For years, the media has tried to associate violent video games and real world violence. The theory has that prima facie thing going for it, but a new study released puts some scientific research on the other end of the scales . . .
The study, “Understanding the Effects of Violent Video Games on Violent Crime” by Scott Cunningham et. al. was published on the Social Science Research Network. As they say in the opening pages of their paper,
The research is not clear on how large the increase in aggression caused by these games. Craig Anderson, a long-time researcher in the effect of violent media on aggression has contended that “one possible contributing factor [to the Columbine High School killings was the shooters‟ habits of playing] violent video games. [The shooters] enjoyed playing the bloody shoot-`em-up video game Doom, a game licensed by the U.S. Army to train soldiers to effectively kill” (quoted in Kutner and Olson 2009).
If violent video games can be shown to cause violence, then laws aimed at reducing access may benefit society at large. Yet to date, though there is evidence that violent video games cause aggression in a laboratory setting, there is no evidence that violent video games cause violence or crime. In fact, two recently published studies analyzed the effect of violent media (movies and video game stores) on crime, and found increased exposure may have caused crime rates to decrease (Dahl and Dellavegna 2009; Ward 2011).
Armed with historical data and a calculator, the three authors set out to determine if there was any correlation between people playing video games and then committing violent acts in the real world.
The methodology the authors used was relatively straightforward. They looked at historical data of when and how well violent video games (as rated by the ESRB) sold, and then determined if violent crime for that time period (when the game was freshly released and in the “top selling” lists) increased. They also attempted to control for other factors, such as the time of year.
The main assumption in this methodology is that the population of people who buy violent video games overlaps with or is equivalent to the population of people committing violent crimes. That is, the same people who buy video games also commit crimes.
If it were to turn out that the population of people committing crimes did not play video games then the validity of the study would have to be questioned. Thankfully, the Pew Internet and American Life Project research indicates that 53% of all American adults play video games, which would indicate a significant overlap in the populations.
The results are very interesting. According to the study, in the days after a popular violent video game was released the crime rate drops a statistically significant amount. The authors attributed this to something they call an “incapacitation effect,” which basically means that the video games are occupying so much of the would-be criminal’s attention that they don’t have time to go out and commit violent crime.
Unfortunately, this study proves relatively little in the grand scheme of things. All it shows is that when a popular game comes onto the market people will play that instead of committing crimes. There was nothing in the study about the long term effects of violent video games, especially on the development of younger minds.
So why is this story on TTAG? Because violent video games use guns, and are often the “gateway drug” to actual gun ownership. There’s an entire parallel gun culture that has evolved in America that sprouted up thanks to games like Wolfenstein 3D. Like it or not, I believe video games are fueling the current surge in gun sales and gun ownership.
And being one who has been known to get a few rounds of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 in at night I was pleasantly pleased when my electronic nocturnal habit was praised for once instead of being blamed for the downfall of civilization.