Comparing Violent Crime Rates To Violent Game Releases

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

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