Monday, February 18, 2013

Bigger safety threat: Guns or violent video games?

A recent opinion poll (pdf) of Republican primary voters posed the question, "What do you think is a bigger safety threat in America: guns or violent video games?" Among respondents, an amazing 67% said video games, 14% said guns, 19% said not sure. The sample size was rather small (just over 500), but still, that's an enormous difference.

My personal belief is that, in fact, the opposite is true: IMO video games likely reduce crime because of the incapacitation effect of young males spending large amounts of time playing them. As a 2011 study on the subject put it, "Even if a gamer is predisposed to being more aggressive due to gaming, he can express this aggression only over a shorter time non-gaming period." Or in layman's terms, the kid who spends hours perfecting his skills at Grand Theft Auto has less time to spend stealing my car.

At the macro-level, too, the threat from violent video games falls flat. Max Fisher at The Washington Post reported in December that, "the United States has the highest firearm murder rate in the developed world. But other countries where video games are popular have much lower firearm-related murder rates."


Anonymous said...

If the argument is that playing violent video games leads to violent behavior (or makes one more likely to behave violently), then it has real problems explaining the rise and fall of crime. Violent crime began to build in the late-60's and then jumped again in the 80's, hitting a nasty peak in the late-80's and early-90's. Since then, it has steadily dropped.

For proponents of this view, the timing simply doesn't line up. The emergence of violent video games didn't happen until crime had started to fall. The first Grand Theft Auto came out in 1997; Metal Gear Solid debuted in 1998; the first Medal of Honor was in 1999; Halo, 2001; and so on.

Are we supposed to believe that Super Mario Bros. (1985) caused the late-80's crime spike?

The only remotely plausible claim is that arcade fighting games (e.g. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, etc.) played a causal role, but if that's the case, why weren't kids hitting the streets with karate and kung fu? Even so, these games came out in the early-90's, a little too late to have played a meaningful causal role in the crime spike. The fact is, a direct line from playing fighting games in the arcade to engaging in gun violence on the streets is a pretty hard to draw.

Of course, we have to remember the sort of argument we're dealing with. My guess is that if you polled the same group about whether crime has been rising or falling, most would say it's been rising (it's so high, it's a crisis!), all data to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

Both are low on the totem pole as far as a safety threat. It's hard to assess what causes a danger without addressing individual groups. For instance, auto accidents kill more teenagers than anything else, and domestic violence kills more women than anything else.

Chris H said...

The 67% was all respondents. 416 Democratic and 508 Republican
primary voters

(guns/video games/unsure)
Very Liberal (0/86/14)
Somewhat Liberal (35/65/0)
Moderate (26/55/19)
Somewhat Conservative (19/62/19)
Very Conservative (4/77/19)

Liberals said video games more than conservatives did!

However, it's a horrible survey question as it blows a dog whistle that the result will be used to restrict guns. Those that would honestly answer "guns" choose video games because of what the interpretation will be.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I thought so at first, too, but check a little more closely, Chris. They asked Democrats different questions and did not ask them the video games question. That "very liberal" was among Republican primary voters, meaning the term "liberal" is relative. I'd have liked to see the same question asked of Ds.

Your dog-whistle theory is possible but this video game trope has been around for a LONG time. I suspect people actually believe it.

Anonymous said...

Did they ask "lack of parenting" as a reason? One of our sons got heavily into gaming until we put our foot down. His behavior had changed in a negative direction. I do not think there is one reason for any crime.

Anonymous said...

Experimental research has shown that playing violent video games produces higher levels of aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and aggressive behavior (in the short-term) than non-violent video games. (Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume:16 Issue:1 Dated: January-February 2011 Pages:55-62. Do you think a person that is serious chronic violent offender that plays violent video games has the possibility of moving to to higher levels of aggressive behavior? You make the call.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:40, perhaps, but they'd also spend MUCH less time offending if they're spending many hours per week perfecting their video game skills. The incapacitation effect is greater than short-term effects on behavior. And of course someone with more violent tendencies is more likely to play Call of Duty than Donkey Kong, so arguably those may be more attractive to those with violent tendencies and do a better job of incapacitation for that group.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a better job of incapacitation of violent offenders is the solution. However, when comparing 2011 to 2012 TDCJ release data (Executive Services), the Texas Department of Criminal Justice released 98 more inmates from directly from Administrative Segregation and 3,688 more violent inmates. Not to mention 10,356 more normal custody inmates. Currently it seems releases have a priority over incapacitation. Gee, I wonder if capacity or safety is the issue?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:38, that's apples and oranges. Totally off topic and irrelevant to the subject of the post.