The debate on the possible correlation between violent video games and crime rates has been raging for four decades now and there’s still no definitive conclusion. Researchers on both sides of the argument have been looking at crime rates in Australia and around the world trying to establish or disprove a connection between the two, but the results are mixed and generally inconclusive. Let’s have a look at some facts.
The rise of video games
In the early 1980s conservative groups sounded the alarm, warning that exposure to violent video gaming raises the risk of driving the young generation into antisocial behaviour. In a few years, they said, crime rates will be skyrocketing. That did not happen anywhere in the Western world. Actually, in many countries crime rates are now lower than they were 40 years ago. And, as everyone knows, what was mainly a fad among kids and teenagers in the 80s has now become a worldwide phenomenon.
You no longer need a console when you can indulge in your favorite game, more or less violent, on your laptop or your smartphone, and it’s become socially acceptable to do so.
What statistics say
As far as Australia is concerned, the most comprehensive study on the possible correlation between games and crime records was conducted in the state of Victoria. The study prepared by the Center for Criminology & Criminal Justice at Monash University analyzed the impact of gaming activities and found no evidence that juvenile or adult offenders were motivated by their gaming habits.
Critics point out though that lack of evidence does not mean there is no evidence, but only that none has been found so far.
The main reason is that no one is actively questioning offenders on their favorite games or gaming habits. This can easily be verified when we look at pre-employment background checks.
Most Australian businesses include police checks from local suppliers like ANCC (website link: australiannationalcharactercheck.com.au) in their standard hiring policy. What happens when it turns out a job applicant has a criminal record? Does anyone bother to ask for the reasons behind a certain offence? Does anyone dig deeper and asks about their favorite pastime as a teenager? Nobody asks: Did you play violent games as a child? Not the police, nor HR professionals, since it is not their job to do so.
Technically, there could be a link, but many reputed psychologists around the world insist there isn’t.
What psychological studies say
According to a study published by the American Psychology Association (APA), “several major gaps remain in the violent video game literature”. Many studies that pointed to a connection between violent games and criminality have been found to be flawed. Laboratory experiments cannot fully replicate real life situations so their findings cannot and should not be considered as proof there is a link between the two.
At the same time, researchers should take other factors into account. For instance, the continuous exposure to violence in the media, whether we’re talking about news programs or movies. When you look back at the media as it was 40 years ago, you cannot not notice that today there are ten times more TV channels available, not to mention the violent films available online. People are becoming desensitized about violence, and gaming of any kind has nothing to do with that.
If anything, the APA study concludes, “more research is needed to: (a) refine emerging general models of human aggression; (b) delineate the processes underlying short and long term media violence effects; (c) broaden these models to encompass aggression at the level of subcultures and nations.”