Are Video Games Helping Reduce Crime?

Are Video Games Helping Reduce Crime?

Are Video Games Helping Reduce Crime?Despite the fact that video games have been invariably blamed for a multitude of violent criminal acts over the last decade, some researchers are actually making the claim that the increased proliferation of video games are among the factors helping reduce crime in the United States.

A recent study titled ‘Understanding the Effects of Violent Video Games on Violent Crime’ suggests that video games are actually helping reduce crime, by allowing gamers to play out certain violent situations in video game terms.

It’s a strange study – a study that suggests that while games actually increase the aggressiveness of individuals, participation in gaming actually reduces their potential to commit crimes. It’s a strange paradox.

These analyses are suggestive of the hypothesis that violent video games, like all videogames, may reduce violence paradoxically while increasing the aggressiveness of individuals by simply shifting these individuals out of alternative activities where crime is more likely to occur. Insofar as our findings suggest that the operating mechanism by which violent gameplay causes crime to fall is the gameplay itself, and not the violence, then regulations should be carefully designed so as to avoid inadvertently reducing the time intensity, or the appeal, of video games.

And then later…

[R] egulation aimed at reducing violent imagery and content in games could in the long-run reduce the aggression capital stock among gamers, but potentially also cause crime to increase in the short-run if the marginal player is being drawn out of violent 26 activities.

So, according to the study, video games do increase aggressive behaviour, but despite this, still help in reducing criminal activity, and its too dangerous to tinker with that balance.

To be perfectly honest, I remain sceptical. It seems like a spurious correlation. Proving that video games increase aggressive behaviour is practically impossible; proving that video game use has helped decrease crime is probably even more difficult.

To be taken with a pinch of salt, I think.

The study can be downloaded and read here.


  • Oddly enough, I think an episode of Penn and Tellers Bullshit made these claims long ago. They produced fancy graphs and stats of falling crime rates. I think they made a kid shoot a gun too, it ended badly, with the kid in tears….

  • Heres what I thought yesterday watching a documentary on King Edward of England…

    This one man, who preached against the kings name and then killed a couple of noble men was dragged through the streets by horses to be executed. He was then hung. As he was hanging, still alive, he was cut open then cut down from the rope. They then quartered him still alive.

    Now is that not one of the most violent things you’ve heard… not to mention it was a weekend ritual to go and see the executions… So my question is this, why do some people believe violent video games, movies, media of the like turn us into violent people when it is obvious that in todays day and age, I’m talking about first world countries here, relative to the dark ages we are abundantly more civilised.

    Its not like anyone who plays a video game feels the need to replicate what is happening in the game… or else i would be scaling buildings, jumping into conveniently placed stacks of hay and then stabbing people in the neck with concealed daggers.

    • Or more likely being set upon by beggars, drowning in every pool of water or spend 10 minutes climbing up to the top of the tallest tower you find, only to jump off the cross at the top because you didn’t stop quickly enough.


      I’m pretty sure my Ezio was drunk through the entire game

  • I’m really just plain sick of this issue and I think I my have finally found out why.

    I started reading Freakonomics recently and one of the things they mention the large predicted crime wave during the Clinton presidency that never happened. All the experts said that it was sound fiscal policy, increases in policing, that sort of thing. Of course, all the experts were experts in those fields.

    Freakonomics puts the decrease in crime to the legalisation of abortion (after Wade vs Roe) some 20 years earlier. People in poverty stricken areas are more prone to commit crime. They’re also more likely to get an abortion as they cannot support the child. Finally being able to legally and easily be able to get an abortion meant that mothers in suboptimal situations didn’t have to raise children that they couldn’t. Thus lowering the potential pool of criminals.

    Seems unrelated, but the point is that people are looking at causes within their field of expertise. People who study aggression are going to focus on things they think cause aggression and link that to things that are barely related.

    All I know is that violent crime is down but the perception of violent crime is up. If it has anything at all to do with violent video games is a complete mystery to me, but my gut instinct is that the two are completely unrelated and the only reason they are linked are because of experts in that field trying to make those claims.

    • Doctors came running from every direction with needles, lights, tubes, rubber mallets and oscillating metal tines. They rolled up complicated instrucments on wheels. There was not enough of the patient to go around, and specialists pushed forward in line with raw tempers and snapped at their colleagues in front to hurry up and give someboy else a chance. A colonel with a large forehead and horn-rimmed glasses soon arrived at a diagnosis.

      “It’s menengitis,” he called out emphatically, waving the others back. “Although lord knows there’s not the slightest reason for thinking so.”

      “Then why pick menengitis?” inquired a major with a suave chuckle. “Why not, let’s say, acute nephritis?”

      “Because I’m a menengitis man, that’s why, and not an acute nephritis man.” retorted the colonel. “And I’m not going to give him up to and of you kidney birds without a struggle. I was here first.”

      – Joseph Heller, Catch 22. Published 1961.

        • My point was that it’s an old idea. I haven’t read Freakonomics… or, frankly, heard of it until just now, but Heller was writing about it in the 50s/60s and it probably predates that. Why we as a society need to keep being reminded of this is what should REALLY make us worried.

          Everything I need to know in life, I have learned from my three favourite novels.

          1) The world is stupid (Catch 22)

          2) You need to understand why things are before you can understand how they can be. (Stranger in a Strange Land)

          3) I really should’ve tried harder at Math (Cryptonomicon)

          • I know that it is an old idea, it was just Freakanomics that made me realise what was really irritating me about this discussion.

            Freakanomics is pretty entertaining, it covers a whole range of crazy topics and analyses the cause and reasoning behind it. Such as teachers cheating on standardised tests to boost their students’ grades (and thus make their performance look better) or sumo wrestlers colluding for similar reasons.

          • I might have to check it out – it sounds pretty interesting and I don’t have anything new to read right now… well I’m planning to buy my wife the next Sookie Stackhouse vampire novel, but i’m not really in a modern day bodice ripper mood. I’ll just watch True Blood. 😛

    • I still ask how do you determine that the increase in aggression is a result of video games

      And not that those who have excess aggression are prone to things that allows them to unleash aggression

      In short do games make people aggressive or do aggressive people play video games

  • How many gamers are there in the world? How many politicians are there in the world? Which group has collectively been responsible for instigating more real-world violence? Funny that.

  • Violence is encouraged depending on the context of it in its games. For example I think shooters like CoD encourage it more simply because the punishment is pathetic for dying or killing. Teamwork isn’t valued in multiplayer games as much as they should be, as much as I’d hate to say it World of Warcraft is better than most of recent shooters simply for this fact.

    I reckon the government should use GTA games as a great deterrent by taking it further and it becoming the greatest simulator. Like instead of cutting out getting captured by cops, actually include you getting hauled off to prison & living it or breaking out or something.

    What I’m trying to say, games should have more consequences to invoke a real life comparison. Gaming has the potential to become the most powerful & convincing medium in the world. It has only to overcome peoples doubts and trivial restrictions!

  • My first impression was the awesome picture for this article. Skinny kids with glasses can rage about sport too, y’know.

    FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU!!!! *smash*

  • Actually, I can see some [potential for] sense in this.

    A similar line is used in a lot of porn theory. Viewers get bored of basic videos, so move on to more extreme content. But they’d never dream of acting out the extreme content in real life – think people who watch watersports videos, many would probably be sick if it happened IRL to them.

    The videos are simply a way to live out a fantasy that is not actually a real desire.

    Not concluding anything, but it is consistent with that line of thinking, a line of thinking I tend to agree with.

  • I think it’s all crap, and the reason is much simpler: kids who sit at home playing video games are less likely to be out on the street being up to no good.

  • Kids spending more time off the streets becoming couch potatoes = kids spending less time on the streets breaking windows and shaking down vendors.

    This is pure mathematics. Any other conclusion is pure speculation.

  • Dude’s name is Jason Li.

    Think he should have stuck with Algebra…

    This probably won’t help his career in the Air Cadets

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