In his recent book On Deep History and The Brain, Daniel Lord Smail looks at how humans are tied to pleasure and stress release on a biological level. He uses “psychotropic,” a term usually associated with drugs, to describe social and systematic effects on human thought (exercise, sex, gossip, skydiving etc.).
Who cares? Well, Smail points out how people label certain stress-releases (cocaine, MMORPG’s) as better or worse than others despite their shared neurological sources. Last month’s Harvard Alumni Magazine explains:
“In eighteenth-century Europe, Smail points out, the list of addictive substances to be used with caution included books. With the rise of the novel and the spread of literacy, a new fear of ‘Reading mania’ gripped the populace. He quotes one scholar’s account that young women were seen as particularly vulnerable, because they might ‘grow addicted to the pleasures induced by novels…have their passions awakened, and form false expectations about life.”
If similar sexist fears persisted today, we might expect girls to be the leading consumers of games… and they aren’t. The numbers are about even actually. Seems we’ve been wrong about these things before, so what do you think? Are games psychotropic? Should we care? I think they are, but I’m not sure I can tell anyone what to do about it.
It would seem that humans (male and female alike) have learned how to cope with the addictive qualities of the novel. Perhaps fears of addiction are misplaced when applied to all media. Or, maybe our biological “passions” are more intensely evoked by digital media. Are video games drawing more vulnerable consumers into escapism while the novel is left in more steady hands?