Thursday, June 7, 2012

CNN Drops Ball on Demise of Guys Article

Somehow, this report slipped through the internet cracks. Go read it, then come back. I've picked on the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal for some problems, so, now let's actually focus on CNN on a topic that actually is related to one of this blog's founding topics: Gaming.

If you've followed video game history, you know that video games are the latest vanguard in ending society as we know it. This has a rich history in America, going back through television, movies, rock and roll, comic books, rap, all the way back to when the Puritans looked askance at playing cards and close dancing. Each time, society is on the cusp of being utterly destroyed as some new siren finds a way to lure men away from worthy pursuits.

Each threat to society quickly dropped off people's radar as it was replaced or as the great destroyer became main stream. I'm curious why the article is about the demise of men when women make up 47 percent of gamers, and that number is steadily rising. In fact, if I recall, without too much Googling, women are quickly taking over social media. That's before we even get to Pinterest, which is probably why we no longer hear the horrors of the Internet, in general, and instead now focus on the nefarious male dominated corners of the Internet. Except, porn use by women is on the rise, with whole books written about it; in fact, CNN is quite aware of the most recent sensation in porn for women.

CNN is aware of this fact, but decided that it wasn't information that really should be considered in whether or not video games and porn are impacting interpersonal relationships. The focus on men seems to be more about looking at a caricature than looking at an actual, objective problem. I feel dirty even Googling to find that information for you.

Next, we have an issue with their case studies. Yes, it is sad that people die playing games, get addicted and do dumb stuff. But, is that normal? The article makes it sound like it is. Games can influence people, I'm not denying that. But, CNN paints a rather one-dimensional picture, completely ignoring things like Child's Play. Which is, again, odd, because CNN is well aware of this charity.

Instead, CNN gives us a reference to the Norwegian psycho and murderer, who claims that World of Warcraft trained him to kill. This statement goes unchallenged in the article; unless he was killing people by face rolling across a keyboard, WoW was not useful training. I played Field and Track on the NES when I was a child; I am not an Olympic gold medalist today. You actually had to move in that game, so, it was marginally more likely to train you. Not even Elitist Jerks will claim that their ability to down a raid boss translates into real life combat experience.

After this bit of sophistry, the article veers into talking about a study on rats. This is an interesting study, I think. But, CNN doesn't support its argument. It goes from telling us that pleasure filled rats denied themselves for pleasure to: "This new kind of human addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone." This is not a new kind of human addiction. It is the same old kind of addiction, but given a new scapegoat. One that was tried back with Moms Against D&D. Just like then, the problems that the concerned people are highlighting are underlying issues unrelated to games or gaming.

Now, let's get to the next problem with this article. Why is CNN directly equating pornography with video gaming? Am I really supposed to equate Pokemon with, I dunno, pick some really disgusting sounding pornography. Is that really the picture we're trying to paint? The article states: "Similarly, video games also go wrong when the person playing them is desensitized to reality and real-life interactions with others." Go ahead and replace "video games" and "playing" with any appropriate noun and verb. Make it a Madlib. Similarly, novels also go wrong when the person reading them is desensitized to reality.  Similarly, sleep also goes wrong when the dreamer awakens to devour us all. Or something.

Another logical problem. The article states: "Video game and porn addictions are different. They are "arousal addictions," where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content." But, as their key stories, they cite a man who played Star Craft for 50 hours and the Norwegian psycho who ground away for hours at a time at World of Warcraft. If these men had arousal addictions, why are they playing repetitive games? Shouldn't we see them bouncing to new games; shouldn't running heroics bore him? Why isn't he out finding new games, if these addictions are different? Why, instead, is he acting exactly like a person addicted to something else, going back to get hit after hit, to ride the dragon, from the same source? The examples we're given don't back up that video games and porn are a new, dangerous kind of addiction.

The picture of the lone, depressed gamer is also just not true. More than 60 percent of gamers game in a group (33 percent play social games). If we take that to include people who game as part of a community, such as Skyrim players who post on forums and work on mods, follow Let's Play videos or post on sites like Evil Avatar (or even more close knit groups like the MAGI group I have on Facebook), I am willing to bet you could get the number of communal gamers up to around 70, if not 80, percent.

Now, let's take a look at part of the conclusion. The writer concludes: "Guys are also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which tend to build gradually and subtly, and require interaction, sharing, developing trust and suppression of lust at least until 'the time is right.'" Now, maybe this is true. However, Pew found otherwise, finding that while men were not rating marriage as highly on their list of goals as women, they still valued it extremely highly. In fact, men's inability to commit or to be stunted in relationships was debunked by a study reported in Time. CNN backs up its statement with... a side story about rats.

Let's attack another logical problem: "The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment." But, wouldn't that require some sort of proof that this is happening? The growing education and unemployment gaps, for example, have contributing factors such as the industries impacted by the current recession, while education is impacted by any number of issues unrelated to video games, such as the 2.5 times higher rate of ADHD diagnosed in boys.

Other places are citing that men are playing more video games than ever; look back up to the percentage of women playing video games today. My question is this: Are men playing more video games at a statistically larger increase than women? Remember; the men in the late 20s to 30s are the same men who grew up playing video games. Video games are replacing golf outings and other past times. Of course people who grew up on a hobby will engage in it more when they have their own disposable income. You have to show not just an increase in use, but a correlation to the destructive behavior. Then, you have to show causation. That's how these things work.

Apparently, though, they got a book deal out of this thing. So, maybe they have more then what they gave CNN. Let's use the Google reader to look inside. Here's a quote: "Some gamers are women, there is no doubt; and video game companies are very aware of this (FarmVille, anyone?). Still, girls don't play nearly to the extent that guys do -- only five hours per week to guys' 13." I don't know where their cite goes to, but, since at least 2011, there has been some debate over those numbers. Harris, likewise, finds things closer to that; 13 and 10 in one demographic (M/F), and 18 and 8. Note though, that the Harris study is from 2007.

Two years later, in 2009, another study said: "Overall, the study found that males played significantly more than females at all three stages of life - an average of 266 more hours per year each year of middle school, 305 more hours per year each year of high school and 225 more hours per year in college." So, that means a difference of five hours per week (266/52) in middle school; about six hours in high school; and about four hours in college. So, if anyone has the book -- what study did the authors use to get eight hours of difference a week?

Now, flip over to the TED Survey graphic. Notice something interesting? First. The study is a self selected study that was placed on TED's website. That should raise a red flag. Next, the gender break down is this: 15,180 males and only 4,779 females. So, despite the fact women are nearly 50 percent (if not that or more) of gamers, they make up about 24 percent of the respondents. The rest of the questions are leading questions that solely focus on men, ignoring women entirely. Then, they chose to follow up with some case samples from the already self-selected group, who further offered extra commentary. In short, this is not a truly random sampling or scientific group; this is a group culled specifically to demonstrate the hypothesis about arousal addiction.

Look, I am a gamer with some passing interest in accurately representing gamers. I could be persuaded to read the whole book and offer a more in depth critique. But, between the CNN article and the bits that Google excerpted, I am extremely skeptical of finding much more of value in here. They may be correct about men not performing as well in school and employment; their explanation for why however appears flawed.



Just a note. I don't even get into the fact that, in most games, you are meant to play heroic characters and that games rated E are the most common sold. So, we've got another layer of disconnect. I also didn't bother looking at anything by Jane McGonigal,  which would only help my case. Also, edited to fix some bad links and spacing issues.


  1. #DemiseOfGuys Star Fox did teach me how to do a barrel roll though.


  3. figured you'd definitely get the response if I dropped it here too.

    If you heard Jon Stewart CNN is tanking in ratings among news networks. Crises are always manufactured to fill news space. The sad part is this is supposed to be the role of hollywood flicks, books and story driven video games to fill. Theyre out rehashing old series instead of telling tales. and the new tale tellers are supposed to be our truth reporters.

  4. Thanks for the comment (I know who you are)!

    Another take on the Demise of Guys article:


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