The Demise of Guys

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.

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5 Responses to The Demise of Guys

  1. Mike D says:

    As usual, this post is littered with fallacies and makes the flimsy assertion that there’s no reason to value family, friends, and a healthy social life unless you love Jesus. You don’t have to be a Christian to know that we evolved as socially interdependent creatures, and that close social bonds with family and friends is very good for us. Peculiar, isn’t it, that one of the worst punishments we can think to inflict on someone is isolation?

    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.

    I’m curious what facts you’re basing this assertion on. If we look at the sort of figureheads of modern atheism – Dawkins, Hawking, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, Carroll, etc. – they’re all married family men (Hawking is divorced now afaik, but he has three kids, which is pretty impressive given his ALS). I’m 32 & single, but have had several serious relationships and have a robust and active social life. Tristan’s married and has a daughter. Bud is divorced and in his mid-30s. Bruce Gerenscer is married with several kids, as was the late great Ken Pulliam. My friend Harry is married with three kids. Shaun McGonigal just got married. My longtime friend Dave is a non-believer who’s married, works for a prestigious local law firm and has a kid on the way. I know many younger atheists, both male and female, gay and straight, in relationships and not in relationships.

    That’s just my own personal experience, of course – non-believers are pretty much the same as believers in most regards. If there’s any big difference, is that most of my old church friends got married very young (because they were taught that extra-marital sex is sinful), and now every single one of them is divorced.

    Anyway, I somehow doubt that you know or associate with lots of non-believers, so I can only assume that, in order to make such an assertion as you did here, you’re basing it on demographics and behavioral research done specifically on those who associate with the “new atheist” movement. Because you’d never just pull that kind of assertion out of your butt, right?

  2. subayaitori says:

    In my experience, pornography has helped me relate better with women.

    I have women friends who actually say the same thing. That watching porn with their partners helped them discuss what they liked or didn’t like, or what their fantasies were, and helped them open up. Something they may not have been compelled to do without any additional stimuli.

    As for video games, I just sort of naturally grew out of them. But I think I’d have a much harder time growing out of my sexual curiosity. Which is to say, one does not just walk away from porn. Porn is good for you.

  3. jackhudson says:

    In my experience, pornography has helped me relate better with women.

    In what way? How does a medium specifically intended to subjugate women, reduce them to mere objects of male desire which portrays them as primarily interested in pleasing men help anyone ‘relate better with women’?

    I have women friends who actually say the same thing. That watching porn with their partners helped them discuss what they liked or didn’t like, or what their fantasies were, and helped them open up. Something they may not have been compelled to do without any additional stimuli.

    I am willing to bet the vast majority of women see pornography as something they wouldn’t want their partners regularly engaged with, especially given the science Zimbardo talks about in his book. He discusses how porn is the sort of stimulant for a man that is not satisfied by a single viewing or greater consumption, but it drives men to seek out continually more graphic material. Reality becomes boring by comparison because real women are sitting around naked always ready to please their partners. That isn’t reality and anyone who thinks it is is stark raving mad. The world of pornography is one where women are enhanced to proportions that fulfill male fantasies. Satisfaction begins and ends with male release and none of it occurs in the context of a larger relationship of any sort. It not is nothing like reality, it diminishes our capacity to deal with reality.

    As for video games, I just sort of naturally grew out of them. But I think I’d have a much harder time growing out of my sexual curiosity. Which is to say, one does not just walk away from porn. Porn is good for you.

    Of course you don’t “just walk away from porn”, it is more addictive than meth. What a porn addict walks away from is reality, relationships, and ultimately the ability to be satisfied without porn. It’s no accident that Viagra use is skyrocketing among young men as pornography becomes more prevalent in our society. If you think that is’good’, then we have vastly different ideas about what is good.

  4. […] the consumption of video games, pornography and internet trolling. Psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo described this group recently in his book The Demise of Guys. While many of the leaders of New Atheism appear respectable enough folks like PZ Meyers, Richard […]

  5. […] the consumption of video games, pornography and internet trolling. Psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo described this group recently in his book The Demise of Guys. While many of the leaders of New Atheism appear to be respectable enough folks, New Atheist […]

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