PVV – the porn (and video game) prison experiment

Recently, the lovely ZW brought my attention to The Demise of Guys, or some postulations about how video games and porn are ruining – ruining!! – a generation.

Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo is a professor emeritus (“emeritus” means retired) at Stanford University. He’s most widely known for his Stanford Prison Experiment research in 1971 wherein twenty-four clinically sane individuals were randomly assigned to be “prisoners” or “guards” in a mock prison located in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford. The experiment quickly drifted into dangerous territory as student participants began to take their respective roles a little too seriously, and Philip pulled the plug way earlier than initially anticipated.

But that was decades ago, and Philip has been working on a wealth of other projects since then. In one, he teamed up with artist and psychologist Nikita Duncan to write The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, which was released recently by TED Books.

Perhaps in an effort to hype up their work, Philip and Nikita wrote a bit for CNN Health entitled “‘The Demise of Guys’: How video games and porn are ruining a generation.” Here’s some of their text…

“Is the overuse of video games and pervasiveness of online porn causing the demise of guys?

Increasingly, researchers say yes, as young men become hooked on arousal, sacrificing their schoolwork and relationships in the pursuit of getting a tech-based buzz.

Every compulsive gambler, alcoholic or drug addict will tell you that they want increasingly more of a game or drink or drug in order to get the same quality of buzz.

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. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic: 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.” (originally here)

So basically, what they’re saying is that dudes are becoming addicted to the over/stimulation that comes from video games and porn. Different from traditional addictions though, dudes want the uncomplicated and expected variety that necessarily comes along with these media.

Huh?

Guys are addicted to the fact that something will effortlessly always be there to stimulate them… and that endless choices will also be available, again with no effort… That’s some bullshit.

Now, I don’t know much about video games, but porn is most certainly not endlessly varied. I invite you to view fifty, even thirty, porn scenes – mark my words, you will begin to see some clear patterns. Just like anything else, the ways is which fucking can be depicted has its limits. I imagine that video games are, ultimately, no different.

Further, regardless of the fact that there’s apparently no end to the number of chics willing to work in porn, performer variety deals with the same general issues shaping content variety. Though we all are unique and special snowflakes, unless a consumer has a penchant for one particular performer (in which case then this consumer is not part of Phil’s and Nik’s discussion on the basis of seeking variety), there are only so many talent typologies available. Call them niches, call them genres, just don’t say that because there’re currently XXX number of active women adult performers that there are also XXX available varieties of women by which to get a “tech-based buzz.”

(plus, XXX is hardly an endless number…)

And I have more questions…

Here’s an obvious one: are Philip and Nikita actually talking about porn and video games specifically… or, is the compulsion to consume, consume, consume these media simply a symptom related to wider social and/or psychological issues?

Further… really? Two, or even 200, guys are “addicted” to porn and video games and that means that guys – as in like, all guys – are facing annihilation!!? The horror, the absolutely improbable statistic horror!!! This sounds to me like focusing on exceptions (which may certainly be worthy of concern – not being able to break away from the monitor is probably not good) rather than the rules. But you know what people say about that squeaky wheel…

And what about gender? Aren’t their girl gamers out there, not to mention women porn consumers? Is there something about the XX combo and/or whatever else it is that determines woman-ness that makes gals impervious to “arousal addictions,” or are we just not caring about health issues impacting women in yet another respect? Hmmmm…

Phil and Nik go on to say that:

“A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that ‘regular porn users are more likely to report depression and poor physical health than nonusers are. … The reason is that porn may start a cycle of isolation. … Porn may become a substitute for healthy face-to-face interactions, social or sexual.’

Similarly, video games also go wrong when the person playing them is desensitized to reality and real-life interactions with others.”

Statement like these make me want to yawn and scream at the same time – something may cause something else, may. Please stop reporting “may” (and also “might”) as causality. It’s manipulative, sensationalizing, totally tired, and not science.

These “may” statements get at yet another issue plaguing these sorts of “studies” and/or findings – judgement. Who’s to say what constitutes a healthy social interaction? There are obvious boundaries and lines, but “real” interaction (supposedly) being better than “virtual” is not one of them. And who’s to say that everyone needs to engage in social interaction on a pre-determined level. Clearly Phil and Nik have ideas about healthy and certainly this is getting at exceptions on the opposite end of the spectrum, but just because “experts” think “healthy” means X, Y, and Z doesn’t mean that 1) everyone does and/or that 2) everyone should.

Towards the end, Phil and Nik say:

“Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Such new brains are also totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play and on long-term goal-setting.

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.'”

Over. Broad.

This whole piece bummed me out – it’s presumptuous, reliant on stereotypes, and grossly sensationalistic. Not what I was expecting from the dude who designed (and knew when to pull) the Stanford Prison Experiment.

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For more on this issue (focusing on exceptions and sensationalizing), check out this bit on  “The Vanishing Male Libido – He’s Just Not That Into Anyone” by Davy Rothbart here.

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You may quote anything herein with the following attribution: “Reprinted from Porn Valley Vantage/PVVOnline, copyright © Chauntelle Anne Tibbals, PhD (www.PVVOnline.com).”

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