Joe Rogan is in trouble with the gaming community. In last week’s episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, one of the most popular podcasts in the world, Rogan drew a comparison between taking up jiu-jitsu as a hobby and taking up gaming. Speaking as an accomplished martial artist and MMA commentator, he suggested that while jiu-jitsu might offer a person physical fitness, excitement, confidence, and new career opportunities, gaming offers nothing but a dead-end:
It’s no secret that self-described ‘gamers’ are disproportionately young and male. And looking down the list of last year’s most popular games, it’s striking to see how many provide a vivid simulation of hyper-masculinity, allowing the player to pretend to be a soldier, gunslinger, warrior, gangster, or heavily armed survivor in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. All fantasy scenarios that provide violence, peril, and (apparently) immense satisfaction for the young male brain.
Which makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. These kinds of games offer what the evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman has called ‘fake fitness’, that is ‘subjective cues of success without real-world ramifications.’ Players immersed in the game feel as though they are living in a world closer to the one in which our early ancestors evolved, a world in which young men who displayed strength, courage, and ingenuity in the face of hardship and danger were more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass on their genes.
But the vast majority of Westerners don’t live in that kind of world anymore. We live in societies that are far safer, richer, and more comfortable than those of the past. Modern men are no longer routinely called upon to hunt for food or wage war against invading enemies, not when we have access to supermarkets and the benefit of a small, professional army. Although violence between young men still blights many communities, in historical terms the rates are very low indeed, so much so that junk food, alcohol, smoking, drugs, and ‘deaths of despair’ now pose a far more lethal threat.
For some young men, gaming plugs a psychological gap left by the loss of a certain kind of masculinity, a loss sometimes blamed on feminists, who are accused of creating a feminised society that leaves no space for men. But in fact, the so-called ‘crisis in masculinity’ is a consequence, not of feminist campaigning, but of societal affluence — a miracle of the modern world, but one that has inadvertently produced a lot of frustrated and aimless young men, now directing their pent up energy towards a hobby that offers fake fitness but which, unfortunately, given the addictive nature of ‘limbic capitalism’, is more likely than other hobbies to become all-consuming, damaging the gamer’s health and repelling potential sexual partners.
Feminists often make the mistake of dismissing this problem, suggesting that we should simply reject masculinity in all its forms, both positive and negative, and offer nothing in its place. But in his comments last week, Rogan offered up one solution, and a far more realistic one, in the form of martial arts — a fake (that is, ritualised) form of violence, but not a fake form of fitness, since the discipline, progress, and sense of purpose offered by this kind of physical challenge is absolutely real.