A Closer Look: Video Games and Crime
Yeah, so this is an argument that’s been around forever. “Oh my God, video games are corrupting our youth and causing aggression and blah blah boobity bop:” I am here to challenge it! Recently, I’ve taken up an independent study during my senior year of college in an attempt to not only disprove the myth that video games cause violent crime, but to go out and say that they play a part in helping to decrease it. Of course, this can’t all be explained in one short editorial, so I’ll be sure to update this series of mine as I investigate more on the subject.
This whole crazy idea happened about three years ago while working the summer camp at the Lake Norman YMCA. I noticed that, for the most part, the kids who brought their Nintendo DS’s and played more video games, tended to get in less confrontations with others, usually because they were battling each other in Pokémon instead of arguing over who got hit in dodge ball. I didn’t really think anything about it until last year in my Theories of Crime and Justice course. We were looking at a chart of violent crime in the US from 1991-2010, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. In every category, violent crime has steadily decreased almost every single year since 1991. Here’s a breakdown of what I saw: total violent crime was at about 1,911,767 back in 1991, shortly before the gaming industry took off. In 2010, that number has been cut to 1,246,248: roughly a 35% decrease in total violent crime in the US. This point is important in the sense that, it’s simply not logical to argue that video games increase violent crime when it’s been decreasing despite the rising population and video game sales.
The main reason I suspect that video games may be helping to decrease violent crime is an interpretation of Travis Hirschi’s social bonds theory. Hirschi had developed this theory to try to explain why people might not engage in criminal or deviant behavior. It focuses on four parts that each play a role in preventing someone from committing crime: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. The piece that I’d like to focus on for now is the involvement section. The shortest and easiest way to describe this is that involvement in conventional activities consumes time otherwise spent in unconventional activities. That’s just a fancy way of saying that if someone sits down and plays Skyrim for 10 hours today, then that’s 10 hours they won’t be committing any sort of crime.
The next two points I’d like to make for now are borrowed from the show, Penn & Teller: Bullshit. The particular episode discussed several points attempting to unravel the point of view that violent video games are destroying America’s youth. In the show, Penn & Teller took an ordinary 9 year old kid who loved games such as Call of Duty, and allowed him to shoot an AR-15 rifle. He was given 3 bullets to shoot, but stopped after the first shot. At the very end of the episode, Penn revealed that after shooting, the boy cried. He didn’t want to continue shooting because frankly, you could play violent games all day long and still not be ready to shoot a real gun.
Imagine for a moment that video games had been invented 100 years before football. High school teams cheering for their players to get the last point in Call of Duty in a crowded gym with a massive projection screen on one wall. The rookie player on the home team calls in an airstrike, winning the game and securing their school a spot in the championship finals. Now let’s take a look at football: the last tackle is made, stopping the other team from winning. Only one of the players stands up. Paramedics rush onto the field to help the injured player, only to find he doesn’t have a pulse. Between 1931 and 2007, at least 665 real kids died from injuries suffered from playing football. I’m not saying that we need to turn our attention to football, (that’s the last thing I want), but it’s worth noting what we all seem to choose to worry about.
Granted, there’s still work to be done and more studies to read, but I’ll continue working on this and elaborate more in the future. I should have all the information I need to complete my argument by the time October or November rolls around. In the meantime, feel free to pick apart this piece; I’d love to see where my weak points are so I can be prepared to counter them.