A Follow Up to Dings & Grats

My last post, “Dings & Grats,” generated quite a lot of commentary from both therapists and gamers alike.  I was surprised at many of the comments, which tended to fall into one of several groups.  I’ll summarize and paraphrase them below, following with my response.

1. “I haven’t seen any research that shows video games can increase self-confidence, but I have seen research that shows they cause violent behavior.”

Fair enough, not everyone keeps up to date on research in this area, and the media certainly hypes the research that indicates “dire” consequences.  So let me direct you to a study here which shows that using video games can increase your self-confidence.  And here is a study from which debunks the mythology of video games causing violence.

2. “I find gamers to be generally lacking in confidence, introverted, reactive and aggressive, lacking in social skills, etc.”

These responses amazed me.  Gamers are part of a culture, and I doubt that many of my colleagues would say such overarching generalizations about other groups, at least in public.  Would you post “I find women to be generally lacking in confidence,” or “I find obese people introverted,” or “I find African American people lacking in social skills?” And yet the open way many mental health professionals denigrated gamers without any sense of observing ego was stunning.  I was actually grateful that most of these comments were on therapist discussion groups, so that gamers didn’t have to read them.  This is cultural insensitivity and I hope that if my colleagues aren’t interested in becoming culturally competent around gaming they will refer those patients out.

3. “Real relationships with real people are more valuable than online relationships.”

This judgment confused me.  Who do we think is behind the screen playing video games online, Munchkins?  Those are real people, and they are having real relationships, which are just as varied as relationships which aren’t mediated by technology.  Sure some relationships online are superficial, and others are intense; just like in your life as a whole some of your relationships are superficial and others are intense and many between the two.  I’ve heard from gamers who met online playing and ended up married.  And if you don’t think relationships online are real, stop responding to your boss’s emails because you don’t consider them real, see what happens.

4. “Video Games prevent people from enjoying nature.”

I am not sure where the all or nothing thinking here comes from, but I was certainly not staying that people should play video games 24 hours a day instead of running, hiking, going to a petting zoo, or kayaking.  I know I certainly get outside on a daily basis.  But even supposing that people never came up for air when playing video games, I don’t think that would be worse than doing anything else for 24 hours a day.  I enjoy running, but if I did it 24/7 that would be as damaging as video games.  What I think these arguments were really saying is, “we know what is the best way to spend time, and it is not playing video games.”  I really don’t think it is our business as therapists to determine a hierarchy of leisure activities for our patients, and if they don’t want to go outside as much as we think they ought to, that’s our trip.

5. “I’m a gamer, and I can tell you I have seen horrible behavior online.”

Me too, and I have seen horrible behavior offline as well.  Yes, some people feel emboldened by anonymity, but we also tend to generalize a few rotten apples rather than the 12 million + people who play WoW for example.  Many are friendly or neutral in their behavior.  And there is actually research that shows although a large number of teens (63%) encounter aggressive behavior in online games, 73% of those reported that they have witnessed others step in to intervene and put a stop to it.  In an era where teachers turn a blind eye in”real” life to students who are bullied or harassed, I think video games are doing a better, not worse job on the whole addressing verbally abusive behavior.  Personally, I hate when people use the phrase “got raped by a dungeon boss,” and I hope that people stop using it.  But I have heard language like that at football games and even unprofessional comments at business meetings.  I don’t think we should hold gamers to a higher standard than anyone else.  Look, we’ve all seen jerks in WoW or Second Life, but we’ve seen jerks in First Life as well.  Bad behavior is everywhere.

6. “Based on my extensive observations of my 2 children and their 3 best friends, it seems clear to me that…”

Ok, this one does drive me nuts.  If you are basing your assertions on your own children, not only do you have a statistically insignificant N of 2 or so, but you are a biased observer.  I know it is human nature to generalize based on what we know, but to cite it as actually valid data is ludicrous.

7. “I think face to face contact is the gold standard of human contact.”

Ok, that’s your opinion, and I’m not going to argue with it.  But research shows that it is not either/or, and the majority of teens are playing games with people they also see in their offline life.  And let’s not confuse opinion with fact.  You can think that video game playing encourages people to be asocial, but that is not what the research I’ve seen shows.  In fact, I doubt it could ever show that, because as we know from Research 101 “correlation is not causation.”

By now, if you’re still with me, I have probably hit a nerve or too.  And I’ve probably blown any chance that you’ll get my book, which is much more elaborate and articulate at this post.  But I felt compelled to sound off a little, because it seemed that a lot of generalizations, unkind ones, were coming out and masquerading as clinical facts.  Twenty-First Century gaming is a form of social media, and gamers are social.  What’s more they are people, with unique and holisitic presences in the world.  I wasn’t around to speak up in the 50s, 60s and 70s when therapists were saying that research showed all gays had distant fathers and smothering mothers.  I wasn’t around when mothers were called schizophrenogenic and cited as the cause of schizophrenia.  And I wasn’t around when the Moynihan Report came out to provide “evidence” that the Black family was pathological.  But I am around to push back when digital natives in general and gamers in particular are derided in the guise of clinical language.

To those who would argue that technology today is causing the social fabric to unravel, I would cite a quote by my elder, Andy Rooney, who once said, “It’s just amazing how long this country has been going to hell without ever having got there.

Like this post?  There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info

Giving Up, Up and Away!

photo courtesy of NASA and Wikipedia

I am a believer in tangible gifts, gifts that make a difference in our lives.  No, I am not talking about the iPad.  This time of year I often give to one or two charities.  But how to decide?

My friend Jennifer T. and I once had a conversation when I was solicited her for a charity I was working with.  She declined to give, and explained to me that she and her partner had decided that they would think together and decide on one or two charities that they felt they wanted to get solidly behind.  They took time to think about what was important to them in this world, and get behind it solidly.  They researched several.  I don’t remember which ones they decided on, but I do remember being impressed with the thoughtfulness of this.  Myself, I often have reacted based on guilt and immediacy, which means that often the charities with the best marketing get my attention.  If you have a similar difficulty, try checking out Charity Navigator. It has the demographics served, financial information which breaks down where your money goes, world reach, etc.

Or if you want to donate to one of the following, please do.  I have picked a few that I have supported throughout the past few years.  These are based on the people I work with, family and friends, so that when I am helping these charities I can picture people whose lives I may be changing for the better:

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has helped millions of animals and did amazing work during Hurricane Katrina for the companion animals left behind in the wake of the storm.  They also have a great hotline to call if your labrador retriever eats something he’s not supposed to and you are freaking out about poison.  Yes, that is a personal experience.

Continuing with the dog theme, I can tell you from personal experience that working with my dog Boo in therapeutic settings over the years has enabled me to reach patients in a way I never could alone.  I am thinking in specific of an alternative school setting I used to work in, where she joined me monthly.  One adolescent with Prader Willi syndrome was really struggling with compulsive eating and lack of exercise.  He was able to decrease his impulsivity after we set up a plan where he was rewarded by being able to take Boo on a walk with me.  That’s right, exercise as a reward?!?  If that doesn’t speak to the power of animal-assisted therapy, I don’t know what does.  Although Boo never had the opportunity to receive formal training and certification, a donation to the Delta Society will help provide for the care and training of other therapy dogs and make a huge difference in the lives of the patients they help in years to come.

Have someone you feel ambivalent about this year?  Give them a goat.  The Heifer Organization is an organization that takes your donations and makes donations of sustainable livestock to communities in developing countries all over the world. Maybe grandma would like socks again this year, but maybe she’d get a kick out of seeing the picture of a flock of geese she donated to a village this year.

If you want to support transgender rights and protections, please consider giving to my local friends at Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.  Besides being a one-stop source for all sorts of trans resources, they are really pivotal in my state for advocating for legistative changes, including their advocacy on behalf of trans youth in the development of our states cyberbullying regulations.  Best part is you can set up a recurring payment through PayPal, if you are well-intentioned but absent-minded like me.

Whether you are looking for more information, considering being a plasma donor, or wanting to give money, a donation to the International Multiple Myeloma Foundation will make a difference to patients and families all over the world dealing with this specific form of cancer.  You’ll also be helping a friend of mine’s family as they work on kicking this condition’s a** and I’d appreciate the support with that particular a**-kicking.

Or if you are wanting to deal with cancer in a more general way, go for it.  A gift to the American Cancer Society will do just that.  I know from the hard work my friend Johanna R. has been doing their that it is a global force as well, with her traveling to all over the world to organize the planet to combat cancer.

So there you go, try to get behind one or two of these (or one of your own) singlemindedly, I recommend them.  That’s it from me till after Christmas, I hope if you celebrate the holiday you enjoy it!  ML

Remember the Alamo, er TOPS!

I was just reminded by Liz Z. on a poll comment (there’s still time to weigh-in on the one-question poll btw, and read the interesting comments) about BCBS alliance with BHL consulting group and the TOPS.  I think this was a timely reminder for myself and any who are feeling discouraged at our work.

When BCBS first rolled the TOPS out, we were all flooded with propaganda about it, how it was going to revolutionize things.  And there were the subtle incentives (a higher rate for those who filled out the form) and the not so subtle disincentives (those who did not fill out these forms would be required to do more onerous authorizations ultimately.)  I remember the time I got back the results with one of my higher functioning patients, recently unemployed, who had endorsed “had unwanted thoughts or images,” and was considered at high risk for psychosis.  I remember trying to embrace the TOP process and then I remember feeling alternately angry and insulted.

It seemed like the TOP was here to stay, and then it wasn’t.

The TOP failed to stick because we refused to do them.  We objected on legal grounds, questioned its validity, and most importantly took action by refusing to do them.  Websites like this one sprung up:

And now a year later, the TOP is rapidly becoming a distant memory.  I think the moral to the story is that we can effect change.  I hope that we can galvanize ourselves in the coming months and not take the “you can’t fight city hall approach.”