Evidence Does Not Support Link Between Video Games and Violent Crime

With Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D – WV) announcement that he is drafting a bill mandating that the National Academy of Sciences research the effect of video games on children, several sources have been examining the current research on video games and violent gun murders. Even though pundits and politicians have vehemently endorsed a link between video game play and violent crime, the evidence does not support such a link, calling to mind the pseudoscience that was used to censor comic books for decades.

Max Fisher with The Washington Post examined crime data for the 10 countries that spend the greatest amount on video games. He looked at countries that spent the most per person (per capita), and compared that information to the number of gun murders in that country. Of the 10 countries examined, the United States was actually an outlier data point that did not follow the general trend:


Source: The Washington Post

Of the 10 countries examined, the U.S. is low-ranked on per-capita spending for video games, but it has the highest rate of gun crime. The data do not fit in with the data for the other countries, so it becomes apparent that other factors play a much larger roll in U.S. gun crimes than video game use does, especially when one considers that among developed nations, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of violent gun crime independent of video game spending.

Had there been a link between video games and gun crime, there would be increasing rates of gun crime as per capita spending on video games increases. The country with the largest per-capita spending — Netherlands — would have the highest rate of gun crime. Instead, the actual trend represented by the data shows a slightly decreasing rate of gun crime with increased spending on video games:


Source: The Washington Post

When interpreted this way, the data do not support the idea that video game use actually makes countries safer, as again there are other factors in play, such as the social and economic stability of the nations represented. However, the data most definitely do not support the idea that video game use increases the rate of gun crimes. (You can read Fisher’s entire analysis here.)

Frequently politicians and pundits cite inaccurate and poorly designed studies to support their argument that the video game industry should be regulated — regulation that harkens to the persecution of comic books in the 1950s. Fredric Wertham used his expertise as a psychologist in testifying against comic books during Senate hearings in 1954, but his testimony was not based on actual scientific study, but on anecdotal evidence, personal opinion, and false conclusions.

The study frequently cited by the factions who would censor video games is Craig A. Anderson et al’s “Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review” (Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association, 2010, Vol. 136, No. 2, 151–173), a survey of studies done by other institutions and individuals. However, in “Much Ado About Nothing: The Misestimation and Overinterpretation of Violent Video Game Effects in Eastern and Western Nations: Comment on Anderson et al. (2010)” (Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association, 2010, Vol. 136, No. 2, 174–178), Christoper J. Ferguson and John Kilburn took Anderson to task for incorporating biased and flawed studies into their meta-analysis. Many of these studies did not consider other environmental factors that influence violent behavior, such as socioeconomic status and substance abuse. Further, Ferguson and Kilburn noted that even as violent video game use has increased, crime rates among youth have actually plummeted, and further illustrated that Anderson’s statistical data could be interpreted to mean the opposite of the conclusion Anderson drew.

Rockefeller’s bill is concerning because attempts have already been made to censor video games. California passed legislation that would have restricted the sale of mature video games to minors and would have effectively made violent expression a form of restricted speech alongside obscenity. This type of legislation is unconstitutional, and CBLDF makes every effort to fight these laws, as we did in Brown v. EMA. In this key case, the Supreme Court cited our amicus brief in striking down the California law.

Should violent expression in video games be censored by unconstitutional legislation, such regulation could be extended to other forms of entertainment. Given the fact that the evidence many politicians cite to justify video game censorship is fallacious in much the same way the the “evidence” for the censorship of comic books was, then it isn’t impossible to see such legislation being extended to affect comic books, instigating a whole new era of censorship.

This holiday season, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation is encouraging everyone who believes in the CBLDF’s important work protecting the freedom to read comics to become a member or give a gift membership in the organization. When you do, they will contribute $10 for each new membership and $5 for every renewing membership made from now until December 31, so join today!

Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.