The exposure and prevalence of video games continue to grow each and every year. Video games are no longer relegated to some shadowy, misunderstood counterculture, with gamers hiding out on the fringes of society. These days the largest new game releases make more money than Hollywood blockbusters, and everyone from housewives to clergy to senior citizens have tried their hands at a title or two. Yet for several reasons video games continue to get a bad rap. Those massive multi-player universes with their unlimited gameplay have been blamed for the destruction of marriages and the creation of a new type of techie addiction. But it is violent games that get the most negative publicity. Yet could it be possible that violent video games actually contribute to a decrease in crime?
The question was posed after the BBC looked at crime rates in the United States. According to their studies, crime has dropped significantly in the past twenty years. The BBC attempted to come up with reasons why this is the case, and they deduced ten possibilities. These ranged from cutting down on the amount of children who are exposed to lead, thereby cutting down on behavioral issues caused by lead poisoning, to the prevalence of cellphones and those omnipresent cameras acting as a deterrent to criminal behavior. But one of the most interesting and somewhat counterintuitive suggestions is that the increase in violent video games might be the key.
Before any anti-violence groups decide to boycott the BBC, this theory is not a new one. In fact, the report cited a study recently published by researchers at the University of Texas that suggests this very thing. The UT researchers admitted that violent video games can have a detrimental impact on the players themselves, and could be responsible for eliciting violent behavior. But they saw this as a good thing. According to their studies, violent games did cause aggressive behavior in their lab study. But that aggression did not increase the chances that person would then become involved in crime or some sort of violent act. In fact it actually decreased those chances.
The reasoning behind this has a fancy name, but the result is simply explained. When the test subjects (and gamers in general) are experiencing this increase in violent feelings and thoughts, they are inside playing video games. Therefore they cannot be out on the streets causing havoc. And when they do finally drop the controller and go back into their daily lives, that reduction remains in play. Most of the lab evidence the UT team uncovered revealed that violent gamers expended their emotional energy during the game play. The aggression caused by violent games was short-lived, and would be handled by playing the game itself. Therefore, people who may have gone out into society to find an outlet for their aggression instead got it handled by playing the game. That leaves them ready to reenter society with a decreased aggression level.
Whether this correlation can ever be irrefutably proven remains to be seen. And criminal justice corrections take a long time to be put into play. But this should help create some new conversations between the organizations that rate and review games and the anti-video game activists that hold those games responsible for damaging social behavior. After all, if violent games are not to blame when people fly off the handle, perhaps that time and attention could be focused on other areas where a real and lasting impact can be realized.