Video games not linked to real-life violence

Posted at 10:20 AM, Nov 12, 2014

Teens who stormed the virtual gates of hell in "Doom II" – with a minigun – did not become the criminals that their parents feared.

Instead, a study has found that an increase in violent video game use from 1996 to 2011 was associated with less youth violence.

“I hope people will be a lot more conscious between making a connection between violent video games and violence in society,” said Stetson University psychology chair Christopher Ferguson, who led the study.

For the study, Ferguson compared crime statistics with the amount of violence in video games from 1996 to 2011. He found a sevenfold increase in violent video game consumption during that time, which mirrored a drop in youth violence.

Violent crime in 1996 was twice as high than in 2011 when accounting for population growth, according to the FBI. Overall, there were 1.2 million violent crimes committed in the U.S. in 2011 compared to 1.7 million in 1996.

Today, the average video game player is an adult in his or her mid-30’s, according to the video game ratings board. That means teenagers who spent their afternoons ripping out spines in 1992’s Mortal Kombat are now young doctors, lawyers and school teachers.

They’re even parents.

Ferguson said he hoped the results would stop the “distraction” of blaming video games after mass shootings such as Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Newtown.

“As we see the gamer generation age into the power structure, they become scientists, politicians, news media, we’re seeing that narrative about videogames change,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson built a career studying “moral panics.” Fifty years ago, comic books and rock music were viewed with skepticism – until their fans grew up and became the establishment.

“You’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks that comic books are the bane of society today, but in the 1950’s people really believed that,” Ferguson said. “We don’t seem to learn very good from these historical patterns, unfortunately.”

That’s not to say that older generations don’t eventually change. They do love Candy Crush, after all.

While the results show an inverse relationship between video game violence and actual violence, Ferguson warned against concluding that video games were responsible for that reduction.

However, the results do suggest that video games don’t make people more violent.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter at @GavinStern or email him at gavin.stern@scripps.com.