Are Video games destroying our boys, or are we not giving our children the right direction?

It seems that everyone these days is on the feminist bandwagon.  People are clamouring for equality and fair representation in games and I think there has been some improvement over the last year or two.  Other people may not be overtly feminist but they are clamouring for an increase in the choices available to us – a freedom of choice, of sorts, which is something I welcome.  I recently wrote about images of women and what I want to teach my daughter and what I want her to learn about being a female and her role in the world, and how women can’t be limited to what they can and can’t do by their gender or race, but by their abilities and their determination. Most people would agree that empowering women to be free of oppression is something to be celebrated.

But are we doing enough to help the boys and the men recognise their own freedom and help them be the best they can be in this same line of thinking?

An article in the UK Mirror by Jasper Hammill titled “Video games are destroying young men – it’s time to kick this modern addiction” paints video games and especially boys that play them in a particularly poor light.
“Boys are being choked at adolescence by a toxic digital culture which encourages them to shun the real world…. Brought up at home without fathers, poorly educated and then tossed out into a world they can’t deal with, so many boys seem to slump into a grim existence of dead-end jobs and cheap, meaningless thrills. 
There are a huge number of reasons why so many men seem to be faltering at the first step, but it seems every lost man… has the same hobby: playing computer games.”
This is a really depressing picture.  However, I am not sure it's fair to blame computer games for this isolated and withdrawn behaviour.  Alcohol, drugs - you could substitute these into the situation and the scenario would be exactly the same.

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo seems to have a very anti-gaming stance, saying that games are causing young men to have poor performance "academically, socially and sexually".  He also said that new video games encourage doing and acting and not really thinking.  Internet pornography is pushing boys to be isolated and not seek our real relationships.

Hammill says that men have always drifted into dream worlds, identifying our ambition and throw everything to realise it, ignoring food, friends, cleanliness and everything else, focusing on the fantasy whilst reality moulders around us.

(By the way, I don't think that's limited to men.  I get lost in my books and hobbies and games sometimes, shunning sleep and food as I try to finish whatever it is I want to do. However, in general, I believe that boys are more ambitious than women, and a typical male feature is being fixated or focussed on one task.)

Can you see the problem in those statements by Zimbardo and Hammill?  It's very obvious to me.  Both Hammill and Zimbardo are of the mindset that GAMING is the problem and it needs to be removed in order to fix the problem.

What they NEED to see, is that gaming is here to stay and you cannot remove it, just like you cannot remove the internet or the mobile phone.  The solution is not trying to revert to the past when there were no computer games, trying to make things "the way they were", but adapting and changing and somehow redirecting the energy into computer games to make them more constructive.

Rather than bemoaning the fact that this is happening, people need to use these as tools to try to fix these pressing issues. It's like complaining about pollution.  If you have cars, you will have pollution. Telling everyone to get out of their cars isn't going to work, the convenience of a car is too great. You need to look at how you can make your cars put out LESS pollution, or maybe get people to share cars so that it's 1 car causing pollution instead of 4 cars.  Computer games are not going to go away, they are here to stay.  So use them.

But HOW?

The tools are there, in the games themselves.  Choosing the right games to bring out what you want in your son, or children, I should say (since it's ridiculous to think that boys are the only ones affected by computer game addiction) or even harnessing the best of what are in existing games to help your children is something the savvy parent will need to find.  Games are changing, and the industry is catching onto that.

Keith Stuart wrote an in the Guardian in his article "The Cliche of the Lone Male gamer needs to be destroyed":
If boys are in crisis, I don’t think they need their new interests to be blamed and vilified – they need what they’ve always needed: unconditional love and boundaries. Just like girls. Parents don’t need knee-jerk diatribes warning about some looming masculine armageddon – they need actual advice on managing new devices, and monitoring what their kids do. The odds have been stacked against women for so long, the mere idea that the scales may be tipping in their favour shouldn’t fill grown men with apocalyptic dread. Technology hasn’t sabotaged what it means to be male, but maybe it’s changing it, and we just have to deal with that.
For parents who are non gamers, I can understand their concern. What is this thing that my child is doing?  I don't understand it, is it healthy? Who are the talking to and what kinds of things are they being exposed to?
Never Alone - a game about an Inuit girl and a spirit fox working together
As a gamer myself, and guiding my children when they play games, it's easy to see the advantages of computer games.  We have a lot of co-op play games in  my household that the kids love to play - Little Big planet, Castle Crashes, Never Alone, Brothers (all console games, by the way) - oh and how can I forget Minecraft - and I sit with them and watch them play and they love it, it's like family time in front of a movie. The children learn to share and play with others, working as a team. Yet, these activities are time limited and they still love to do things like go into the garden to water the vegies, ride their bikes or go the local fountain in the park and throw pebbles into it, especially if I go with them.

Brothers is actually a 1 player game, but each side of the controller moves one brother, so if you sit next to someone, you could share the controller and each person moves one brother (that's how I played with my daughter)
Fun is not unlimited.  It has boundaries.  Every person has a time for responsibilities as well as a time for fun.  You have to make sure that you apply those rules to yourself as well as to your children or they are not going to take you seriously.  At least that is somewhere to start.

Hammill also made this comment which made my hackles rise:
It's often said there is a worldwide community of gamers. Yet what sort of community is made up of people who sit alone in their bedrooms, mumbling to each other over headsets? 
These online communities are rank with loneliness and isolation, punctuated only by the occasional 'meet up' in the real world. 
Study after study backs up the claim that time spent playing online causes negative impacts on some obsessive players' real lives.
It's a gross over-generalisation to assume that everyone who plays computer games is like that, and a comment that comes from someone who does not truly understand the gaming community.  It's like saying that an alcoholic is the same as someone sipping their glass of french wine at a 3 star Michelin restaurant. Alcohol can be enjoyed, in moderation and in the right company.  Gaming is no different.

Many games these days are connected - WoW, Eve Online, Guild Wars are all MMORPGs where group play leads to better rewards; first person shooters are now team play with other online players; even Little Big Planet is prompting me to play with other people when I enter a zone on my own so we can do the co-op puzzles.  Boys in particular, who find it difficult to fit in, mix with or speak to girls, or even feel that they are different to other people, will escape to the fantasy to avoid the grim reality.  But within those fantasy realms you can meet people and make friends and perhaps they will be able to overcome their initial shyness and be able to be more interactive with other people. Once they advance beyond the online friendship they can even geek out with others who have the same interests in the real world, like going to Blizzcon.

How can you say that playing games is not social?  Look at the Blizzard community here at Blizzcon, that looks like a whole massive bunch of people at a social event, if you ask me.
How to be a good parent is also a difficult subject to tackle.  Comments like "Parents need to do more parenting," and "You need to control your child" and "Lack of discipline is why your son is like that" are very counterproductive arguments.  Pointing your finger and saying "You're doing it wrong" doesn't help the beleagured parent.  Solutions is what they need, and though I can't say I have all the answers, all I can offer is an example of what I do to try to make gaming work for me as a positive influence rather than a negative one.

It is an all too often scenario when parents want "the kids out from underfoot" and start off with pushing their kids into things to keep them occupied. Buying them iPads so they can get some "peace and quiet".  School camps over holidays. Parents having time away by themselves, leaving the kids behind.  In truth, I understand that logic, but what message does that send?  "I need time away from you, you're a nuisance," is what I would feel, if I was an anxious teenager or child.

I take my kids everywhere, to the movies (yes, even MA+ ones), to Blizzcon (well, to LA, kids weren't allowed into Blizzcon), we don't go on holidays without them, and I also let them take an active part in things like grocery shopping (including scanning and packing the bags) as well as cooking their food.  Yes they are slow, but patience is part of parenting. I play computer games with them.  And they LOVE it when we play with them. They feel included, they feel wanted, they feel LOVED.  As Keith said, that is what all children need to grow into loving human beings.

The other thing that I want to discuss is Keith's comment is "what it means to be male, but maybe it's changing."  THAT is the question that causes confusion for so many young men these days.  That is a question that I ask myself, what do I want my son to be like when he's a young man?  What values should I be instilling?

Zimbardo was concerned that "boys are bored in an overtly feminised teaching system" and high rates of divorce means that boys don't have "father figures to motivate them." The problem there is that he hasn't grasped that in a truly gender equal society, there is nothing wrong with a boy aspiring to have the qualities of his mother, or that of a female teacher. If a daughter aspired to be a rocket scientist like her father, is there any reason why a son can't aspire to be a doctor like his mother? Who says that it takes a man to show a boy how to be a man?  Why can't I as a human show my son how to be a HUMAN?

"Integrity, Independence, confidence and a decent human being." Every mother or father would say those attributes are what they want their son to have.  But compassion, love, kindness - these are things I want my son to have too. We want our daughters to have all those things, so what is wrong with saying we want our sons to have them?

Labelling these emotions as "feminine attributes", "girly", "pussy" or "not manly" are confusing when we claim to be a gender equal society.  Boys are human beings.  They have feelings and they are confused by them just like girls.  If the message they get is "these feelings make you less of a man" then what kind of men will they become? Conflicted, confused, introverted... afraid to share these feelings for fear of being laughed at, berated or bullied.

It doesn't help that young girls encourage that kind of behaviour.  It's intimidating enough for boys without having girls who only want "strong, commanding, mysterious" males as their objects of desire and fantasy and publicly shun and bully those who don't have that image. Is it no wonder that boys feel powerless and helpless and only when they are being threatening and bullying and angry that they feel powerful, or in control?  It's not just boys who need to be taught about how to behave, but also girls, who need to learn that a real man is not about who can do everything on their own and can take on the world, but one who knows how to work together in a team or relationship to make things work in the best interest of all parties.  We live in a society, not on an island.  Cooperation gets us further than working alone ever could, and in the real world, those are the attributes that will give us the greatest success when trying to exist within a human society.
Thinking about gamers as young boys lost and alone in their rooms is not only counter-productive and defeatist, it is also increasingly wrong. Good, positive things are already happening in games, they’ve been happening for years. Nobody needs another edifice of fear to gather around.
Fear.  That is a large part of the problem.  Fear of change.  Fear of the unknown. You can face your fears by understanding the games that your child is playing - read about them, play them, talk to other parents who DO understand the games.  Understanding is the first step to conquering fear.

Keith put it nicely and I'll end my post on this note (as I couldn't say it any better):
Thinking about games purely as an alien presence in the home that has to be feared and curtailed is the wrong mindset. They can be joyful and educational, and in moderation, they will provide a lively venue for family communication – an excuse to chat. It is about involvement, like most other things in parenthood.
And that goes for BOYS and GIRLS.


  1. This may be of interest to you: or google 'defective girls'.

    There's also the issue of men losing interest in relationships/marriage/children. There are many factors contributing towards this, and it's difficult to avoid some of the more extreme 'red pill' views when researching this subject, but it's not surprising at all that men that show reduced interest in seeking relationships are likely to play video games in the freed up time. That is, it is not the cause, but a common trait (everyone loves playing games) and convenient outlet to blame.

    On a side note, I find that people making these arguments about boys and video games are often likely to use that 'girls make up over 50% of gamers' stat in the next breath. Can't have it both ways.

    1. I googled defective girls and I found that very interesting. Because of my son's autistism I actually have to do his reading and writing like that, focussing on his interests (like drawings and writing about cars - he can spell jet and car but he can't spell dog or frog) rather than what's mainstream. I figured, anything that will get him interested in learning, I'll do it.

      About men losing interest in relationships, well with people so complicated these days it doesn't surprise me. Someone was telling me about their son, who didn't have a girlfriend. "Do you know how much it costs to have a girlfriend?" they said to their mother. It was rather amusing, I have to admit. Even one of the radiographers at work said he didn't have a girlfriend because girls these days are princesses and are constantly wanting material things. I will have to make sure my daughter isn't like that.

  2. Yeah.... When the genius behind the Stanford prison experiment writes a book denouncing Video Games for destroying what it means to be a man I am going to take his view with a large grain of salt (and lime juice, Triple sec, and tequila for Margaritas)

    1. The problem is, people listen to them because they don't know any better. Hopefully my post will come up for some poor parent who is worried about their child can be reassured that it's not the end of the world!

  3. I get truly annoyed when anti-gamers get on their high horse and start some saber rattling.

    Gaming is not the issue, despite what they think. Their arguments are the same ones that people would have made about rock and roll, hippies, punk, grunge, D&D, and just about any "non-socially approved" activity. I know of quite a few people who have issues with dealing with the opposite sex, and they play tons of sports and hang out in bars with their bros.

    The issues arise more over how people are represented and approached, and how kids are taught the same, than the activity itself. If you have a basketball coach who teaches respect and sportsmanship toward all, you're likely to absorb those lessons. If you've a coach who rips on others, teaches "all's fair in love and war", and constantly uses the "you play like a girl!" or similar but more salty language, then the boys are going to absorb that too.

    1. I remember ages ago when D&D was something people were worried about... such a harmless thing! Good analogy with the basketball coach Redbeard.

  4. All great points and it's prompting me to try to write a post about it too.

    But for me, when I read this:

    “Boys are being choked at adolescence by a toxic digital culture which encourages them to shun the real world…. Brought up at home without fathers, poorly educated and then tossed out into a world they can’t deal with, so many boys seem to slump into a grim existence of dead-end jobs and cheap, meaningless thrills."

    I couldn't help but think of things like this:


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