Fairly well know psychologist Philip Zimbardo, famously known for the Stanford Prison Experiments, has been making the rounds recently discussing the findings in his new book “Man (Dis)connected: How Technology Has Sabotaged What It Means To Be Male”. I haven’t had the time to read his book, but it’s clear that he’s making some bold claims about how video games are changing the social development of today’s youths, specifically boys.
The Guardian has a pretty well done interview with Zimbardo, so I’ll be focusing on their piece rather than his actual book (I’m poor and too busy to with a full time job/lazy/ don’t really want to support him) On why we’re seeing boys retreat into cyberspace and video games more than their female peers:
“Boys have never been self-reflective. Boys are focused on doing and acting, girls are more focused on being and feeling. The new video-game world encourages doing and acting and not really
thinking. Video games are not so attractive to girls.”
That’s a pretty hefty generalization, albeit not completely untrue. Biologically boys have some proclivity to being less “self reflective” and focused on “action and doing”, but a lot of it has to do with a child’s socialization. The way we treat little boys and girls, in addition to the images we show to them of what it means to be a boy or a girl has just as much to do with a child’s habits as their biological make up. Additionally, just the way education is presented to boys and girls is strikingly different; young girls are socialized to hold education in a higher esteem than young boys. Obviously Zimbardo is making this statements to make a generalization about the current population and is probably somewhat representing the population as a whole. That said, if we as a society change the way we socialize young boys and girls then maybe that statement will begin to lose truth.
Secondly, no. Video games are attractive to both young boys and girls. If anything, video games are now more attractive to both males and females than ever before. More and more the gender divide in the gaming community is becoming less unequal. Though it still has a long way to go, it’s clear that young girls enjoy playing games just like young boys; video games have historically only been taught to be “boy thing”, big impart due to marketing and parenting. I don’t agree with that statement.
The driving cause Zimbardo places in his theory of boys becoming addicted to porn, video games, and Ritalin is lack of a father figure in the household. The lack of a father, or any second parental figure, obviously changes the dynamic of any household. That’s one less parent to provide affection, attention, and income. All of these factors lead to scenarios in which it’s harder for a child to create more stable relationships and social skills. For example, children from a one parent household are less likely to engage in extracurricular activity because their parent has less time to take their children to the activities or have the money to spend on the activity. This lack of extracurricular activity leads to less chances for socialization and more towards being motivated to seek electronic alternatives. If anything, video game and porn addiction are a symptom of a greater issue. However, these are things that Zimbardo probably already knows and perhaps even addresses in his book.
My biggest issue, and I say issue sparingly as obviously I haven’t read his book, is that video games once again are seemingly taking the blame for something else that’s at hand. Video games, like any other media, can be an outlet for many problems and not necessarily the cause of those problems. Zimbardo doesn’t sound like he’s arguing that, but when you make claims like “Technology Has Sabotaged What It Means To Be Male” it puts the blame on the object, rather than the underlying causes that are resulting in the object overuse or misuse. Yes, more advance technology give easier means of escaping reality and disconnect, but the reason why people are desiring to disconnect and escape is the issue at hand. Granted, Zimbardo expresses desires for games that better promote social relationships and cooperation, but he’s gotta be better at making a enemy out of something that isn’t there. I will say this: the book sounds more grounded than it’s shocking title. Zimbardo is a smart guy, albeit one with questionable tactics, and he has to know hyperboles aren’t helping anyone. Though shock and awe seem to be his style…