Gaming · Society · Technology

Gamers Are Getting Dumber, Study Finds

Recently I came across a study on preferences among gamers. As it turns out, gamers nowadays enjoy any kind of strategic aspect in their games a lot less than they used to, from more than 50% in 2016 to around 35% in 2024. This is a staggering decline. Here is the chart:

This is what a decline in IQ looks like.

This decline happens regardless of sex or location, even outside of the Western world. On that note, the Chinese seem to be surprisingly uninterested in games involving strategic thinking, as another study claims. There are some speculations in the study, for instance references to people preferring short-attention-span content such as TikTok videos. All of this is couched in very politically correct language, speaking about mere correlations but not causation. My view is that attention spans are at an all-time low. Most certainly, smartphones have to be blamed for this. Nowadays there is entertainment available anywhere you are and if you do not want to be intellectually challenged, such content will not come your way.

The ubiquity of smartphones has been undermining an entire generation already but it is not only “zoomers” or “alphas” who are affected. Even in my generation I see plenty of people who are completely addicted to their phone. Maybe you are not immune to this either. For instance, when was the last time you read a book? Yes, an ebook counts, albeit physical books certainly pose a much higher barrier to entry. Similarly, when was the last time you felt bored? Moments of boredom commonly lead to you thinking about yourself or the world. In my case, many of my blog posts start with me just sitting down and doing nothing. Then an idea pops up in my head and I commence thinking about it. I am surely not particularly unique in this regards. Probably any kind of creative activity is irreconcilable with extensive smartphone usage. Yet, if I look at people around me, I sometimes feel as if I belong to a different species.

I think there is a very clear cause-and-effect relationship, i.e. smartphones provide an instant and never-ending dopamine drip. Thus, they change how you live your life. Before you know it, your phone is the most important part of your entire existence, and everything centers around it. People check their phone on average 144 times per day. This number is down, but presumably only because overall phone usage is way up. People who reduce their existence to responding or reacting to whatever their phone throws at them obviously cannot focus on anything for longer than a few minutes. This arguably explains why bite-sized content like TikTok videos are so popular. This trend also affects games. Thus, some genres have the problem that their playerbase is aging. Real-time strategy or grand-strategy games, where one gaming session could take one to two hours, if not more, and players are expected to plan ahead, sometimes quite far ahead, are fundamentally incompatible with this lifestyle. There would need to be a special version of a game like Civilization for the TikTok generation to make it palatable for that crowd but this is probably not feasible.

A lot of people have commented on the disappearance of video game manuals. In the 1990s game manuals used to be very detailed, providing a thorough explanation of game mechanics or a fleshed out account of the game’s lore. The manual of the first Baldur’s Gate is about 90 pages thick, the first Diablo, a rather simplistic hack-and-slash game, has around 80 pages, the JRPG classic Chrono Trigger comes with a rather colorful 90-page manual. Simulation games were in an entirely different league, though. Sim City 2000 has a manual that is about 150 pages long and goes quite in-depth. The though that an IQ95 normie could make it through this text is laughable. You need a basic understanding of economics and finance for this game. More interestingly, this manual lists a few dozen references, primarily of an academic nature. Today, you could not sell such a game to a wider audience that expects everything to be “gamified” and easily accessible.

This is about 1/3 of the bibliography in the Sim City 2000 manual. How many references are included in the manual of Fortnite?

If you cannot sit down and pursue any task for more than just a few minutes you likely will not be effective at anything that requires just a modicum of intelligence. Thus, even if actual IQ levels are higher than what widespread and excessive smartphone usage would imply, it is still the case that people act as if they are stupid. We are seeing this in gaming today, but the impact in the workforce and society will probably only be felt within a few more years.

One thought on “Gamers Are Getting Dumber, Study Finds

  1. Long time commenters might remember I also teach part time at a university, and I have done so for the better part of the last two decades. During my time I have observed the problem of declining attention span quite clearly, made worse by the presence of smartphones and laptops in the classroom (by the way, this is one of the main reasons zoom classes are a waste of time).

    These last couple semesters were particularly bad, so I am about to reintroduce a strict no phones policy again (I used to confiscate phones until the end of class, but got lax after covid).

    Most students will never go over the assigned readings aymore, and study straight from some summary that some of the brighter ones made. I will admit I was at least somewhat guilty of the same 20 years ago when I was studying, but it was a last recourse when we ran out of time before exams.

    Since I drive a lot for work, I am happy to report that I still have plenty of boredom time that I can fill thinking or listening to podcasts. But modern life makes it hard to otherwise set aside the time to read a book (I still do), it requires an extra effort nowadays.

    Some advice on how to counter the neverending distraction machine? At least what has worked for me:

    – get off TV. I dont even have Netflix, but I have used other peoples Netflix on occasion. Disable the automatic “play next” (on youtube too). Most of what is on these days is bullshit anyway.

    – Get off social media, entirely. period. If you absolutely have to have a profile, for work or family reasons, deactivate all notifications on your phone.

    – as a general rule, deactivate all notifications from all apps on your phone except for the absolutely indispensable. I even blocked notifications from uber, for example. It means I have to open the app to see where the car is, but on the other hand I am never ever pestered by their ads anymore.

    – I also uninstalled or shut down all apps I dont need (and those that are impossible to remove, I took away all permissions). Make your smartphone as dumb as possible. Some extremists will go all the way and get dumb phones, but that may be somewhat unpractical.

    – if you watch something on youtube, never log in. Have your browser delete cookies automatically and install a few plugins to block their tracking. That wont save you from the NSA, but it will prevent them from tailoring content suggestions to your browsing habits beyond the current session., thus herding you into a silo. Ublock origin has worked well for me. Privacy Badger, Ghostery, Canvas Defender too.

    – NoScript has been one of the most powerful so far, but it requires a lot of tinkering, mostly initially, because it will break a lot of sites. Often you will have to go down the list of blocked scripts and enable one by one those that make the site work, but whenever I use someone elses computer I am dazzled by how many ads and pop-ups and shit they see, which I dont. Makes the browsing experience much smoother.

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