Comparing Violent Crime Rates To Violent Game Releases

April 12, 2008 -
Do violent video games make people violent?

Some critics believe so and are determined to legally restrict the sale of violent video games to minors, despite some significant practical and constitutional hurdles.

These include the fact that, even if they can't purchase violent games, some kids will still find ways to play them; that many of the perpetrators of supposedly game-linked violent acts were over 18 and wouldn’t have been affected by proposed video game laws; and that such legislation has an 0 for 9 record in federal court challenges.

And yet, the anti-game laws keep coming.  One would think there’s an epidemic of violence in this country.  One would think that as video games have grown in popularity, violent crime has gone up.

But it hasn’t.

Take a look at this nifty chart we came across on Wired earlier this week (although, truth be told, we’ve seen this chart before. In fact, GP saw it mentioned by Dr. David Bickham of Boston’s Center on Media and Child Health at Penn State last week, although Bickham downplayed its significance). 

Using data from the U.S. Department of Justice, the chart plots the rate of crime victimization per 1,000 citizens over the past couple of decades. Superimposed over the graph are several violent games, depicted chronologically by release date.  One will notice that where DOOM is introduced the line graph takes a nose dive and continues falling all the way through the releases of Postal, Mortal Kombat, and GTA.

Neat, eh?  Of course, the data is pretty broad.  It encompasses many types of violent crime such as robbery and simple assault, includes all age groups above 12, and details victims instead of offenders.  What violent game critics would likely be more interested in is a graph plotting the number of juvenile homicide offenders over the years.

So we poked around the DOJ a bit and dug up this, a graph of homicide offending rates by age.  Looking at the graph, one will see that murders committed by 14 to 17-year-olds peaked in 1993 (again, DOOM) and started to fall from that point reaching their lowest level recorded by 2002.

Does this prove that games haven’t caused an increase in youth violence?  No, and social scientists would scoff at such an over-simplistic comparison, due to the many factors at play in crime and violence.  After all, who’s to say that without violent games the precipitous drop in youth violence over the last decade and a half wouldn’t have been steeper?

Still, despite the alleged harmful effects of violent games, the number of youth homicides has been on the decline for many years now.  It makes one wonder what's really driving some critics' urge to legislate games.

-Reporting from San Diego, GP Correspondent Andrew Eisen

Comments

Re: Comparing Violent Crime Rates To Violent Game Releases

I agree with some of you in saying that parenting has a lot to do with this. A person's value system is built in the home and is a DIRECT reflection on the parents. True, with the availability of the internet and the media these days, kids have a wider influence of behavior other than their parents. However, I believe that when parents properly engage with their children, THEIR morals/values will be instilled and will over-trump any of those influences from outside of the home. Once children have this understanding, they will be able to make an intelligent choice between right and wrong when presented with biased outside information.

Another interesting fact of why violent crime is at a 30 year low......the increase of gun ownership by law abiding citizens!!

Re: Comparing Violent Crime Rates To Violent Game Releases

Ok, I believe it could contribute, BUT I think it is mainly to do with the children's upbringing.

Re: Comparing Violent Crime Rates To Violent Game Releases

Why cant i reply directly to jack, ive posted twice and it goes to the next part

You've gotta be joking... Idiots, nowadays. True, it may seem that it is linked, but come on.

@janarius
But messed up families and psychological problems aren't sensational. If you're willing to blame video games for any violent crime you can get your 15 minutes of fame on Fox News. The issue of video games and violence would have died out years ago if the media didn't sensationalize it in the wake of tragedies such as Columbine and Virginia Tec.

Legislators are idiots...

They never go by the facts, they go by what their constituents are aware of...

and if allowed to succeed then they stop being idiots, because they start turning into monsters...

@Tonkarz
because of the vast difference in cultures, art will have different effect on people in different nations... so I am not certain that we should dismiss it... even if it is different

especially since other places like Russia, Europe, India and China have gone through such vast political and economical changes over the last couple of decades...

The only more or less valid comparison is between us and Canada... the rest of the world has way way too many factors for any such comparison...

I thought we knew what was driving their attacks on videogames: easy credit with gullible voters and for crime and poverty issues they don't want to spend the money and effort actually fixing.

Oh, you meant, what VALID reason did they have for these attacks. Yeah, well, we know the answer to that, too: none.

Of course, GP knows that better than any of us, so I'm assuming this was a prod to start conversation amongst people who actually care about what our money is spent on. Too bad gamers seem to be the only ones.

Hmm, I think certain gaming credits have a form of dyslexia that only comes into effect when looking at charts like these

Here's some maths.

8.2 Million copies of GTA: Vice City were sold by 2007. In that year there were 30,113 violent crimes. That equates to 272 copies of the game sold per crime.

And thats before you take away the number of crimes committed by non gamers...

It seems so obvious doesn't it?
So...why the hell don't they get it?

This isn't the first time this has been brought up. About...4 years ago another internet gaming blog posted the same thing. This is something that defenders need to bring up more often, because the exact opposite conclusion can be leapt to, that game PREVENT violence. Of course, that isn't the case. There is no one reason violent crime has been on the decline for the last 15 years. But it can be used to show how ridiculous anti-game politics is.

thou personally i believe that violent games do NOT cause violent crimes...

i have seen one flaw in that graph...
POPULATION GROWTH

So which is it? Are video games games making our kids fat because they are sitting at home all day and night playing them or are they making them go out and commit violent crimes? We should make these yahoos pick one or the other.

Seriously I know a lot of kids who play video games. None of them are fat and none of them have committed a felony.

I'd pretty much downplay the relationship between violent video games and violent crime too since the latter is mostly formed from multiple risk factors, i.e. poverty, stupidity, family instability, etc.

Of course, some psychologists would still think that violent VG still has a role in the aggressive behaviours of people, "might apply in some situations or in more banal and general situation".

More importantly, has criminologists have any say in this? They've been pretty silent.

the “might apply in some situations or in more banal and general situation” is where the person is already deranged or has some sort of mental disorder prone to excessive violence to begin with.

[...] wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptDo violent video games make people violent? Some critics believe so and are determined to legally restrict the sale of violent video games to minors, despite some significant practical and constitutional hurdles. These include the fact that, even if they can’t purchase violent games, some kids will still find ways to play them; that many of the perpetrators of supposedly game-linked violent acts were over 18 and wouldn’t have been affected by proposed video game laws; and that such legislation has an 0 for 9 record in federal court challenges. And yet, the anti-game laws keep coming.  One would think there’s an epidemic of violence in this country.  One would think that as video games have grown in popularity, violent crime has gone up. But it hasn’t. Take a look at this nifty chart we came across on Wired earlier this week (although, truth be told, we’ve seen this chart before. In fact, GP saw it mentioned by Dr. David Bickham of […] [...]

I too see a flaw. Why does it goes only from the 80s, where gang violence (especially in LA) was very very prominent? In the 90s, there was reduction of violence in LA.

I blame Fox news for today's violent children.

I am surprised they are not blaming rap music as well good lord anyone listen to gold country?
theres enough boosing,sleeping around and killing your ex to make rap look tame!

Game critics will certainly see this chart, but for them it will be reversed.

@Daltin

I think that is part of the point, if the rise in violent games had created a generation of violence, those numbers would not have dropped so steeply as that age entered puberty, however, as the gang culture slowly declined in activity, no 'great evil' rose to take its place.

I'll admit, as the author did, that there are a hell of a lot more factors than merely Computer Games, but what is missing is evidence of the so called 'detrimental' effect of gaming.

I'd be far more inclined to believe Dr Bickham's downplaying of its relevance as a total statement on youth violence, but I still think it is pretty telling as to the degree that sensationalism and fear-mongering plays a part in our perception of the young people of today.

mmmmm

It seems that most crimes were made my people who were over the age of 18 but younger than 35.

ALSO, the data has been recorded since the mid 70's, that was when PONG was first released.

ALSO, there has always been crime and violence in the beginning of man kind, 40 thousand years BEFORE Videogames and TV.

I also agree that Sensationalism and also the fact that there are parents who grew up with the TV when they were kids sometimes believe almost everything on the news.

Now since that many news stations report of Youth Crime since the 70's, that might explain why people like us who had to grow up with that stigma of society trying to tell us that young people are violent, somehow we as younger people get tired of this generalisation and we feel that we should not be judged by our age.

So therefore, the more the news sensationalises, the more young people of today and even in the decade before from the Generations X and Y are more aware how this has a negative effect of people's perceptions of young people of today.

Like I know allot of younger people who are younger than me, they also love to play Videogames but they are not really violent and it has no connection to the type of games that they play.
Some of the younger people I know who do play some, 'so called' Murder Simulators, (like Crisis and Halo) are really nice and honest young people of today.

I feel that our life experience plays a greater deal in how we percive what we think is true and not true, and from my own life experience, I know that Violent Videogames WOULD NOT make a child violent, at worst it might only make them a bit scared of what they have seen but they will never really try to act it out in real life.

Hey, we don't want "The Truth" and "The Facts" to get into this discussion on banning video games! That might lead to folks realizing that video games aren't the problem. Right? ;)

Okay, so I'm willing to accept that the decline in violent crime and the release of Doom are most likely a coincidence, and that violent video games did not cause a sudden drop in violent crime. I'll even go one step further and accept the argument of "without violent video games, the drop might have been even steeper". This still tells me, though, that any increase in violence caused by games is rather negligible on that larger scale. I'm more interested in finding out what did cause the drop so we can maintain or increase it, rather than chasing after something that might be having an unnoticable effect.

This is like a chatholic priest talking to a Jahovahs witness, the priest talks about what he believes the bible says, and the Jahovahs witness talks about what the bible really says. Point is, people are going to tell others what they want to hear, and not the truth. I see a day where the people will finally get tired of how the government treats Americans freedoms, and will either reform, or go back to the 1700's (as for the country being for the people). Our elected officials are taking the power and running with it, and when it comes to something even honest, they will turn their back on it. I SEE RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE if something doesn't start changing fast.

Has this trend been observed in other countries? If the same trend was observed in other countries which saw the releases of these games, then there would be stronger evidence that it is indeed related to the release of these games. If, however, no corresponding decline in violent crime is observed, then we should suspect that what we have observed is merely a coincidence, and that the decline in violence is due to some other factor.

It doesn't matter about the facts. Games will be attacked until the "new thing" comes out.

@Shaoron:

RTFG. That graph is crime *RATE*. The absolute number has gone up, the number per 1000 has gone down. Population is irrelevant to that graph.

@Tonkarz:
I've seen one other explanation posited for that graph. Abortion. Whether or not that's true, who knows.

@TBone Tony

It seems that most crimes were made my people who were over the age of 18 but younger than 35.

ALSO, the data has been recorded since the mid 70’s, that was when PONG was first released.

ALSO, there has always been crime and violence in the beginning of man kind, 40 thousand years BEFORE Videogames and TV.


Ahh such a common mistake you're making man. You're forgetting the sheer power of things like pong & janet jacksons nipple. Such things cause ripples in the very fabric of spacetime and the effects can be felt all through the spacetime continuum. Pong was the instigator of all human violence, the catalyst for when our simian ancestors first picked up a rock & smashed something with it. Janet jackson's nipple directly influenced the spanish inquisition and clark gable saying "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" in gone with the wind will eventually cause the 3 century war with the glognax in 2716!

@Bobby
I SEE RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE if something doesn’t start changing fast.


Oh god I hope no, rage against the machine SUCKED! Theirs was easily the worst song in the GTA San Andreas soundtrack.

@ Aliasalpha
I am not talking about the band.

If you ever thought they were promoting anti-gaming for the benefits of a better society in general, you'd be dead wrong. All famous gaming detractors want is more cash, more power, more votes, and more publicity, and they're trying to do so using gaming as a scapegoat.

@ Janarius

Joanne Savage has a review article on media violence in this month's American Behavioral Scientist that looks at media violence generally from a criminologist's view. Overall she is pretty skeptical of there being any link. The whole ABS issue was a "special" issue on media violence and was pretty interesting and well-balanced with multiple views from both sides and multiple disciplines. Several authors (James Anderson for one) look at the sociology of media violence research itself, which was pretty fascinating.

@Grifter

Now why would you go on and blab their poorly-kept secret like that?

Just because the people who hate games mostly HAPPEN to be greatly funded by movies and television, who HAPPEN to see their audience falling, a fact they blame on the Internet and Videogames, and who JUST MIGHT want to make all videogames illegal so people have to start watching their programs more again or find something else but not so engaging as videogames to spend time doing, you go and accuse these people of bias and ignorant attempts to give their funders more money so they, in turn, get more money...

Well, how dare you point out obvious truths for those too lazy, ignorant, or simply casually cehcking out news to realize they're being lied to.

The thing is, there's one thing that has been shown to be linked, more than any other thing, to violent criminals - and that's the fact that a huge majority of violent criminals are teenage boys or men. But I don't see anyone trying to legislate keeping men indoors, or prophylactically cutting off penises in the hope of reducing crime. Somehow I think that would be as effective as limiting access to video games, but given the obvious lunacy of some lawmakers I wouldn't put it past them.

Ironically, in the last 20 years the one thing that HAS been proven to keep men indoors and out of trouble with more success than almost anything else (except perhaps sport on TV) is, you guessed it, violent video games. And these bozos want to restrict access to it? Part of me wants to see them succeed in their wacky witch hunt just to see them try to explain why crime goes up when teenage boys and young men find their Xboxes and Playstations aren't keeping them occupied anymore.

I admire GP for being so willing to strive for balance in reporting this issue, but I have to say I think it's quite a grasp to conclude that the precipitous decline in youth violence might have been "even faster" if not for video games. I think it's honest reporting to suggest that video games don't cause violent crime to decrease, but to say that video games are putting breaks on the decline in youth violence really strains credulity. We must remember that the cornerstone to the global warming debate is that greenhouse gasses and global temperatures are correlated...the cornerstone to smoking and lung cancer is that lung cancer is very rare outside of smoker populations. To find a correlation between video game consumption and violence that is exactly in the wrong direction and to then state that it simply doesn't matter...that video games could still be contributing to violence...is simply lazy science and points to the intractable dogma of the social sciences that has been unable to escape from an overemphasis on mechanistic "learning" models of behavior.

My $.02

@shady8x

Certainly, the absence of a decline in violent crime in other countries that matches the release of increasingly violent games could be put down to cultural differences, and the relationship might be causal in the US... but we wouldn't have any evidence to support the view that it is, because correlation does not imply causation.

Whilst it's true that some areas of the world have seen vast changes in the last few decades, like the former USSR countries and many Asian countries, many other countries have experienced change that is within the same scope as what America itself has gone through over the period of time that the graph covers. Western Europe and Australia spring to mind.

Even if the rate of violent crime HAD gone up, there's a phrase that many politicians need to memorise:

Correlation does not imply causation.

Like I said, yes, a child could see this violence in games and think, "That's cool; we should try that!"

Then again, why is a kid going to knock over a liquor store and get busted, when he could do it in GTA with no consequences?

If games cause violence, then I can blame my pen for spelling errors.

Why is it that we are always trying to blame inanimate and on their own harmless things for violence and death? What causes violence and death are, poor parenting, lack of social values social and mental illnesses, etc, usually always stemming from poor parenting. However, it's more emotionally satisfying to to find blame in external things -- "guns killed my son","games killed my kid",etc. All this is a result of people refusing to accept that THEY or THEIR KIDS are in any way responsible for the things they or their kids do. I guess the immature grade three concept of "I didn't do it!" sticks with many people and guides their thoughts throughout their lives. Welcome to America -- the land of the whiny schoolkids we call lawyers, politicians.

@GP: I don't understand why you say that this proves that video games have not caused an increase in youth violence. In order for video games to have caused an increase in youth violence, wouldn't there have to BE an increase in youth violence?

*EDIT: Why this doesn't prove...

OmegaWarrior,

"I don’t understand why you say that this doesn't prove that video games have not caused an increase in youth violence."

Because just because two things are happening at the same time (violent crime is dropping and violent video games are being released) doesn't prove that one is causing the other. It's that old correlation vs. causation thing again.

MV Guy,

"...but to say that video games are putting breaks on the decline in youth violence really strains credulity."

I agree so it's a good thing that's not what I said. Check out my second to last paragraph again.


Andrew Eisen

@ Andrew Eisen:

"After all, who’s to say that without violent games the precipitous drop in youth violence over the last decade and a half wouldn’t have been steeper?"

Perhaps I'm misreading this...what I get from this statement is (and I interpret this as attempting to be very "fair" to the anti-game crowd) is that you're giving a nod to the possibility that, if violent video games had never existed,...violent crimes would have dropped *even more* than they did. To flip this around a bit, this would be somewhat akin to cigarette companies arguing that lung cancer might have been *even more* prevalent if not for cigarettes. Sure, because of correlation v causation, it's *incredibly remotely* possible, but I think, scientifically, you'd really have to be grasping at straws.

I think it's perfectly fair to say there's no evidence that violent video games are responsible for the violent crime decline (I doubt they are), but I don't think it's very reasonable to try to argue that violent video games are somehow still working against the decline. Had it been a tiny, slow decline, sure, but a precipitous decline of this magnitude simply isn't being delayed by much of anything.

Of course I may have completely misread what you meant to say there...

MV Guy,

Yeah, I think we’re mostly on the same page. I just want to make sure you understand that I didn't argue that violent video games are somehow working against the decline in violent crime. I merely used that idea to illustrate the fallacy of assuming the drop has anything to do with video games.


Andrew Eisen

This has gotta be a belated April Fool's.
David BICKHAM?!

REALLY?

I would say one cause for a drop in violent crimes is that during the period of DOOM anti gang movements started. I don't mean anti as in we think they are bad and should all be thrown in jail but anti as in we need to get these kids off the street educate them and make them feel apart of something. On top of that there have been more movements to help underprivileged kids and more help for lower income homes.

The problem with any correlation is the correlation part, yes you can use a graph to show that crimes went down and that they correspond to game releases but thats it they just correspond. Frankly being a CS individual I look at if this then this, I don't really put much faith in if this well this could be. That is the same problem I have with JT wannabes saying that games = violent crimes. Its to much data to pin point a single cause and effect. When you have multiple variables you can't just ignore the Y Z because all you care about is the X.

@ Andrew Eisen

Understood, and I do agree. Scholars for years were pointing that the crime wave beginning in the late 60s seeming to rise after the widespread use of TV in the 50s was merely correlation not causal. Now that those cautionary notes have been vindicated by this crime decline, it would be hypocritical to turn around and try to claim causation when it suits us. In general I think people make to much out of discrete points in time, without looking at the big picture (crime in the US tends to flow on a sine wave).

I would like to propose that violent video games prevent crime, using first year philosophy (Yay!):

P1: Psychopaths wanna hurt stuff.
P2: Video Games let you hurt stuff.
P3: Many video game players went on rampages*
P4: Thus psychopaths who wanna hurt stuff play video games
P5: Video games are a waste of time, addicting*
C7: Thus psychopaths play video games cause they wanna hurt stuff and waste time on them untill they die, decreasing crime

*Sources :Fox News

I use the above graph as additional evidence.
 
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