Hot Topic #2: Violence in Video Games

So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Modern Warfare 2 has just come out.  In honor of the release of a brand new video game in which people kill eachother with assault weapons, we’ve had the usual celebratory round of news stories about how the violence found in video games is destroying our children.

Specifically, someone linked me to the video below:

My favorite quote: “You bring a game into a house…nothing to stop an 8 year old from becoming a terrorist and shooting people.”  And that’s from the anchor.

Now any gamer would be outraged by this, of course—but heaping scorn and ridicule on Fox News for their ultra-conservative right-wing media coverage is kind of like making fun of a midget for being short.  What really outraged me was Jon Christensen.  You let us down, Jon.

You must have known what you were getting into when you were asked to appear on the program—It’s Fox News.  Poor Jon looked like they had called him up to ask for commentary 10 minutes before the show aired.  He had the chance to stand up in front of the nation and tell everyone how violent video games aren’t destroying our youth, and what was his argument?  That no one should be offended, because you weren’t pretending to be a terrorist—you were pretending to be a CIA agent who was pretending to be a terrorist?

Here’s what Jon should have said.

There has been no increase in violent crime to correspond with the increase in video game violence.

There’s no doubt that violence in video games is on the rise—any gamer knows this.  What is frequently ignored is the fact that in the corresponding years, violent crime in the US has seen a massive decrease.  Here’s the evidence, courtesy of Stubborn Facts:

Violent Crimes in the US from 1985 to 2005

The source on the numbers used to create this graph is credited to a study performed by the FBI.  Now this is a pretty massive decrease in violent crime, and I’m proud of my country—but it’s pretty unmistakeable to watch that as video games have gotten more violent and more realistic, violent crime in the country has decreased.

For context, here’s Wikipedia’s list of video games released in 1991, the highest point on this graph.  This is the year that brought us such incredibly violent games as Bomberman 2Bill & Ted’s Excellent Game Boy Adventure, and Duke Nukem—not the one with the strippers, the original, in which Duke battles the nefarious Dr. Proton, and then retires to his home to watch Oprah.  (Look it up, I’m not kidding.)

Here’s some gameplay footage from Fatal Fury: King of Fighters, one of the more violent games I could find on that list:

And a screenshot from the 1991 Amiga game Extreme Violence, to prove the point:

That IS pretty extreme.

Here, meanwhile, is the list of video games released in 2005.  This list includes such gems as Call of Duty 2, Crime Life: Gang Wars, and Viet Cong 2.  Just to compare, here’s the video trailer for Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, which also came out that year:

I think it’s pretty easy to follow the line I’m drawing here.  From 1991 to 2005, the amount of violence in games, as well as the visceral realism of that violence, has increased dramatically—and violent crime in the US has decreased just as dramatically.  Case closed.  As my brother pointed out in his own eloquent blog, Playing Columbine, “Small scale cause-and-effect studies don’t do much for your cause when correlational evidence is stacked so high against you.”

Edit: Due to a misunderstanding, credit was not given—the first person to link this video to me was Brian Rubinow, who maintains The Select Button.  Credit where credit is due: Sorry Brian!

Published by Malgayne

Community Manager at Google. Formerly at Sourcebits, Spark Plug Games, Zynga, and I like chiptunes and hefeweizen.

5 thoughts on “Hot Topic #2: Violence in Video Games

  1. I love the way games are blamed and not a 10% unemployment rate, lack of social benefits, horrendous drugs policy, 250 million handguns for a 300 million population lol

  2. If someone can’t tell the difference between real violence and virtual violence, they don’t deserve to be playing violent video games in the first place. For instance, I won’t even think twice about committing a “crime” in GTA: San Andreas, but in person I wouldn’t even do so much as think about it.

  3. As you know, I think the whole “violent videogames” thing is a pretty ridiculous thing to be afraid of. I’d like to point out, though, that HTP’s quote strikes me as more of a sound byte than an argument. Not that some snappy sound bytes aren’t helpful … Jon sure could have used some.

    But if somebody says, “I have studies showing that violent videogames contribute to violent behavior by their players,” it doesn’t actually address the point to say, “Yes, but violent crime rates do not correlate with videogame violence rates.” It is still logically possible for violent crime to be going down despite increased violence by gamers, after all. If in the year 2000 1,000 people committed violent crimes in 2000, 10 of which were gamers, and in the year 2009 500 people committed violent crimes, 100 of which were gamers, we would be right to be concerned about gamer violence even though the violent crime rate fell by 50%.

  4. IF someone were to say that, I think that would be true. But to my knowledge, no one has said that. I’m actually taking a logic course right now, and we just got to the chapter on fallacies—and most of the media’s treatment of the issue seems to me to succumb to one of two fallacies:

    1. The “Everybody Knows” fallacy—which is treating the general acceptance of a claim as evidence that the claim is true, without considering whether or not that acceptance is based at all in fact.

    2. The fallacy of “Demanding Negative Truth”, which is exhibited by the news anchor in the statement, “You bring a game into a house…nothing to stop an 8 year old from becoming a terrorist and shooting people.” I don’t have to prove that video games cause violence, you have to prove that they don’t.

    I agree that the argument put forth in my blog above is not in and of itself proof that video games don’t cause violent behavior. But it CERTAINLY should suffice to inform people that until someone comes forward with some evidence that there is a rise in crime rates specifically among gamers, I see no reason to subject games to any stricter censorship or restriction than movies.

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