Are Video Games Ruining Men?

No. Obviously.

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Sorta transcript:

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to the present day immediately after completing the prison experiment, and sadly even that wouldn’t account for how outdated his thinking is when it comes to video games.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.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. Considering the flaws with the Stanford experiment, I’m inclined to guess data-driven experimental science isn’t Zimbardo’s thing.

    He likes grandiosity, making broad assertions, and backing them up with non-specific observation.

    What did we seriously learn from Stanford in the first place? Who knows! No independent variables, no control group, subjective observational analysis. I’m sure there’s science buried in there somewhere, once you get past the myriad assumptions that were baked into the experiment’s design.

  2. I cannot believe anyone still believes in a strict “jocks” versus “nerds” dichotomy. Does he think the guys on the football team don’t play Xbox? Video Gaming might have been a niche phenomenon in 1980, but by the turn of the century pretty much the entire American middle class had been completely colonized by Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo.

    1. Yeah, well. The really stupid thing is that the whole “jocks vs. nerds” BS is like… McCarthy Era, right? That was when, to fight communism, we decided that sports, and all the crap that went with it, needed to be pushed, lest the big, strapping, over muscled, Commies beat the shit out of us, while we tried to “think” our way into victory. That was the argument, wasn’t it? That we where not muscled and stupid enough to fight off the Red Menace?

  3. Unfortunately it looks like Jane Goodall will have to be added to that list for expelling ignorance about Bigfoot. Not as heinous I agree but still unscientific.

    Oh well, countdown to John Oliver hilariously ripping Zimbardo a new one in three, two, one…

  4. Rebecca Watson,

    Well if you spend too much of your time playing video game, you won’t get enough exercise or have much of a social life, so there’s that.

    1. Except a lot of people do, in fact, have active social lives through video gaming.

  5. Wait, Rebecca…… whoa. Hold up. Are you, a feminist, actually making the argument that patriarchy and hypermasculinity can have negative consequences on the psychological well-being of men?

    *** mind blown ***

    Tangentially related to this post, I recently got into a great discussion with a friend about physical education at school as a kid and young adult. Most of our PE teachers were also male coaches of predominantly male teams (football and soccer), and we decided that it had the unfortunate side effect of less emphasis on personal fitness goals and wellness, and more on competitive sports and winning and humiliation.

  6. Pffft. Bejeweled. It’s Plants vs. Zombies all the way.

    Okay, okay, and Bejeweled, too.

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