a different approach to gaming

Do Video Games Encourage Narcissism?

In last week’s post, we explored one positive way that video games can impact gamers – by exposing them to social commentary. This week, we’ll take our analysis in a different direction by investigating a possible negative effect of video games – they may encourage narcissism.

Named after the hunter Narcissus from Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection, narcissism is a state of excessive self-interest or self-obsession, characterized by entitlement, inflated self-importance, and a need for constant admiration. Video games, arguably the most customizable and interactive form of popular entertainment, tend to pander to those with narcissistic personalities.

The Chosen One

Dovahkiin, Dragonborn, you’re the only man alive naturally imbued with the power of the voice, destined to save the world from the evil dragon Alduin. The hero of time, a teenage boy thrust into the role of defender, you’re forced to save Hyrule over and over again. A powerful vault hunter, possibly an alien or a siren, the one who took on Handsome Jack and lived, the fate of Sanctuary now rests in your hands.

Noticing a theme here? Video game characters are rarely ordinary people. In video games, you play the hero. If some prophecy or inborn power didn’t set you apart at birth, some unlikely circumstance surely will. Be it a zombie apocalypse or a chance encounter with a member of the royal family, some exceptional event will change your life forever. Not once has there been a popular video game starring John Smith, an accountant with a 9 to 5 job who comes home to his painfully mediocre suburban family every night. And this isn’t the gaming industry’s fault – dull, generic characters just do not allow for the telling of compelling stories. However, the fact remains that the characters who fill video games do not resemble average people, and therefore do not accurately represent the gamers who interact with them. While there is nothing inherently wrong with controlling an extraordinary character, constantly roleplaying as a hero can give gamers an elevated sense of self that fails to acknowledge who he or she is in real life. This discrepancy between the perceived self and the reality of the self is a common characteristic of narcissism.

Vault Hunters

A World Built Just For You

Who you’re playing as isn’t the only factor that influences gamers to be self-absorbed; where you’re playing matters just as much. Video game worlds are prime environments for narcissistic behavior. In their everyday lives, narcissists build up exaggerated, fictionalized versions of themselves in their minds to match how they believe they are perceived, and video games give them environments in which to live out that inflated fantasy. If a narcissist spends his whole day believing he is better than the people around him and picks up a controller in the evening only to be welcomed into a world that tells him just that, his egocentric tendencies will be validated. To take this idea a step further, narcissists often lack empathy and believe that only their feelings matter. In a video game, this is true. Non-player characters (NPCs) are pre-programmed, after all, and will not actually be hurt if you are cruel or violent to them. Players can manipulate their surroundings without any tangible consequences in their actual lives. In this way, video games may blur the line between empathy and disregard for others, again validating narcissistic behavior.

Conclusion – It May Be Too Soon To Tell

After investigating how some aspects of gaming promote egocentric, self-serving behavior, the question remains: do video games actually encourage narcissism? Although we can make numerous connections between narcissism and gaming, it may simply be too soon to tell. Research on the subject is lacking, so until more is conducted, we won’t have a definitive answer. For now, enjoy playing your favorite video games, and do your best to remember that while you may enjoy being the hero in a fantasy universe, being an average person in the real world is pretty great, too.

Closeup of two friends playing video game


3 Responses to “Do Video Games Encourage Narcissism?”

  1. nas5638

    Wow! Your analysis of narcissism in video games is really interesting . I liked the part, “Not once has there been a popular video game starring John Smith, an accountant with a 9 to 5 job who comes home to his painfully mediocre suburban family every night” I found this to be funny because although people don’t think that it’s true, it is, and it’s something that I found funny because we know that that it is true and isn’t really seen in video games. Maybe one day, the question “Do Video Games Encourage Narcissism?” will finally be answered.

  2. ayl5429

    I really enjoy this topic and is one that really resonates with me. Having played my fair share of video games in previous years, I am now reminded of the fact that in many, the plot, setting, and interactions make it seem like the sun revolves the around the main character, me. In just about any genre, the main character seems to have a huge sphere of influence. In RPGs the player wants everything for that character, all of the best possible loot out there and the game’s framework allows you acquire all of it for much less relative effort that acquiring an equivalent worth in real life. Maybe video game producers capitalize on this fact, knowing that for most people (read everyone), saving the world requires an unfathomable combined effort so simulating that over a couple weeks worth of evening play time can easily hook us. I am looking forward to more of your thoughts!

  3. snw5184

    Your blog posts are always so well written! Your language is descriptive, mature, and engaging. I find myself captivated by the topic, even though I am not anything close to a ‘gamer.’ The idea of video-game-bred narcissism is fascinating! I appreciate how thoughtful your analysis was in making connections to the different aspects of video games to some characteristics of narcissism. With all of your ideas and connections, your argument was certainly convincing. Hopefully research will be out soon to support or reject these thoughts.

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