Guns, violence and gaming
With the latest mass shooting in America, there is a distinct need to find some new media to blame.
Predictably, it is video games.
As Penny Arcade put it, "It is a strange sort of patriot that would sacrifice the first amendment, to protect the second."
But that is more of an argument for Americans, for us lets look at the statistics with some video gaming history in mind. I am going with murder, because the definition of murder is not something I can see changing much over time.
I am going to be using the US Department of Justice statistics for this, because they are the ones I would figure are most authoritative when it comes to American crime rates, and they go back far enough to be useful.
The first violent video game is popularly considered to be the 1976 title, Death Race. It was essentially a racing game where you ran over "gremlins". The violence was of the block on block variety, because graphics weren't really good enough to show anything resembling a person at that time.
The homicide rate in the US pretty much doubled from the early sixties to the late seventies. It peaked in 1980 at 10.2 per 100 000. This may look good for the anti-violent gaming argument, but remember, technical limitations meant violence wasn't exactly realistically portrayed back then.
This rate then dropped, and peaked again in 1991 at 9.8. In 1992, maybe a few would-be murderers were too busy playing Mortal Kombat (a fighting game themed around gory fatalities and blood) to go out and actually kill anyone, but from then onwards the murder rate started a long decline until it hit about 4.8 homicides per 100 000 in 2010.
I looked on the FBI's website for a more recent set of stats, and their statistics have that as their figure for 2011, while their 2010 figure is 4.9. 2012's stats haven't been released yet. Either way, it looks pretty far down on the days when Pac Man was released (1980).
If you restrict yourself to mass shootings, this may seem like a particularly bad patch but James Alan Fox, professor of criminology at Boston's Northeastern University, looked at those stats in his August article for Boston.com and said, "Without minimising the pain and suffering of the hundreds of who have been victimised in senseless attacks, the facts say clearly that the has been no increase in mass killings, and certainly no epidemic. "
And he produced a graph based on FBI data to back himself up on that.
As video games have become more graphically violent, the American murder rate has risen and dropped pretty independent of them. There does not appear to be a positive correlation between murder and video games.
Kieren Healy has a collection of graphs on violent crime rates, essentially comparing deaths by assault in the USA versus the rest of the OECD states.
If you go look at them, with how violent video gaming has developed over the years in mind, you will note that there doesn't appear to be much of a correlation anywhere. Violent crime hasn't particularly gone down, but it isn't much higher either.
Most games are available almost everywhere nowadays because nobody wants to cap their potential profits, and with the world being increasingly wired products like Steam (which allows people to buy games online) you don't really have to rely on importers.
If we are going to argue that violent video games lead to more violence, then why isn’t that reflected in the statistics?
Now a part of me was thinking of talking about gun control, and what I think is behind American violence, but then I realised I really am not in a position to say. What I can say however is that it doesn't appear to be increased violence in video games.
Which means that is likely something we can cross off our list of potential suspects for our violence here in South Africa too.