The question has been hotly debated for the past two decades – do video games make people more violent and therefore more likely to have a criminal record? Some experts say there’s clearly a link between the two, while others point out there’s simply not enough proof to back such claims. Let’s have a look at what both sides have to say.
Why do American experts point the finger at violent video games?
In 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a damning report claiming that children and teenagers who spend hours playing video games are more likely to commit crimes and end up having a criminal record on their national criminal history check. The report caused quite a stir although it was not exactly new material, but rather a meta-analysis of previous research.
According to the report, “the research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.” As far as the APA is concerned, there’s a clear link between exposure to violent video games and aggressive behaviour.
Flawed research and contradicting numbers
A large number of experts were appalled by the APA’s findings. More than 200 academics from various countries signed an open letter questioning the conclusions of the report and raising troubling questions.
First of all, they said, the surveys and reports analyzed by the APA were not, for the most part, published in accredited psychological journals and reviewed by experts in the field. In other words, they were not peer reviewed, their findings were questionable and therefore so was the APA’s meta-analysis of them.
Then, there are the facts, the numbers regarding crime statistics which do not add up. Since the report was issued by American experts, it is worth looking at violent crime trends in the US and the numbers speak for themselves. Violent crimes are down and have been falling for the past three decades. For instance, in 1991 there were 758 violent crimes reported for 100,000 people in the US. In 2019, the rate was down to 366.7 for 100,000 people. A massive drop that coincides with the exponential growth of the video games market. To put it simply, over the past decades video games of any type have become widely available and almost all youngsters grew up playing more or less violent games. Did that lead to more crimes being committed? No, the numbers are down.
Debunking of a myth
The so-called link between video games and violent behaviour is a myth and the media plays an important part in perpetuating this supposed connection. Even the APA acknowledges this in their damning report. Every time there’s a major violent incident in the US, like a mass shooting, the media will quickly point out that the perpetrators were fans of some violent game. The gunman was obsessed with Doom or Call of Duty or you name it, they’ll say, and this will only add to the myth. Violent video games turn people into violent criminals, which is simply not true. There are, literally, millions of people playing very violent video games every day and none of them goes on a shooting spree in the real world.
The question of what makes certain people more likely to engage in criminal behaviour is a vital problem in our society and deserves more than a simple and fake explanation, like blaming violence on video games. The young generation in particular would be better served by a serious look at economic background, poverty, violent neighborhoods, abusive or neglectful parents. Such factors play a much larger role in driving youngsters into a life of crime. Few people, if any, will commit a crime after playing a video game, but in poor neighborhoods many youngsters will be tempted to commit a felony to get the money to buy a games console.