Anders Behring Brevik.

That’s right.  Brevik is cited as an example of this degeneration. Seems reasonable, right?

Tunnel Vision

Next up: how John Deere and Mini Wheats caused the current financial meltdown.

To me, Zimbardo’s study seems to be woefully incomplete. The psychologist, brilliant though he may be, has made one of the most elementary mistakes in psychology- he’s mixed up cause and effect, and mistaken facets and symptoms of the issue for the source of the problem. He didn’t do the research in full.

Indeed, it seemed like he simply made a thinly veiled attempt to cash in on the aura of uncertainty that still surrounds the gaming industry, and the sense of shame so often associated with pornography.

Arousal addiction; the need for instant gratification; it’s not a problem that affects only men. And it doesn’t stem chiefly from video games and pornography. To claim it does is erroneous at best, dishonest at worst. Do I deny that video game addiction is a problem? No. It’s a serious concern, and further research into the detrimental effects of video games is necessary.

Are video games inherently harmful? It’s impossible to say, at this point. Is Pornography a terrible, emotionally damaging thing, even in small doses? Again, there’s not enough research out there to definitively determine if it is. Do I deny that watching too much pornography, playing too much of a game, is tacitly unhealthy and can adversely impact one’s personal life?

Again, I agree with Zimbardo in this respect. But I still think he’s missing the whole story. To me, the problem is much greater in scope- and not just psychological, but sociological in nature.

The Real Problem

Not pictured: hatred, shame, and health concerns.

Porn and Games aren’t the problem, and men aren’t the sole victims. Rather, they’re an outlet for a pervasive sense of aggrieved frustration. They’re a means of alleviating the stress and the boredom of our modern age.

We’re living in an era of digital debauchery, an age of entertainment in which instant gratification is but a few clicks away. Even those of us who are, for all intents and purposes “normal”- those of us who aren’t addicts, or emotionally damaged, or risk-averse, frightened children at heart- have felt the sting of this phenomenon in how we think, feel, and interact.

We’ve become desensitized to stimulation. Daily, we’re bombarded with so many images, sounds, and pictures, so many ads, so much entertainment, so much information that it’s no wonder more and more people are overwhelmed and distracted. We’ve been gleaned on information;  grown accustomed to the flow of data. To lights and colors and sound, to blood and music and sex and pictures of cats.

Or pictures like this one.

For many of us, our minds have come to crave constant stimulation, to expect continual visual and auditory changes.

What’s more, we’re the “me” generation; the majority of us have yet to even taste true hardship. More and more, children and young adults are raised with an entitlement complex. We’re special. We’re unique. We deserve things. We are entitled to the world on a platter. 

We grow up without the guiding hand of tradition, caught in the mire of tasteless television and the boundless Internet. Skills that once used to be taken for granted have fallen into disuse.  Modern entertainment traps us, pulls us in, and makes us forget who we are- and what. We’re allowing ourselves to become complacent- fallow and languid in our sea of noise and data. The past and future become little more than far-off, addled dreams; the present is our be-all and end-all.  Consider: we have all this information at our fingertips; an unprecedented library of enlightenment, and what do we do with it?

Young men engage in misanthropic, borderline-sociopathic behavior in the digital arena, spewing hate and bile and venom; free of the censors that come with expected public behavior. It’s pure, unfiltered human ugliness, and while many of them certainly realize what they’re doing, I’m not certain all of them realize the impact their behavior could have- or maybe they know, and they’re bored enough that they simply don’t care.

Maybe Palaniuk’s Tyler Durden had the right idea.

Young women buy into this trend themselves and become just like the young men, or become disenfranchised and marginalized by a generation of boys who either don’t understand how to relate to them, or simply don’t care.

It’s like many of these people forget that, on the other end of that connection, there are human beings. Perhaps, on some level, this gives way to a profound loneliness. We’re living in a global village where each man and woman is isolated in their own little solitary confinement cell. Online interactions- pornography included- may become a substitute for real relationships, a pathetic simulation of the real thing. People forget how to socialize in person because all of their socialization takes place in a virtual domain.

We’re dependent on novel, digital entertainment, rather than in-person interaction. On some level, many of these people might be aware of the fact that there’s something terribly, terribly wrong with the world- but they can’t quite put their finger on what it is. They feel slighted; as though something integral and vital has been stolen from them.

It paints a rather grim picture, doesn’t it?

To be fair, this isn’t the lot of everyone- there are many people who live perfectly happy, healthy lives, even in the modern day. But one can’t deny the impact that the advent of the digital age has had on the human experience, whether it’s for better or for worse.

No Easy Solution

Whatever the solution, I don’t think it lies with this guy.

So…what can be done, then? How exactly can we address a problem like this? Hell, how does one even determine what the problem is? Are we to address arousal addiction, ignoring the social and environmental factors that so often lead to such addictions? Are we to re-examine the effect that modern technology has on the human brain, in hopes of determining what, if anything has gone wrong?

Could it be that the problem isn’t as big as we think it is? Or is it, perhaps even worse than any of us can imagine?

Are we to try to educate people on the issue? Or are we to simply wait, to bide our time and hope that all this chaos is little more  than a transitional period, the predecessor to some great development, where humanity truly embraces the Internet and all the technology around it for what it really is? That we’re just going through a time of adaptation, while the human experience adapts itself to a world that, in all of mankind’s history, has never existed until then?

How does one tackle the invasive, all-encompassing feeling of malaise that’s settled over so many modern young adults? How does one even begin to approach the complicated issue of arousal addiction, with all its myriad symptoms and causes?

From where I stand, the problem may well lie with their parents. Where were mom and dad while their sons and daughters were burying their faces in the computer screen? Why didn’t their parents teach them about the ins and outs of life? Why didn’t they teach them about moderation? Why did they fail to prepare them for the real world, fail to prepare them for the inevitability that, someday, everyone has to grow up?

That’s not a question I can answer here- I’ve neither the time nor the mental fortitude,at the current moment. All nighters take a lot out of you, you know? In any case, this post has already grown longer than I intended it to be.

Perhaps I’ll revisit this issue at some point in the future. But for now, I’ll catch you folks later.

Image Credits: Addiction Treatment, vg247lkdsb.net, My AsharonaWith Leather, Black Heart Magazine, Super Industria

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10 responses to “Are Video Games and Porn Really Ruining Men?

  1. Enjoyed your post. For better or worse, I definitely am part of the new generation addicted to the instant gratification…Hard to label it as bad or good. Almost all humans are excessively addicted to some sort of fix (alcohol, sex, drugs, food)

  2. Why Parents do not stop their kids,: Simple:
    The first problem is the average addicted gamer is 37. So many parents are addicted as well.
    The 2nd problem is they dont know its causing addiction.. The government does not warn.
    the 3rd reason is the games getting more addictive each year. Parents may not understand the danger in time.
    The 4th reason is that in disfunctional families or where parents get divorced, the children get more freedom to fill in the gaps.
    The solution is simple. Make sure your kids do not play in isolation, have them play games that are not endless. And do not allow them over 2 hours of screen time/day. (TV+internet+games) Kids best play games that teach them a few things. Do never let them trap themselves in the endless world or online TRS/MMOs and wow clones.
    The author of the study talks about excessive behavior. Once young adults fall into this behavior they start to create dopamine and start building tolerance. So in order to get the high they need more of their addiction..until they play 16 hours/day and start to suffer from depressions, bad health.
    Some gamers are pathalogic addicted gamers. Others are gaming to forget..and many just like the games…But when played too much it doesnt matter …In addiction all gamers are the same..And I can tell, as an involuntairy and functional ex addicted gamer ( I wish someone would someone would have told me .)
    I quit playing and that caused me to feel blah at many moments for 6 months.
    Sorry for the long post

  3. I think in reality all addicts are the same…and if we are honest, all humans are the same. We all have coping mechanisms for stress, fear, insecurity, boredom, etc. Some are more potentially addictive and problematic than others, but the fundamental solution to addiction is to learn healthy coping mechanisms for the stresses and hard times of life.

    I appreciated your thoughts on this, and also appreciated this second comment from personal experience. I think the authors combined video games and porn in the same article/book because both are similar ‘escape’ addictions that are not always recognized along with other addictions — but can and do have similar effects on the lives of those who use them. The brain chemistry element of these addictions — and the predictable impact such arousal addictions can have on the users’ ability to function in healthy ways — deserves more attention. We’re comfortable talking about chemical drugs that are induced, but in reality, behaviors such as gambling, pornography use, excesssive video gaming, eating can create the same kinds of chemical pathways in the brain. You might be interested in reading more about this from the American Society for Addiction Medicine (the focus in this article is on porn, but the same principles and pathways that are discussed can be relevant to video game use as well, I think): http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/american-society-for-addiction-medicine-2011-page

    You might also appreciate this (a great resource for parents and youth who want to understand more about the impact/risk of addiction): http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/ (their new video “We Need to Talk” is great). They were also recently featured on ABC’s Nightline.

    • Michelle is correct. Once addicted all addicts are the same. The reasons to become addicte may be different. Men game and use internet for recreation twice as often, and twice as long compared to woman. And it seems the author is right. In many countries we see that the number of woman who graduate is larger then the number of men. It was not investigated why. It could be woman are smarter, but what if the reason is internet addiction? That would explain the graduation numbers as statistical evidence.
      Many addicts have a fubctional life.Me myself am graduated in 2 engineer professions. We have jobs, have families and are very social people..Everyone likes us…but we are addicted without knowing it.
      This author gives a good warning. I think the key element is to warn thr public as many gamers they know they play too much, but they should be warned for the dangers, like what happens with Tabacco, illegal drugs and Alcohol.

  4. Good to see a bit of discussion going on here, guys. It’s like I said in the article- I think one of the biggest problems with the Internet is that we’ve never actually dealt with anything like this in human history. We have no idea how to approach it, and the body of research simply doesn’t have enough publicity- and is, in many cases, considerably smaller than the research into other aspects of human psychology.

    What’s more, we’re actually living in a society that, to a degree, encourages addiction- unscrupulous developers include mechanics to foster addictive behavior, and as the Internet becomes more and more relevant, it becomes harder and harder to tell who’s an addict and who’s simply an average user.

    I’m a freelance writer, and do almost all of my work online- so if you look at usage statistics, I qualify as an addict.

    I’ll admit that the author’s study certainly does have merits- but I still feel those are outshone by the fact that he’s only addressing part of the problem, and doesn’t appear willing to admit that they comprise a much larger and much more frightening epidemic.

    I definitely appreciated the links you shared, Michelle- “Your Brain on Porn” was particularly enlightening (and, in many ways, disturbing). One cannot help but wonder if there are other aspects of digital technology that are affecting the minds of men and women in much the same fashion.

    I feel that the problem with this author’s warning is the way in which he framed it. He lumped video games and pornography (typically seen as a ‘dirty’ pastime) into the same group, and painted them with the same brush. What’s more, some of the situations and scenarios he quoted were, quite frankly, unacceptable for him to use as examples.

    As a result, most folks are likely to simply shut down or dismiss his claims outright- the only people who he’ll ‘convince’ are those who were on his side in the first place.

    • Hi Rambling. Some people try to make conclusions and quick wins, or try to jump 3 hurdles in one leap, like this author. But he is right in a way, but is indeed forgetiing something.
      I am an ex addict. Or recovering addict. I was able to maintain video game – addiction for 25 years. Only when I increased play time the last 2 years it went wrong. The problem is that when most gamers are done gaming, they may do Porn to get an extra rush, and that may turn into infidelity and such. Just for more dopamine. Gaming goes wrong when it takes more then 2 hours a day. Kids are advised max 1 hour a day. If someone games 3 hours a day for 3 months, the hazard zone get reached and extremely hazard is fro people doing 50 hours a week. I think those hours include all internet activity but not sure. The difference between boys and girls is that boys are 4 times more often on Internet ( two times longer and two time more often)…what puts them in a larger hazard.
      I do not believe violent games cause for more risk. I think the biggest dager sits in games that never end ( WOW, EVEONLINE, EQ2, etc) and where people must spend more time in the game to have success/
      So the danger sits in seduction to be online as much possible, and players being enocuraged. And it feels good, and no one knows he or she gets addicted. That is because the emotional area of the brain , is changed ( in brainwaves) :

      Video games have an additional effect on the brain that other addictions do not. Brain waves have been shown to be negatively affected by video games, specifically alpha and beta waves. Alpha waves are involved in imagery and relaxation or rest. Beta waves indicate increased activity in the prefrontal lobe of the brain, which is the center of emotion and creativity.

      • It’s an interesting perspective you’re putting forward, with games as something of a ‘gateway’ to pornography. I don’t think the amount of time you spend gaming is indicative of whether or not you have a problem, just as how much time you spend on the Internet isn’t indicative of an addiction.

        Really, it could just indicate that one has a lot of leisure time.

        Truthfully, it’s how you approach that time you spend. I actually wrote an article on the topic a while back; on how to tell when a hobby becomes a little bit more than that.

        As for Pornography, well…I think that if they’re using porn for an ‘extra rush,’ we’re crossing over into some pretty severe impulse control. The excessive browsing of pornography might not itself be the problem, but instead could be indicative of a much deeper problem. In truth, I’m not certain there exists a young man or woman today that’s not had at least a passing experience with porn-again, it’s how one approaches it that determines whether or not it’s an addiction.

        MMOS are pretty terrible in that they actually include elements custom-tailored to suck people in and keep them playing- it’s why the subscription based business model is so horrible. I’ve had a few friends who’ve wrestled with MMO addiction in the past- it’s not a pretty sight.

        I’d be interested in seeing some of these studies on how brainwaves are affected by video games- is this a long-term impact, or does it wear off a few hours after the gaming ‘high’ does?

      • I did not meant to say games as gateway to pornography..Its more complex then that and I slowly stant to understand. Tomorrow I will try to give some links to summaries, although I dont have access to the real deal and many people say many different things.
        Porn and gaming is more that an addict moves from on addiction to the next and both are available through the same medium. I think that is why DSM-V will take in Internet addiction as a new adition to the standardsm rather then gaming or porn.

        Both items gives a certain amount of plessure and seduction and many gamers jump in between, or try to date within MMO games, or having emotional infidelity as part of lettting the dopamine flow.

        Brain damage is forever. The brains will never return to the original state. But they can repair and create new nerves based on new experiences ( they keep telling me) Games delete emotional memory in such a state, that all emotions of pleasure are replaced by only having pleasure when gaming. Then the ability to have social interaction gets disabled . All emotions get less ( what makes gaming turning people int o some state of Apserger Syndrome) Gamers get agitated and depressed as the result of the privious items, and most important, the part of the brains able to make descissions, gets disabled, what creates a position where gamers can no longer make the choice, to simply stop.

        There are so many links, but this is what I can safely tell from experience. I never wanted to play, played out of pure compulsion and a s a Rat in a wheel, I was rewarded, and I never could eave like being in Hotel California..

        It took a hell of an effort to make the descission to stop, but then I was released although the pain sometimes is so bog that I can imagine people relapse.
        Games are brain washing tools, and all those millions people on MMO who are not sick yet, they will.

        I need to sort out some links and show later…or if you write a book, I can always send my game history :)…

  5. to answer : One cannot help but wonder if there are other aspects of digital technology that are affecting the minds of men and women in much the same fashion.

    the problem of online gaming is, the social aspect , games that never end, and working hard gives more success to climb the solcial ladder.
    In that terms these games can simulate entire careers, in the game, and I have seen it happening people working 20 hours a day to lead parties, being awake 48 hours non stop etc ect ect. This is the biggest danger of internet, and once people start, thet cannot stop as that functions of the brain are no longer working properly.

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