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This is a discussion-provoking quote from 3lemenope on the subject of whether violent computer games cause greater prevalence for violence in society. This is so often a subject for debate and the data isn’t always what people would expect. Research has led to mixed results and claims of poor methodology and many other things besides. Here is a pretty good synopsis of the state of play.

Over to 3lemenope:

“I tend to think though that rolling them all together increases the likelihood of more young men acting out lethally when life doesn’t go their way compared to previous generations”That’s actually the thing the data doesn’t back up, at least in the US. [link] Violent crime has been plummeting, steadily, since 1991, and accelerating in its decline starting in 1993. The only thing that has held particularly steady is the public’s perception of crime rates, where consistently despite the downward trend most people believe that each year is more violent thaan the last. You can blame a breathless bleeds==leads media for that.

There are a couple of anomalies worth noting. There was a small increase in 2006 from the prior year, and again in 2012, but the deflections were swamped by the decline in the immediately following year, suggesting they are not indicative of a trend. In 2015 and 2016, there was an anomalous 7% spike in murders (despite those years indicating falling violent crime overall), but that too was wiped out by 2017.

A few effects either started happening or culminated in the period of 1991-2016 which are thought to at least partially explain the precipitous fall in crime rates.

— The biggest factor is thought to have been legalized abortion, which happened nationwide in 1973, which means that the 1973 generation would have become adults in 1991, so a huge decrease in unwanted babies led to adults that were less prone to criminality; increasing access after legalization proceeded and accounts for part of the accelerating trend.

— At the same time, lead was being removed from most sources of consumer exposure, especially from white semi-gloss outdoor paints and from gasoline. Neurological damage from chronic lead exposure is known to have psychological symptoms that include lowered impulse control and violent outbursts, and so lower overall levels of lead exposure have led to fewer people overall with these behavioraldisregulations that can lead to violence.

— The third factor, whose effects are perhaps most controversial on this list but is likely to be at least partially causal, was a massive investment in and commitment to a more present police state and greatly expanded carceral state. It is at this time that locking people up wholesale became a big nationwide trend; police departments were massively expanded in manpower and financial resources, who also adopted more aggressive tactics. The prison system was also greatly expanded. While this had many vicious effects that blunt its long-term contribution to the overall trend in violent crime reduction, the sheer number of people locked up likely had an impact on overall violent crime numbers.

— The final factor is a bit ironic given the parameters of this conversation, in that the major socio-cultural change in idle habits, which had haltingly started in the 1980s, and finally took off in the 1990s, was the mainstream embrace of video gaming, especially among adults. During this period the average age of self-described gamers rose significantly. While the actual effects are undoubtedly complex, there is a direct correlation between average number of hours spent on gaming and a decrease in violence. This might be simply because it acts as a time sink–if you’re playing a computer game at home you can’t well be out and about causing trouble–but there is evidence that there were some psychological effects whereby the performance of virtual violence helped to sublimate and thereby diminish violent impulses in real life. Violent video games reduce violence.

As for the abortion claim, as seen in Freakonomics, I believe it has been called into question. Still, much to ruminate on here.

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A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...

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