I’ve recently participated in a discussion about video games and their effect on youth violence. I loathe the idea that video games cause violence. That’s like saying children who read books are more likely to be promiscuous. Out of the many books that are out there, how many are Harlequin-esque romances? Just by being interested in books, a child may stumble upon one of these books and read them. We should all stop reading! Protect children from the vulgarity of books!
That’s nuts, right? There are a ton of video games out there. In 2007, only 6% of all games released were rated M for mature. The vast majority, 59%, were rated E for everyone. This has been the typical trend. How ridiculous is it to then blame the totality of video games for the violent content of 6% of games?
I can already hear your arguments. Many popular game titles, like Final Fantasy and Zelda incorporate fighting into the game play and they are not rated M. I hardly see that as a problem, though. It’s like a digitized version of cowboys and Indians. The kid shoots, the other fall in pretend death. Then their moms call them home for dinner and they both go home. There were no consequences for the cowboy… is that kid going to grow up to be a mass murderer if he plays cowboys and Indians every day.
In my own experience, video games are a huge stress relief. I was bullied in school and escaped into video games and books. When the main characters faced adversaries, I pictured those adversaries as my bullies. I overcame them vicariously through those main characters. Yet, this is just my own experience. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the number of young people committing violent acts has increased dramatically since the dawn of video games.
Violent Crime Offenses and Video Game Sales, 1996-2007
Violent Crime Offenses and Video Game Sales, 1996-2004
Sales of Video Games Compared to Youth Violence, 1996-2005
Total Violent Crimes by Juveniles, 1995-2008
Juvenile Violent Crime by Type and Year, 1995-2008
Oh, look at that. There is NO TREND. Despite the fact that people increasingly blame video games for violent youth behavior, there is no correlation between the increasing sales of video games and violent acts. In fact, the only stat that has gone up is reports of bullying. Then, we have to ask ourselves, is bullying increasing or are children simply more likely to report bullying now? Are video games and violent movies to blame for this correlation, or is it something else?
Consider this before you jump on video games for that single stat. The average age of a gamer today is 35, with 49% of gamers being between the ages of 18 and 49. Only 25 % of gamers are under the age of 18. Of all the video games that are sold 44.9% are rated E for everyone and another 27.9% are rated T for teen. Games rated M for mature make up only 25.5% of all games sold.
I’m sure there are some violent children whose parents give them mature games (since they often would not be able to purchase these games themselves). Does that mean that every signal child who plays that game regularly is going to go on a murderous rampage? Is every 11-year-old who picks up a Harlequin out of curiosity while browsing the library going to turn into a harlot?
Come on, let’s be reasonable here people.
The problem of ‘violent youth’ has two causes, in my opinion. The first is increasing media coverage. This has more to do with our perception of violent acts than the acts themselves. While violent acts by youths has gone down, the media coverage of these events has increased. All of a sudden, the public sees something as increasing, when it has really been declining. It’s not the violence that is increasing, but the media’s attention to it.
The second problem is parents blaming anyone and anything but themselves for their child’s mistakes. We’ve all heard the comparison that, back in the day, parents yelled at their child for failing in school. Now, parents yell at the teacher. That particular issue is clearly more complicated that than. Teachers can be unfair and unforgiving sometimes. What I think this analogy points out, though, is how the parents jump on the teacher first. Did they try to help their child with school work? Did they take the time to pay attention to the child’s life and see how things are going for them?
Similar questions can be asked of parents in terms of media exposure. How much television and games do they allow their child to play, or do they just let them do what they want. Do they discuss violent or controversial images with their child and make sure they understand why that is wrong? Do they make sure their child understands that the movie or video game, even if it is set in modern-day, is not necessarily a good depiction of reality?
When I hear someone claim that a child learns death has no consequences from a video game, what I really hear is that a child does not have parents who have been successful in teaching their child right and wrong, so they’re going to blame the video game.
To be clear, I do acknowledge that the media, be it in the form of art, music, books, video games and film, has an affect on the population. It affects children as well as adults. Those who suffer from mental illness may be effected differently than others. I am certain that may result in behavior that could be categorized as violent. That said, we’ve been killing, maiming and terrorizing each other long before video games and movies came around. Correlation does not equal causation. I think it is simple-minded and easy to lay all the blame on media for violent acts. The reason people commit crimes, be they violent or other wise, is rooted in how our brains work and develop. Media is probably in the mix, but there are plenty of other factors. There is no one reason. It’s a mix of biology, life experiences, environment and personality that makes a person who they are.
All stats and charts are from the following: