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.”