The evidence has been conclusive that playing violent video games increases the player’s level of aggression. The term aggression is used by scientists specifically to mean “willingness to harm others”.
So if a violent video game player’s “willingness to harm others” increases, does that mean they’ll go out and commit a violent crime? No it doesn’t. It just means that whatever level of aggression a person already has, will be increased by playing violent video games. The more they play, the more their level of aggression is increased. So, someone who starts out very non-aggressive will (after playing violent video games) become less non-aggressive. And someone who starts out very aggressive will (after playing violent video games) become even more aggressive. So if someone is already so aggressive that they are teetering on the edge of committing a violent crime, it would make sense that hours of playing violent video games would push them over that edge, to the point of committing a violent crime. The result would be that most people who play lots of violent video games would not have their aggression level increased to the point of committing a violent crime, but that a minority of players would indeed have their level of aggressiveness increased to the point of committing a violent crime.
But is this what is actually happening? Has the enormous dedications of millions of players to violent video games actually lead to an increase in violent crime?
According to FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the homicide rate has gone down dramatically since the early 1990s.
And according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics violent crime rates have also gone down dramatically since the early 1990s.
It was during the 1990s that violent video games started to become popular, shouldn’t the homicide rate, and violent crime rate have gone up?
Patrick Kierkegaard, a doctoral student student at Essex University, argues that this dramatic reduction in violent crime during the same period when violent video games became popular, proves that violent video games actually reduce violent crime.
“Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s,” says Kierkegaard, “while video games have steadily increased in popularity and use. For example, in 2005, there were 1,360,088 violent crimes reported in the USA compared with 1,423,677 the year before. “With millions of sales of violent games, the world should be seeing an epidemic of violence,” he says, “Instead, violence has declined.”
This is an argument that has been picked up by the violent video game industry and is now repeated over and over again in violent video game sites, forums and magazines. But is he correct? Do violent video games actually reduce violent crime?
The problem with this argument is that it ignores the enormous increase in the incarceration rate over the past 50 years. From 1970 to 2006 the incarceration rate has increased over 500 %. The United States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The dramatic decline in violent crime since the 1990s has been quite a puzzle, but there are a number of other theories (increased incarceration, higher abortion rates, decreased lead exposure) to explain the decline. Violent video games are only one possible explanation, it could very well be violent video games are a factor in increasing violent crime, but they were counteracted by other powerful factors driving the violent crime rates down.
Another issue is demographics, was it really a reduction in violent crime by kids of higher socio-economic levels (with parents who could afford to be early adopters of computers and game consoles) which caused a wholesale reduction in violent crime?
Note: the 1960’s was the first time large number of people came of age after spending larger and larger portions of their childhood in front of the television. Could it be that exposure to violent television caused the original increase in violence starting in the 1960s? Perhaps, but it is not proof positive.
And the argument that the decrease in violent crime during the 1990s , which coincided with the introduction of violent video games, also during the 1990s, proves that violent video games do not cause real-life violence is also not proof-positive. Correlation does not equal causation, especially when there are a number of other very plausible explanations.