Are Video Games and Porn Causing 'The Demise of Guys'?

CNN recently published a book review of The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, written by Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University. The book review claims that our generation of men has less-fulfilling social and physical relationships, and performs at a lower academic level than women, as a result of increasing pornography consumption and video game playing. Like many other books and articles that argue how some segment of society is experiencing moral decline or lower success, this one asserts that our society is being undermined by new technological advances. Unfortunately, the article doesn't take into account the nuanced aspects of physical, emotional, and social relationships and behaviors of men and women.

Two articles on PolicyMic, argued from different perspectives, reached the same conclusion on video games: they do not cause mass murder and, most likely, not even general aggression. However, the article by CNN does the public a disservice by linking the mass murders of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people, to playing “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft”. They not only report that Breivik played these games, but also imply that these games were important in Breivik’s decision to conduct mass murder. One of the major problems in this anecdote is that the majority of video game players are not murderers, and do not have the behavioral problems that Breivik had before playing video games.

Behavioral research on the subject of video games and aggression is far from conclusive, and most of it has focused on very short-term aggression rather than long-term consequences. Video games can be a healthy way to socialize with peers without isolating oneself. The video game market has been around for over 30 years and if it caused rampant aggression in males and females, it would have been heavily documented by now. The associations between video games and violence are weak at best and there is no causative link between the two, let alone a link to lower academic achievement and bad relationship skills.

Pornography predates the Internet by many centuries and has taken the form of cave drawings, art, books, magazines, and video, but none of these forms have caused the decline of social, emotional, and physical relationships between men and women. Why should Internet pornography be any different? If arousal addiction causes such a large dysfunction in the relationships between men and women, it would have manifested itself in other pornographic mediums long before the Internet. 

Even if young men are less likely to form long-term commitments than in the past, there are more salient reasons than pornography for this change. Young men starting their careers are experiencing greater economic hardships than previous generations, and economic stability is one of the most important factors in maintaining a long-term relationship. Some men are being pressured to sacrifice their time, and therefore their potential relationships, for work. Both men and women want to play the field to find the right mate instead of settling for Mr. or Ms. Good Enough, and have less pressure by society to marry young or marry the man or woman with the right kind of money or social prestige. All of these reasons are more likely for the changing dynamics of relationships rather than the greater accessibility of pornography.

The claim that playing video games and consuming pornography are responsible for the declining success of men in relationships or academia is not only nonsensical, but sexist as well. Women play video games and watch pornography too. If video games and pornography are ruining the physical, social, and emotional lives of men, why does no one make the same claim for women? Even if women were less likely to engage in video games and pornography, shouldn’t they be equally destructive for the women who do engage in such activities? So far, there is no evidence that is the case.

We should address wider problems in modern society, such as the inequality in academic achievement and gender relations, but we should do so with strict scrutiny and without spreading fear of new technologies that we do not understand.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." – H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature