Friday, April 11, 2008

Could Video Games Reduce Violence?

In a recent Reuters article, Stephen King (the horror writer) was criticizing a US State's plan to ban violent video games...

"What makes me crazy is when politicians take it upon themselves to play surrogate parents. The results of that are usually disastrous. Not to mention undemocratic," wrote King.

So can games cause violence? Or could games actually reduce violence? Some people are so sure that video games cause violence that they will take legal action. A family attempted to blame the Columbine massacre on the video game DOOM. Is there a link?

Let's look at some facts...the legendary sci-fi shooter DOOM was released in 1993. Ten million people played the game in a span of 2 years. Another game mentioned was Duke Nukem. There were multiple Duke Nukem games, but the violent shooter variation of this was released in 1996. What made games like these and the original classic Wolfenstein a concern was their 3-d animation and motion which simulates a first-person's perspective. Now if violent action games like DOOM and Duke Nukem cause violence, there should be an measurable increase. After some Googling, I landed at the site of the Bureau of Justice.

Nonfatal firearm crime rates have been declining since 1994

After peaking in 1993, the number of gun crimes reported to police declined and then stabilized at levels last seen in 1988.

Graph reproduced from the Bureau of Justice Site.
Click here to see it at the source.

Looks like violent crimes actually dropped after 1993. As a matter of fact, they not only dropped, but continued to drop.

What if a prison installed inexpensive PlayStation2 consoles everywhere, and let the prisoners play games. Would there be a measurable drop in violence? Does anyone know if this has ever been tried?

Imagine if it were true, we wouldn't have to ship troops over to Iraq, just Game Consoles.


Alissa said...

I have long felt that the claim that that video games cause violence is ludicrous. There are just so many other factors that play into the reasons/causes for violence.

While it is interesting to note the statistics of gun violence is actually decreasing, I think you're making a classic statistics mistake by theorizing that video games might have anything to do with that. It's kind of like saying that because there are a lot of college students in Boston in the winter, but not in the summer, it means that college students enjoy Boston winters.

Francis Wong said...

There's a very good chance I'm making a classic statistics mistake!

But to build upon your Boston analogy...I think there needs to be a change in the climate that wasn't there before to make an effective analogy. Winters were always cold, and summers were always warm. Nothing changed in the original analogy.

Now Suppose Boston Colleges had low enrollment, then the global climate shifted to produce colder winters in Boston. And about the same time that colder winters arrived in Boston, more students began enrolling into colleges. Then one might theorize that colder winters attracts college students.

Alissa said...

I'm going to apologize in advance in case you're being facetious :-)

Perhaps my original example was not quite clear. The point is that there are two completely different things (a. number of college students b. seasons or time of year).

If you compared these two statistics you might notice that the number of college students fluctuates with the time of the year. In particular, the number of college students is always significantly less in the summer than in the winter.

In this (contrived) example it might be tempting to hypothesize that one of the statistics causes the other. However, there is another explanation that is not shown by these two statistics which can explain their correlation. It's the fact that most colleges in Boston run only a few classes during the summer and a lot of students leave Boston during this time.

The statistical term for this is called a lurking variable or confounding variable.

So...getting back to your original point: the falling rate of gun violence and rise of 3D shooter games do not necessarily relate. There is probably a lurking variable (likely many) at play.

Francis Wong said...

I'm being semi-facetious.

There is probably a lurking variable (likely many) at play.

True - there are infinite possibilities.

What started me on this thread was another round of news articles about violent video games causing violence. And the numbers don't support that. It shows the opposite...why?

I even suggested one way the theory could be tested. Take a contrarian perspective... Consider installing first-person games into a prison. Give prisoners access to violent video games. Track the # of violent incidents before and afterwards. It'd be interesting to see if there was a statistically significant drop in violence. The theory is that acting out violence in a game, satisfies whatever drives the violence in these individuals.

Best case - violence is reduced.

Worst case - we'll end up breeding super-criminals