You may recognize Dr. Phil Zimbardo‘s name from the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. Well, he’s moved his focus to video games, and we’re not thrilled with what he has to say about them.

Zimbardo recently wrote a book on the subject; it’s called “Man (Dis)connected: How Technology has Sabotaged What It Means to Be Male.” He joined three young men—all gamers—and fellow researcher Dr. Andrew Przybylski for a round table discussion on the book and how it may or may not be negatively affecting boys this week on the BBC. You can watch the 12-minute segment here:

Zimbardo was adamant that video games—as well as pornography, and he did fail to make a distinction between the two—have led to a disintegration of positive masculinity. He argued that the absence of male figures, whether it be fathers or teachers, in young men’s lives coupled with the escapism and anti-social nature of gaming were the main sources of this disintegration.

Przybylski and the three young men echoed our own thoughts in the discussion, pointing out that while it’s important to monitor and understand video games, Zimbardo’s claims don’t have much weight when you look at the research and talk to young people about their habits. The main ideas that were covered were these:

  • Women do game. While it’s certainly appropriate to address gender differences in many areas of gaming, it’s an oversight to completely ignore the fact that girls are playing games at close to the same rates that boys are (and more so every day), especially when many of Zimbardo’s claims have to do with a direct causal relationship between gaming and boys’ problems.
  • Gaming isn’t anti-social anymore. Although some individuals do play single-player games, the vast majority of gamers actually play socially with friends, family, or peers.
  • Any activity can become a point of obsession, particularly for kids who are going through a difficult time. Gaming isn’t any different from reading Victorian novels, watching movies, or sports in this regard.
  • There are a lot of positive experiences that come out of gaming; one of the speakers mentioned a friend who found support for his clinical depression in the easygoing social atmosphere that gaming allowed him. Here at Pixelkin we’re constantly hearing (and experiencing!) stories about the positive impact games have had on people’s lives.
  • When it comes to real negative influences, it is evident there are far more essential factors in children’s well-being that we need to address—poverty, access to mental healthcare resources, and serious mental health problems such as anorexia, self-harm, and depression were among those mentioned. Those that turn to gaming in an isolated or addictive sense are almost certainly suffering from other problems, and the problem gaming typically disappears when those factors are addressed.

That’s not to say that gaming can’t be an issue. In fact, all of the hosts agreed on this point—adults should maintain open lines of communication with kids, and know how often and why kids might choose to play video games. We can appreciate Zimbardo’s concern, but the disagreement lies not in this central idea, but with the assertion that games have a causal relationship to poor mental health or socialization in kids. The fact remains that almost 100% of teenagers play games these days; gaming isn’t going away any time soon, and has the potential to be an incredible force of positivity if we are active in making it so.

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Keezy Young

Keezy Young

Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.