198: The Gloom Box

The Gloom Box

Many parents are concerned that too much electronic entertainment will turn their children into depressed loners who spend all their time on the couch. But is there really an association between depression, TV watching and videogame playing? Gavin Nachbar looks at two recent studies of adolescents' gaming habits and what they mean for the future of the medium.

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Excellent! Solid evidence that gaming doesn't render me social inept and isolated! If only this was more widely publicised it could help remove some of the stigma around both internet and games. A first step perhaps in the more general acceptance of the medium.

I think in some ways people are blaming video games for these things because they don't want to point the same accusing finger at the television. The Great Glass Teat has permeated society and been a tool for everything from entertainment to propaganda to information, but now it's being replaced with the faster and more user friendly computer system.

I think the analysis that shows a connection between TV viewing and depression may actually be picking up on a response to depression. The idea of someone becoming depressed, then sitting around watching TV (motivation decreased in the depressed state) makes more sense than the idea of someone who isn't depressed becoming so from watching TV.

As far as video games and depression, I'll use myself as an example. As a kid, and really to this day, I spend what most would call "way too much time playing video games." I still stay active and get out plenty, but if I'm at home and awake, odds are I'm playing. It's part of a moderately healthy lifestyle.

Bofus Teefus:
I think the analysis that shows a connection between TV viewing and depression may actually be picking up on a response to depression.

Same problem we see again and again across all news media: not understanding that correlation does not imply causation.

Nor is causation the other way the only other option. It's also feasible that both high levels of TV watching and depression are symptoms of a common cause. (Or even that the result is random, which is never newsworthy but often the case.)

Ok, great article and all, but am I the only one who laughed at the name- "the Pew Research Group"?

(I didn't read the whole article, so don't say nothing about that)

I blame the fact that TV, doesn't require any human, or for that matter any, interaction aside from getting the channel to change. Games require you to interact with it, even if it is watch this it may be important.

And by the time the controversy over games dies down and it becomes as ubiquitous and as TV, advertisers will have moved in full force and it will be considered normal to have 10 minute loading screens chock full of ads.

No gaming doesnt render you socially inept, your other flaws do. The only thing i dont like is people sitting around 6-10 hours a day, thats un healthy. Regardless of how much you do or dont game try going outside, discover the real world every now and again. If you can manage both then by all means enjoy your gaming.

See? Advertising is from the devil.

Gaming and television are forms of escapism, and people who are depressed by their very nature seek escapism. It's just that games oftentimes include social elements that involve even fairly anti-social people. Things like people playing MMOs with "friends from all over tghe world" while sitting in a room, staring at a screen, used to be mocked, but it's becoming increasingly understood that there is some truth to this. Although I will also point out that there IS a distinct differance between an online friend and one in real

Depression in general is a result of our society. There can only be a tiny percentage of winners compared to all of the "losers" in life's rat race. Kids who grow up wanting to be a Lawyer, Doctor, President, or Astronaut, later turn out to be the assistant manager at some fast food joint, security guard, or 35 year old clerk at a store like Wal*Mart. Needless to say the pointless tedium of a "real" existance and simply passing time until death, depresses people. Television probably increases this depression by generally showing people a fairly "ideal" life through sitcoms and such, where the problems are usually just there for dramatic tension. A nice house, decent job, cute wife, adorable kids, all staples of what the TV shows people as being normal, and for some depressed loser worried about making the rent on his single-bedroom cubicle while working pumping gas, that's just going to make him feel worse. Video games in comparison feature situations so fantastic that they defy easy direct comparison to reality, and in many cases when online bring one guy seeking escapism into contact with another guy seeking escapism, both of whom are in simialr situations, and wind up not feeling quite as alone.

Such are my thoughts

In fact, the link was strong enough for the researchers to conclude, "Those reporting more television use had significantly greater odds of developing depression for each additional hour of daily television use." This finding begs the question: What is it about TV that makes it more detrimental to an adolescent's health than gaming?

In a word, advertisements. Most hour-long TV programs now have over 15 minutes of commercials. That adds up to a lot of time spent listening to advertisers tell you exactly what's missing from your life - and how their product will improve it. "The bottom line is that when we do sit down and think it is nice and relaxing [to watch TV], the reason we feel that way is because our thinking brain is completely turned off," Dr. Primack explains. "It can almost be related to commercials brainwashing us, and saying 'you want this in your life.'"

That's all very pseudo-scientific, but the correlation between television watching and depression doesn't suggest causation and the link to advertising seems totally outside the scope of the research. Judging by what's described in the article, blaming depression on advertising seems to be pure speculation.

The correlation between increased hours of television viewing and depression is not surprising because it's predictable; what would be surprising would be if depressed people didn't watch more television. For a person suffering depression, any active task can be unbearably difficult; severe depression can prevent a person from even getting out of bed. Focusing your mind on a game could be too difficult for someone in the midst of depression. Watching television, on the other hand, is a perfect anaesthetic because, as the doctor said, it allows you to switch off your mind. When your mind is full of pain, switching it off is exactly what you want to do.

For all we know, television might cause depression, but applying Ockham's razor to the results of this study makes it seem unlikely: watching television wouldn't have to cause depression to be linked to it.

but it is a distinct entertainment category

Read comments by Bofus Teefus, Therumancer and Fraser.J.A along with "The Gloom Box" article.

I think the concept behind the study is flawed because it's scope is limited to what causes depression
in adolescents existing in media.

It is looking at TV and Video Games for the cause for depression in adolescents.

The study needs to look at all the reasons behind depression,
not try to overly simply a complex problem into trends the average person can understand.

Bloody excellent article, thanks for bring that information to my attention. The comments pro, con and elaborative have been excellent too.

I personally would NOT be surprised if excessive passive TV watching for children might lead to increased depression later in life. And not just because of ads, but they would not help. Kids are especially susceptible to them btw, I've seen children ignore the program but sing along to the commercials, totally absorbed.

They should conduct a study on intelligence and gaming. Obviously not trying to imply gaming makes you stupid, I'm just curious whether gaming has any effects on intelligence, which comes in different 'flavors': the well-known IQ and others (emotional, social).

My theory is: the effects on the 'regular IQ' are more or less marginal, but in some ways perhaps even beneficial (spacial visualization ability + ).

But what are the effects on emotional or social intelligence? Does the dumbing down take place there, if it takes place at all?

Suppose you play some violent FPS online, shooting player's heads off with a shotgun. Obviously if you're a sane person you won't go out to buy a shotgun and repeat the process in real life. You can still discern the virtual from the real. But suppose you like this game a lot and you play it often. You get used to the gore and violence...hey it's just a game you say to yourself.

Then you see gore and violence on TV (war, crime, whatever) or even in real life, on the streets. The question is: will it have the same impact on you with all those online hours under your belt? Of course I would be shocked in the same manner as any other human being, you probably say to yourself.

But realise this: you don't know your subconscious mind, that's why it is called SUBconscious.


Did they control for parental and social involvement? People who don't interact do tend to be depressed and seek nonsocial interests. In 1900's it would be books. Now it's TV. So is it the TV that causes depression, or the lack of social interaction? Let's not jump to conclusions here.

Did you know that genocide occurs in countries with very little video game penetration? Therefore, video games cure genocide. Really, though, it's other factors such as political and speech freedom, economic and personal security, governmental trustworthiness, and social attitudes that drive both inter-ethnic peace AND video game penetration.

I suspect the same is true with TV watching and depression. Depressed people often have given up on social interaction and feel that they have little energy. TV provides a non-activity that would naturally attract them.

Did you know that genocide occurs in countries with very little video game penetration? Therefore, video games cure genocide. Really, though, it's other factors such as political and speech freedom, economic and personal security, governmental trustworthiness, and social attitudes that drive both inter-ethnic peace AND video game penetration.

Aw, shut up.
Yay, video games!

TV watching and video game playing cheers me up.

I wonder why people suffering from depression would not play games?

It seems they would just as likely do that than sit in front of the TV for hours on end.

Of course, assuming that excessive TV does not "cause" depression and is more of an effect.

Very informative article. Next time my sister says anything to me or my brother-in-law about our gaming habits I'll have evidence to refute her and show her how her TV addiction is much worse. :-)



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