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Psychologist Philip Zimbardo, the guy who ran the famous Stanford prison experiment in 1971, is once again making news with his thoughts on the human condition. The only trouble is that he appears to have teleported to the present day immediately after completing the prison experiment, and sadly even that wouldn’t account for how outdated his thinking is when it comes to video games.
In a previous video I talked about studies that show that video games can influence our thinking in interesting ways, but that influence depends on what games we’re playing and who we are. Just as with books and films, there is no one way that video games change people for the better or worse.
That hasn’t stopped Zimbardo from delivering a TED talk and then writing an entire book about how video games are ruining boys and men – and just boys and men, by the way, so ladies, don’t bother abandoning that Bloodborne game just yet.
In the book, Zimbardo claims that 4 hours or more of video games a day will ruin men, without actually backing that figure up with any evidence. Some studies have shown that kids who spend 3 or more hours per day playing games may be slightly worse off, but the effect is actually not very pronounced. And, there’s nothing to say that they wouldn’t be equally bad off if they were doing any other activity for that amount of time, like watching television, or playing craps in the alley like we used to do when we were kids. Before video games. In a more wholesome time.
Zimbardo also doesn’t bother explaining why video games are only terrible for men, even though nearly half of all gamers are women. Zimbardo relies on lazy stereotypes instead of actual science to make his pronouncements: imagining the average gamer as a preteen boy who sits in his parents’ basement all day playing Call of Duty in the dark. A more realistic picture would be a 30-year old woman playing Bejeweled while she’s waiting for her friend to show up to dinner.
Zimbardo also believes that the secret to saving men from the horror of video games is to reinforce gender stereotypes that he values, like encouraging boys to “man up” and play sports. Because no men have ever gone wrong that way, right? Surely we don’t have an epidemic of men who are conditioned to hide their emotions because that’s not manly, leading to high rates of suicide. And surely we don’t see sports stars affected by toxic masculinity, leading to high rates of rape and sexual abuse, as well as substance abuse.
So unfortunately it looks like Zimbardo is going to have to step to the side and join James Watson in the pool of esteemed scientists who are throwing their reputations away on bigotry and pseudoscience. I’m sure they’ll be very happy together, complaining about how we all just couldn’t handle their masculine superiority.