A Follow Up to Dings & Grats

My last post, “Dings & Grats,” generated quite a lot of commentary from both therapists and gamers alike.  I was surprised at many of the comments, which tended to fall into one of several groups.  I’ll summarize and paraphrase them below, following with my response.

1. “I haven’t seen any research that shows video games can increase self-confidence, but I have seen research that shows they cause violent behavior.”

Fair enough, not everyone keeps up to date on research in this area, and the media certainly hypes the research that indicates “dire” consequences.  So let me direct you to a study here which shows that using video games can increase your self-confidence.  And here is a study from which debunks the mythology of video games causing violence.

2. “I find gamers to be generally lacking in confidence, introverted, reactive and aggressive, lacking in social skills, etc.”

These responses amazed me.  Gamers are part of a culture, and I doubt that many of my colleagues would say such overarching generalizations about other groups, at least in public.  Would you post “I find women to be generally lacking in confidence,” or “I find obese people introverted,” or “I find African American people lacking in social skills?” And yet the open way many mental health professionals denigrated gamers without any sense of observing ego was stunning.  I was actually grateful that most of these comments were on therapist discussion groups, so that gamers didn’t have to read them.  This is cultural insensitivity and I hope that if my colleagues aren’t interested in becoming culturally competent around gaming they will refer those patients out.

3. “Real relationships with real people are more valuable than online relationships.”

This judgment confused me.  Who do we think is behind the screen playing video games online, Munchkins?  Those are real people, and they are having real relationships, which are just as varied as relationships which aren’t mediated by technology.  Sure some relationships online are superficial, and others are intense; just like in your life as a whole some of your relationships are superficial and others are intense and many between the two.  I’ve heard from gamers who met online playing and ended up married.  And if you don’t think relationships online are real, stop responding to your boss’s emails because you don’t consider them real, see what happens.

4. “Video Games prevent people from enjoying nature.”

I am not sure where the all or nothing thinking here comes from, but I was certainly not staying that people should play video games 24 hours a day instead of running, hiking, going to a petting zoo, or kayaking.  I know I certainly get outside on a daily basis.  But even supposing that people never came up for air when playing video games, I don’t think that would be worse than doing anything else for 24 hours a day.  I enjoy running, but if I did it 24/7 that would be as damaging as video games.  What I think these arguments were really saying is, “we know what is the best way to spend time, and it is not playing video games.”  I really don’t think it is our business as therapists to determine a hierarchy of leisure activities for our patients, and if they don’t want to go outside as much as we think they ought to, that’s our trip.

5. “I’m a gamer, and I can tell you I have seen horrible behavior online.”

Me too, and I have seen horrible behavior offline as well.  Yes, some people feel emboldened by anonymity, but we also tend to generalize a few rotten apples rather than the 12 million + people who play WoW for example.  Many are friendly or neutral in their behavior.  And there is actually research that shows although a large number of teens (63%) encounter aggressive behavior in online games, 73% of those reported that they have witnessed others step in to intervene and put a stop to it.  In an era where teachers turn a blind eye in”real” life to students who are bullied or harassed, I think video games are doing a better, not worse job on the whole addressing verbally abusive behavior.  Personally, I hate when people use the phrase “got raped by a dungeon boss,” and I hope that people stop using it.  But I have heard language like that at football games and even unprofessional comments at business meetings.  I don’t think we should hold gamers to a higher standard than anyone else.  Look, we’ve all seen jerks in WoW or Second Life, but we’ve seen jerks in First Life as well.  Bad behavior is everywhere.

6. “Based on my extensive observations of my 2 children and their 3 best friends, it seems clear to me that…”

Ok, this one does drive me nuts.  If you are basing your assertions on your own children, not only do you have a statistically insignificant N of 2 or so, but you are a biased observer.  I know it is human nature to generalize based on what we know, but to cite it as actually valid data is ludicrous.

7. “I think face to face contact is the gold standard of human contact.”

Ok, that’s your opinion, and I’m not going to argue with it.  But research shows that it is not either/or, and the majority of teens are playing games with people they also see in their offline life.  And let’s not confuse opinion with fact.  You can think that video game playing encourages people to be asocial, but that is not what the research I’ve seen shows.  In fact, I doubt it could ever show that, because as we know from Research 101 “correlation is not causation.”

By now, if you’re still with me, I have probably hit a nerve or too.  And I’ve probably blown any chance that you’ll get my book, which is much more elaborate and articulate at this post.  But I felt compelled to sound off a little, because it seemed that a lot of generalizations, unkind ones, were coming out and masquerading as clinical facts.  Twenty-First Century gaming is a form of social media, and gamers are social.  What’s more they are people, with unique and holisitic presences in the world.  I wasn’t around to speak up in the 50s, 60s and 70s when therapists were saying that research showed all gays had distant fathers and smothering mothers.  I wasn’t around when mothers were called schizophrenogenic and cited as the cause of schizophrenia.  And I wasn’t around when the Moynihan Report came out to provide “evidence” that the Black family was pathological.  But I am around to push back when digital natives in general and gamers in particular are derided in the guise of clinical language.

To those who would argue that technology today is causing the social fabric to unravel, I would cite a quote by my elder, Andy Rooney, who once said, “It’s just amazing how long this country has been going to hell without ever having got there.

Like this post?  There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info

Comments

  1. As we know from Research 101 “correlation is not causation.” Exactly.

  2. *standing ovation*! While you are using humor here to counter these uninformed arguments, I find that these statements were made by a professional community who claim to be educated on diversity, extremely concerning. My child plays video games, he also goes to the petting zoo, plays soccer and does his homework. I have relationships online, I am also married, a mom, and have friends I chat with in real life, but *more often* online. And I have friends who I have met online who I hope to meet IRL someday,but dont’ consider those friendships any different than the ones I have with acquaintances in my community.

    These blanket judgments are ridiculous and are worrisome for clients who engage in any sort of online behavior. I certainly hope the folks commenting on your post never see a client under the age of 20 — research shows 93% of them play online games and are engaged in social media…

    • I agree completely, Susan, I am distressed by lack of cultural competence demonstrated in comments that perpetuate stereotyping. Therapists who would be outraged if people made such statements about most client populations seems to feel very comfortable with their ignorance when it comes to gaming, gamers, and the role of technology in our culture.

      Our kids play video games (they are part of the 93% you mention), make up their own imaginary non-tech games, play soccer, basketball, ride their bikes, play legos, read books, play musical instruments, and do a great job making a mess of any physical space they are playing in. When I hear people talk about how kids don’t play the way they used to I don’t know whose kids they are talking about, because all the kids in our neighborhood all play the myriad of games that I’ve noted above. Video games are just part of the mix.

  3. Deborah Greene Bershatsky, PhD says:

    I don’t disagree at all with your assertions about gaming, nor with these comments. But are you saying that what gives us our self-esteem is “dings” and grats?” I had the impression that you were more psychodynamically oriented than that.

    I have worked with kids who played video games in my office, and it has been a great help. One very withdrawn, child, who wouldn’t talk about his life, would shush me while I tried to sneak in some conversation as he bloodied as many “bad guys” as he could on screen, yelling “Kill! Kill! Kill!” with an aside to me, “Quiet, I’m busy!” I started keeping score with him and noticing the accuracy of his shots, when he “died,” how his “health” was, how many lives, etc. and bemoaning losses with him. Eventually he included me in his fantasy and I was able to take him off first-person shooters to more imaginative role-playing games. After a few months, we played together, and soon he requested movies as he began to interact more with me. Now we watched horror movies, got scared to death together, and he began to let me in on the murderous, horror that was his life at home – not directly, but by the kind of horror he requested and the fear and anger that he was expressing. A discussion with his mother revealed that he was a used as pawn in a bitter divorce almost from birth.

    This child needed a lot more than positive reinforcement. I’m afraid that by oversimplifying the ways in which gaming can be therapeutic, and the refuge from a life of pain with which it provides some people, by under-pathologizing certain gaming behaviors, we may miss some important points.

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says:

      Hi Deborah, to answer your question, “Am I saying that what gives us our self-esteem is “dings” and “grats?” I say “Yes and it is complicated.”. and although one interpretation of the post is that it behavioral reinforcement, I think it is much more and very psychodynamic.

      Think of “Grats” in terms of Kohut and Fonagy. Fonagy describes mentalization as the process where we first imagine our parent’s self, and then via the parent discover our”selves” and more specifically, what kind of self we are, based on the parents behavior. Grats then becomes akin to Kohut’s “gleam in the parent’s eye.” So in later life, Grats can be a reparative experience.

      In terms of Ding, you can think of it both as the attempt to evoke the above, or as the function of developing observing ego and ego mastery. In other words both Dings and Grats are very richly understood in terms of psychodynamic theory. I just like to explain it in broader terms so that other schools of thought and gamers who are not psychoanalytically oriented can get a lot out of the posts as well.

      I do tend towards under-pathologizing, especially in the blog, because I think as the post reflected there is a lot of over-pathologization going on. But there is definitely much more to dings and Grats than positive reinforcement!

      Great comment, thanks!

  4. elisabeth says:

    I hadn’t followed the comments since the original post, so I’m both surprised, and not really surprised, by the comments.

    I’ve shared the article with my gamer/engineer husband talking about positive feedback and the gaming community (we both *dinged* level 66 in LoTRO recently and talked about differentiating between significant accomplishments- a guild raid dropping a big boss, for example, vs. someone who looks for approbation for common events- everyone turns level 5 at some point, so if everyone in the guild doesn’t congratulate you there’s no reason to get upset).

    I also shared it with some of my IT colleagues at work, and we commented on how we do not have that culture of appreciation division-wide (although I do foster it within my team and my department is doing a excellent job of making inroads in that area). I think my point is- these are things we do (or don’t do) whether we’re sitting behind a computer or not- there’s things to learn and improve on, so matter how you approach it.

  5. Wow–this is interesting information. Plus, I’m always so thrilled (and pleasantly surprised) when I encounter a therapist who is straight forward, direct, and not afraid to let go of the “office voice.”

    I’m still pondering the whole online thing, and my son does love his DS more than reading unfortunately, but I agree with monitoring the use and not using technology to babysit.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Susan. We need to adopt our views of technology in the therapy room–especially when working with the younger set.

    Thanks for the well-informed bit of tech info Mike!

  6. I have been thinking about “dings” and “grats” in slightly different terms for a while, while wondering why Facebook makes me nauseous but Twitter makes feel connected to my friends.

    I think on FB, the dings are non-stop. As Rob Horning puts it in http://nplusonemag.com/the-accidental-bricoleurs : “…Assessing Peters’s article in One Market Under God in 2000, Thomas Frank found it almost self-evident that personal branding was a form of coercive self-surveillance that corporations were anxious to induce. He heralded “The Brand Called You” as “a terrifying glimpse of the coming total-corporate state, a sort of Dress for Success rewritten by Chairman Mao.” But with the advent of social media, which frankly invites us to “unabashedly brag” about ourselves and to take pride in even the most mundane of our accomplishments (“I just became mayor of Whole Foods on Foursquare!”) and broadcast them, many of us now take that sort of self-branding behavior for granted and engage in it not with trepidation but with glee. By mobilizing all the qualities of the self as factors of meaning production, Facebook fuses Lipovetsky’s “fashion person” and Peters’s “personal brand,” inextricably intertwining marketing with selfhood, so that having a self becomes an inherently commercial operation.”

    AH! To me, that sort of incessant dinging/personal branding is scary. I know that in your first post, you were talking about self-regulated dinging within a supportive and close community. I think that’s why I like Twitter, which I only share with my closest friends. I can announce when I’m proud OR when I’m dejected. My “personal brand” is closer to the real thing.

  7. I’m living in Germany and conversations like this happen to me all the time. “Gaming is shady and something that is engaging like games can’t be good because it’s distracting us from the important and serious stuff and from real world connections.”
    Honestly? Sure, I’m spending a lot of time in front of my computer, using social networks and writing some comments like this one 😉 But up to now I’ve found amazing people and inspiring groups here in the world wide web and this helped me also to meet some of these guys in real. It’s true that I could spend more time offline and go out but the online world helps me to find people that have the same interests like me and the same passions and visions. So, now I can spend my offline-time even more effective by meeting these guys than I could bevore the internet.
    Talking about games: I think that the question is not why are gamers spending a lot of time playing games, but why are these games more engaging and challenging than the real world? So, I’m not charging games for distracting us but I’m charging the real world for being not more challenging that games. Why is it that managers from top-levels with the power about thousands of people, millions of dollars and high-complex tasks are enjoying playing 5 minute-games during a short break? It’s because within these 5 minutes they are being more challenged, given a clear feedback (positive and negative) and are achieving a ‘flow’-status, than durig the entire workday. That’s because the game-industry knows best how to motivate, inspire and challenge people in a good way. There’s a mismatch between what (game)science knows and what business does. So, I would say we should not try to ‘fight’ against games but to leran from them to make our real world challenges more engaging. And there are already great examples of ‘gaming’-approaches to solve serious and real problems. The latest successfull one is fold.it. A GAME where everyone can help bio-scientists to fold proteins against diseases. And they just got a hit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/19/aids-protein-decoded-gamers_n_970113.html

  8. As a gamer (and currently an avid WoW player), I’ve experienced some of these attitudes first-hand. You’d think the gamer stereotype might be mitigated, since I am also a woman, an adult over 35, a therapist, a competitive tennis player, I hold two jobs, I own a house, etc. – and yet, how often everything else about me is forgotten or reduced when people discover that “OH… you’re a gamer…”

    I’m not thoroughly in agreement with the original post. I think giving grats for the leveling achievements every 10 levels is plenty, and I don’t reward people with grats every time they ding. In specific situations, encouraging more self-confidence through rewarded self-promotion might be a good thing, but in general, I think there is more than enough shameless self-promotion and people expecting rewards for every minor accomplishment. I simply can’t bring myself to support it wholesale.

    However, I DO agree with this post responding to the attitudes expressed by so many toward gamers and the gaming culture. It frustrates me that I can say I read books, play tennis, and do fancy embroidery in my free time, and it’s all good – but the minute I say I play WoW, suddenly I’m a different (and lesser) person than I was before I made that shameful admission.

    So I’m glad to see a discussion about the negative bias toward gamers and the gaming culture, and issue being taken with the unthinking assumption that these attitudes are somehow permissible to hold toward gamers when they would not be acceptable toward any other group of people.

  9. Katherine says:

    Great article, great follow up. I’m an LCSW and a non-gamer but I find that gaming is a valid, valuable way to build social skills, increase confidence and develop a sense of healthy community. If it’s for you: great. If it’s not your cup of tea: that’s great, too. The stigma of certain leisure activities is ridiculous and I’m glad that you took the time to shine a spotlight on this.

    PS – You inspired me to buy your book. I just downloaded it and I’m looking forward to reading it this weekend.

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