• It’s not the video games

    A number of you have taken exception to my defending video games against charges of causing violence. You’re sure I’m wrong. When I come up against deep-seated beliefs like these, I’ve learned it’s often a waste of time to try and convince you with studies. But here are some facts nonetheless.

    From Max Fisher:

    It’s true that Americans spend billions of dollars on video games every year and that the United States has the highest firearm murder rate in the developed world. But other countries where video games are popular have much lower firearm-related murder rates. In fact, countries where video game consumption is highest tend to be some of the safest countries in the world, likely a product of the fact that developed or rich countries, where consumers can afford expensive games, have on average much less violent crime.


    That’s video game spending per person on the x-axis and gun related murders per 100,000 people on the y-axis. Do you see a nice relationship between video game consumption and gun violence? Cause I don’t. I just see horrific gun violence in the US.

    From Erik Kain:

    In August of 2007, Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson of Texas A&M published a study [full paper here] showing that many studies of violence in video games have ‘publication bias’ baked into the reports, and even then, of the 25 studies he surveyed, none show any causal link between violence in video games and violence in real life.

    More from Erik (emphasis mine):

    In 2010, Dr. Fergusson and Dr. Stephanie M. Rueda published another study in which they took a sample of 103 young adults and had them solve a “frustration task.” Separating the participants into four groups, the researches had one group play no video game, one play a non-violent video game, one play as good guys in a violent game, and one play as bad guys in a violent game.

    They found that the games had no impact on aggressive behavior whatsoever, and that the group which played no game at all was the most aggressive after the task, whereas the group that played the violent games were the least hostile and depressed.

    There are many other studies which come to the same conclusions – or lack of conclusions – about the risk of violent video games affecting behavior in real life.

    Many social and behavioral researchers point out that violence in the home and poverty are better indicators of anti-social or violent behavior.

    From a piece in The Economist Erik points to:

    The opposition to gaming springs largely from the neophobia that has pitted the old against the entertainments of the young for centuries. Most gamers are under 40, and most critics are non-games-playing over-40s. But what of the specific complaints—that games foster addiction and encourage violence?

    There’s no good evidence for either. On addiction, if the worry is about a generally excessive use of screen-based entertainment, critics should surely concern themselves about television rather than games: American teenage boys play video games for around 13 hours a week (girls for only five hours), yet watch television for around 25 hours a week. As to the minority who seriously overdo it, research suggests that they display addictive behaviour in other ways too. The problem, in other words, is with them, not with the games.

    A longform piece in The Economist goes into more detail:

    But as Steven Johnson, a cultural critic, points out in a recent book, “Everything Bad Is Good for You”, gaming is now so widespread that if it did make people more violent, it ought to be obvious. Instead, he notes, in America violent crime actually fell sharply in the 1990s, just as the use of video and computer games was taking off (see chart 2). Of course, it’s possible that crime would have fallen by even more over the period had America not taken up video games; still, video gaming has clearly not turned America into a more violent place than it was.




    This graph was taken directly from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Website, and according to them violent crimes are at an all time low. Now the people at www.gamerevolution.com were kind enough to fill in the important dates along the timeline, such as the release of the PlayStation 1 and 2 and its two most controversial games Grand Theft Auto 1 and 3. As you can clearly see, the rate of violent crimes still went down, even after all the media hype and all the press.

    violence and games graph

    Please understand that I can’t prove a negative. I cannot prove that a video game hasn’t upset or made some child somewhere more violent. But I can say that we’re having an awfully hard time detecting the relationship if it’s there. Video games are incredibly prevalent. Heck, when Call of Duty: Black Ops II was released a couple weeks ago, it did more than $1 billion in sales in 15 days. That’s one game. These things are popular. If they were going to make kids violent, we’d see it at a population level. Instead, we’re seeing the opposite.

    Games are rated. Kids shouldn’t be able to buy them if they’re too young. Parents should get involved with these decisions. Personally, I agree with Erik that it’s a good idea for parents to play them with their kids. Even I – who love these things – have rules about what my kids can play. But I’ll be honest. I think I’m far more likely to let my kids play some of these games than to watch the news.

    I understand why some people don’t like violent video games. I also understand why some people don’t like violent movies or TV shows. But before you start talking about censorship, I want to see some proof. I worry that if you decide (with no good evidence) that you don’t like my video games, and want them gone, then next you’ll come for my movies. Then, maybe, you’ll decide you need to come for my books. That will not do.


    • Jim Wright — a non-academic who knows a thing or two about guns and violence — makes a strong argument that the reason video games are violent (along with movies, TV shows, etc.) is that the USA is a violent society and that blaming the symptoms for the disease is putting the cart before the horse.

    • here’s a post that ties together the video games and the mass killing of children…dreams in infrared

      • That post is NOT about video games!

        • it is about the mass killing of children, done in a manner not unlike playing a video game..

          • Yes, but those people are ACTUALLY KILLING PEOPLE. Do you really not see the difference?

            • i quite well understand the difference, aaron, and did not mean to suggest that video games (as youre referencing them) are the reason for that killing…rather, it was just a serendipitous connection to seeing your post come up in my google reader that prompted me to comment connecting the two…

    • I agree with the premise – that violent video games don’t lead to violent behaviors, just as listening to metal bands as a kid didn’t lead my generation of youth to become satan worshipers as the popular press spent so much hand-wringing time over. However, what these games may do is provide a template for acting out violent fantasies born of mental illness. These FPS (first person shooter) games may not make an individual crazy or violent, but they may provide familiarity, an opportunity to practice, and may reinforce the style in which the violence is acted out. Maybe we should all go back to playing D&D and listening to Black Sabbath.

      • Who says we stopped playing those things? 🙂

        I just think there are a lot of “may’s” in there. I’m not for kids playing violent video games. I restrict what my kids play. The premise here is that video games are causing an uptick in violence and mass shootings. There’s little evidence for that, and a lot of epidemiology to say the former isn’t right.

    • Two observations…

      1. If people can relieve their frustrations by shooting people in a fantasy game as opposed to real life, I’m all for it.

      2. It’s strange that the people who seem to most frequently claim the video games (etc) are the cause and therefore must be banned, are oftlen the same people who claim to be against “big government.”

    • A thought-provoking post. Two observations:

      1) I am not sure total sales is a metric that usefully captures the impact of video games. Although ecological studies are sometimes useful, video game spending per capita is likely hiding the “lumpiness” of video game consumption and usage.

      2) The studies that I have seen suffer from another type of selection bias: the interesting data would be of the impact of video games on already depressed or mentally instable individuals, not the general population of study takers including quasi-well adjusted males in the suburbs.

      3) Video games might really just be a link on a larger causal chain that has social isolation as the main cause and video games as a mechanism by which it is achieved.


    • This post started me looking for information on whether the USA has more violent attacks than other developed countries or if we just have more deadly violence due to having more guns. I will continue to look but if someone has a link I would appreciate it.

    • Video games are not the cause of violent resolution of one’s conflict with society, they merely help hone the means with which to do it. A greater contributor is Hollywood, and its revenge scenarios and cult of antiheroes, where violence is justified.

      As shown so graphically in “First Blood”, the Rambo Syndrome is such a clear example. Poorly treated by the local cops, Stallone’s nice, easy going vet gets pissed, and wreaks vengeance on whole town. Blood, debris, fires, explosions and mayhem are all that’s left. As the movie ends, he quietly walks out (not in custody, by the way) in the arms of his ex boss who understands him, to the sympathy of the audience. No aftermath, other than a sequel movie. He has resolved his “problem” with his enemies, and the story ends.

      The message here is clear. If you’re poorly treated, and feel you’re the victim, you are justified in retaliating to the max. Extend that thinking to its logical ends, and you have Columbine.

    • One thing that I still can’t figure out we have all the same violent games, tv shows and movies here in Australia but not one shooting spree since gun control was initiated, why is that I wonder?

    • This is perfict for my project.

    • I dont think so…

    • I don’t believe it’s the video games that are the problem, it’s the children wrapping their minds around this virtual reality. Parents need to help their children understand that what they play is just a game and isn’t real, just something made up for entertainment. I love playing first person shooter games, classics, and games like Grand Theft Auto, but you don’t see me running around shooting people and stealing police cars. My parents made it clear to me when I was very young that video games are just made up stories for me to play with. Proper discipline also had a good part in this, but that’s another issue.

    • You are right. At the macro level there is no link. I’d also believe even at smaller scales the link is at best moderate. But just making the point that the broadness doesn’t mean there aren’t populations that it is a negatively affected in that manner. I am interested to see a geographic gun violence chart, and one that shows different time frames.