Thanks to the current media frenzy and barrage of lawsuits surrounding violent video games, I can't tell people what I do for a living without getting a lecture on the current plague of youth violence and the scourge that is Grand Theft Auto. I decided it was time for a rebuttal more effective than shrugging and saying, "Well, I think you're wrong."
So I sat down to write this article, and started doing some research. What I discovered startled me. I'm not sure I have the ability to write a totally serious piece – it is not in my nature to be serious, nor the nature of GR – but the issues are very serious indeed and the evidence is very real.
I am even going to use charts. With words on 'em. We spare no expense.
First off, I have absolute proof that video games are not the cause of this epidemic of youth violence in America. No, really, I do. Ready?
There is no epidemic of youth violence in America.
The whole concept is a lie manufactured, distributed and perpetuated by the media. Kids are not killing each other more frequently than they used to. In fact, it turns out the opposite is true.
Check out that ugly graph on the right. It doesn't take a genius to conclude that violent crime is at the lowest it has been in a good thirty years. For effect, I've also marked the release of the Playstation console, the first Grand Theft Auto game, the PS2 console, and the infamous GTA 3. Wow, look at those surges in violence!
Believe it or not, I got that graph – and all the others in this piece – directly from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics. All I added was the video game timeline. This isn't some privately-funded poll or crazy game journalist defense mechanism – this is the actual, most recent government data on crime as used by the FBI. The fact that they all max out at 2003 is irritating, but this debate has raged much longer than the past few months.
Please understand that I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't think that there are any aliens at Area 51. I know that AIDS was not created in a secret government lab, I believe that men really landed on the moon, and I am 100% certain that Sasquatch shot JFK with the help of the Loch Ness monster. But something clearly isn't right here. The government and the media just can't go around making this stuff up, right?
Something must be missing. That first graph is the overall violent crime rate, and were talking about youth violence here. So I found the data sorted by age, and it turns out that through 2002, youth homicide actually dropped across the board, the only increase being among adults. If I may quote directly from the D.O.J. report, "Recently, the offending rates for 14-17 year-olds reached the lowest levels ever recorded."
The lowest levels ever recorded. In other words, the Playstation era has, in fact, produced the most non-violent kids ever. But I thought video games were training children to kill? I'm sure I read something like that here and here and here and here and here and here.
To be fair, there have been about 300 studies on the effects of violent media, about 30 of which have been about video games. Most have found little to no connection, although some studies found a small, casual correlation between aggressive people and violent media.
Even if true, this does not necessarily mean violent media has created aggressive people. It is more likely that aggressive people are attracted to violent media. Blaming violent media would be like going to the opera, noticing that most people there are rich, and concluding that opera makes people rich. (Classical opera, by the way, is chock full of lust, incest, murder, suicide, and revenge.)
In an analysis of the risk factors of youth violence by the Surgeon General of the United States of America, violent media is categorized as 'Small Effect Size.' In fact, there are 27 risk factors rated higher than exposure to violent media, like socioeconomic status, academic failure, poor parent-child relations, weak social ties, and being male. Quick! Ban all the males!
So is the media and the government flat out lying to us? Yes, and they have been doing so for years. As touched on in the rabble-rousing films of Michael Moore, fear sells. It's how you turn terrible tragedies like Columbine and the WTC Attack into election votes and must-see TV.
The media in particular loves to bash video games, making sure to point out any time there's an Xbox within 50 yards of a crime. This is because games are the new competition – every hour you spend interacting with a game is one hour less spent drooling in front of their fear-mongering programming.
And it's working. Sparked by Columbine, mainstream media routinely paints a picture of gamers as odd shut-ins dangerously close to the precipice of violent behavior, and almost unerringly misconstrue the games themselves without taking the time to fact check, as is the case in the very first sentence of this CBS News report. Points for killing cops in GTA? Do games still have points?
Gaming is also a new medium, one that has recently become wildly successful. Young people play them and old folks don't understand, so they must be bad. Don't forget that in the 1950's, rock and roll was linked to youth violence in the same way. The hedonistic, tribal rhythms were going to turn America's youth into a bunch of violent maniacs. Rock and roll was banned and censored all over the country. A bill was even put before Congress in 1955 to ban rock and roll altogether.
Let me be perfectly clear: Grand Theft Auto is a best-selling adult game that should not be played by 12 year-olds. That's why it's rated "M" and you have to be 17 to buy it. However, most games are not like GTA. In 2004, 54% of games were rated "E" for Everyone, 33% were rated "T" for Teen, and only 12% were rated "M" for Mature. The vast majority of the best-selling titles every year are not rated "M." Compare that to the 55% of movies rated "R" and only 8% rated "G." The ESRB might not get it right all the time, but who does? (Sources: the ESRB and the NPD Group).
And after all, there's no problem with R-rated movies or mature rap lyrics or violent video games, because there is no problem with youth violence. The most disgusting thing to me is that some truly horrible high-school tragedies are being exploited by the media, and somehow, I'm part of the problem.
The truth is that these are the most non-violent kids we have ever had, and they all own Playstations. The government is so desperate to find some youth crime to crack down on that they're strip-searching kids for 10 bucks while locking up 11 year-old girls for throwing rocks and eating french fries. The most peaceful generation of Americans in recorded history is being shoved through metal detectors, having their civil rights violated on a daily basis, are the victims of unreasonable search and seizure, and are treated with constant suspicion.
All because of a media lie. If nothing else can incite them to violence, maybe that will.
Originally Published: August 8, 2005
Updated: October 19, 2005
The FBI has just released its 2004 crime report. The results? The violent crime rate has further dropped 2.2% since 2003. The number of murders is down by 2.4%.
According to the FBI, the murder rate hit a new 40 year low in 2004. I can't imagine a better statistic. The best selling video game of 2004? Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Updated: July 8, 2008
Thanks to a surge in readers today from Digg.com (and a deluge of email), I'm adding an update and fixing a few links that went dead over the years.
Astonishingly, the Department of Justice has still not updated their data and their current figures still only go up to 2003.
Looking at the FBI data shows the violent crime rate to be relatively flat from 2003 until the present: down in 2004, up a little in 2005 and 2006, and back down a little in 2007.
"Preliminary figures indicate that, as a whole, law enforcement agencies throughout the Nation reported a decrease of 1.4 percent in the number of violent crimes brought to their attention in 2007 when compared with figures reported for 2006."