Are pornography and video games destroying men in our culture?
According to psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo and writer Nikita Duncan in their recent TED publication The Demise of Guys, that is exactly what is happening. Though it is a brief work, the book does a thorough job of describing how young men are increasingly exchanging real relationships and the challenges of daily life for the artifice of virtual sex and the pseudo-combat. Zimbardo lays a large part of the fault squarely on the growth of pornography and video gaming:
Over the past decade, this pattern has escalated into adulthood where grown men remain like little boys, having difficulty relating to women as equals, friends, partners, intimates, or even as cherished wives.
We believe this demise can be traced to the rise of technology enchantment. From the earliest ages, guys are seduced into excessive and mostly isolated viewing and involvement with texting, tweeting, blogging, online chatting, emailing, and watching sports on TV or laptops. Most of all, though, they’re burying themselves in video games and in getting off on all-pervasive online pornography.
We are focusing primarily on guys investing too much time and energy in the last two factors: playing video games and watching freely available Internet porn. Video game production companies are in fierce competition to make games that are ever more enticing, more provocative and, now, in 3-D. The same is true for pornography. Pornography is the fastest-growing global business, with production companies churning out daily doses of porn flicks in seemingly endless variety. The high-definition 3-D porn wave may also be coming (pun intended). The combination of excessive video game playing and pornography viewing is becoming addictive for a lot of guys. The next phase we imagine is transferring the player’s viewpoint onto the body of the protagonist to mesh realities and make digital environments totally egocentric.
As a Christian I find this to be problematic because I understand human are designed to base their relationships on what is true, that we are designed to be in relationship with God and with our fellow men. And those relationships have purposes that serve greater purposes; our relationships with our wives allows us to parent our children, our relationships with our children allow us to prepare them to be adults, our friendships and working relationships provide support and community that allow us to produce accomplishments beyond that which we could do alone. To the degree we substitute virtual relationships for real ones we, as the Apostle Paul said, “…exchange the truth of God for a lie.”
It is not as clear from a secular perspective why this is a problem. Unless there is an objective ‘ought’ concerning relationships, there is no reason why it wouldn’t be fine for young men to pursue virtual relationships activities instead of real ones. As our society increasingly abandons its Christian worldview, it will be harder to claim that reality is preferable to virtuality.
That being said, the problems Zimbardo and Duncan detail are real and growing. There is a growing population of young men who are unable to engage with others with the opposite sex in a substantive, communicate in the ways necessary to operate in a work or social environment and engage in tasks that require persistence, engagement and risk-taking. As the authors point out the impact of such virtual stimulation has real physiological effects including addiction and diminished capacity to act on one’s desires. I think it is no coincidence that most of those in ‘New Atheist’ crowd are single young men. They are verbally combative online but often in reality are isolated, anti-social and lacking engagement in committed relationships or communities which involve risk-taking or self-sacrifice. New Atheism is the religion of the virtual life.
The authors offer some prescriptions for this which rightly involve changes in education and more aware parenting. However the root of the problem (as it always is) is spiritual – and absent a belief in the fact that a life exists which one ought to be living, there is little incentive to avoid the addictive draw of virtual pleasures.
Philip Zimbardo’s TED talk gives a brief overview of the research..