COLUMN: Too many videos and games can cause dangerous parasocial relationships


Humans have been communicating for thousands of years, and it has not only insured that we survive but that we thrive.  We’ve all heard that humans are social creatures. It’s in our DNA. 

We enjoy spending time and conversing with others. It makes complete sense. 

Human communication has evolved tremendously over the years. Although hard to swallow, our dependence on television and online videos for social fulfillment may very well have adverse effects on the way we communicate with each other. 

The majority of us are most likely guilty of overindulging in our favorite Netflix shows and YouTube channels, but have we been thinking about what it may be doing to us? 

When we get addicted to Netflix shows or YouTube channels, we get addicted to the characters and the YouTubers. We spend a lot of time learning about them and eventually develop relationships with them.

However, these aren’t your typical everyday relationships. They’re called parasocial relationships. 

Parasocial relationships are distinct from other types of relationships because they are completely one-sided. You could know more about your favorite YouTuber than their own cousin, but they most likely wouldn’t recognize you at the mall. 

Truly, it’s a bit tragic. These parasocial relationships we develop with these public figures can take the place of relationships we have with actual people in our lives. 

We may choose to catch up on our favorite shows rather than go out with friends. In moderation, that is absolutely alright. We just need to be aware of how many videos we’re watching and not let them take over our lives. 

Even more, these YouTube videos and Netflix series allow us to live vicariously through others. Rather than go to an escape room with friends, we may just watch our favorite vlogger do it. As a result, we feel socially fulfilled and we didn’t even have to leave the house. 

When I was growing up, the last thing I wanted to do was watch someone else play video games while I waited for my turn. By the time I reached middle school, that had completely changed. 

I spent hour after hour watching YouTubers play video games and making funny remarks. It was the first thing I’d do after getting home from school. It was a huge time-killer. 

In particular, I always enjoyed watching the YouTube Gamer, Pewdiepie. I watched so many of his videos that I had a dream that he visited my hometown and hung out with me at our local fair. That was a huge indicator that I needed to lay off the Pewdiepie videos for a while. 

I figured it must’ve just been what you do at that age, but then I saw the same thing happen to my niece. 

While visiting them, I noticed she kept asking her mom for ‘playdoh’. I soon learned that she wasn’t asking for the malleable dough that we all know and love. 

She wanted the iPad so she could watch videos of other girls playing with Play-Doh. Sound familiar? It seems strikingly similar to my affinity for watching YouTubers play video games. 

I looked at some of these videos and their view counts breached the millions. That’s a whole lot of kids that like watching other people play with Play-Doh.

I worry this will make these kids miss out on important life experiences. Even more, I wonder what this dependence will do to them socially. 

When they grow up, they might prefer to watch a vlogger go on vacation and save money and time rather than go on one with their family or friends. It’s important that we do what we can to preserve our traditional social experiences. We can’t just sit at home and watch public figures live the lives we wish we were living. 

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