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.
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.