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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.

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  1. BFBC2 is darn good fun. I don’t know if I believe the study, but it’s an interesting thought nonetheless.

  2. When the bastards are home playing CoD or whatever, they’re not out doing drive-bys. Ipso facto, video games reduce violence. Also literacy, because while people are addictively playing games, they’re not reading, engaging in conversation, or performing any task that might bring enlightnment to dimwits. Video games are not the cause of society’s ills, just a reflection of them.

  3. “Like it or not, I believe video games are fueling the current surge in gun sales and gun ownership.”

    Can’t disagree. I got my CMP Garand after playing MOH-Airborne a few years ago.

  4. “There’s an entire parallel gun culture that has evolved in America that sprouted up thanks to games like Wolfenstein 3D.”

    And an entire nation of “experts” on YouTube that sprouted up thanks to Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2.

    Thanks, Infinity Ward!

  5. It was a computer game called Jagged Alliance 2 that got me interested in the Dragunov way back in the 90s. My interest for that sparked interest in other sniper rifles, and ultimately guns at large.

    The Dragunov has been popular in many of the latest First person Shooters including both modern warfare’s and I think BFBC2, I am just happy the COD:Black Ops finally got the reticle right. Too bad range means absolutely nothing in every First person shooter out there, really sucks that a pistol will kill someone at what would be more than 400 meters in real life and with a flat trajectory the whole way too.

    • That’s ’cause all those pistols are equipped with custom Karl Lippard parts, bringing them to the level of the Combat NCO, and the accompanying exponential (typically triple) range increase of whatever pistol cartridge said handgun happens to be chambered in.

    • My main counter point to that would be that there are very few games that let you shoot 400 yards. In most video games, it’s time to get the sniper rifle once you get to 100 yards.

  6. “Like it or not, I believe video games are fueling the current surge in gun sales and gun ownership.”

    I think you are at least partially correct. On balance, the 1994 assault weapon ban probably did more to fuel the AR craze than any other single factor. When the government tells you you should not have something, it makes that thing more desirable. I frankly think this rationale applies to pot as well- it would not be nearly as desireable / hip / trendy / if it were legal.

  7. I just don’t see any redeeming qualities of a child (or a grown man for that matter) spending loads of time playing violent (or non-violent) video games. And I do believe one of your AI brethren recently wrote a piece about pulling the plug on the TV and getting our kids, and ourselves outdoors together. That would be with REAL guns and ammo. Imagine that.

    There are other outlets that allow interest in obscure firearms to blossom. Again, away from the TV and at a brick and mortar gun shop.

  8. Having been fascinated by the video game industry for a long time, my friend and I decided to create something very stylish and cool that many people would want to play, contacting Argentics helped us with a lot of issues with our game, namely in the development of art and animation for it and not only.


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