The Rise in Violent Crime has been Caused By…

Well, today I saw a police officer on a video repeating an old claim that violent video games are part of the reason for the rise in violent crime.

I’ve seen similar claims about the availability of guns, about divorce rates, about taking prayer out of schools, about decline in religious (particularly Christian) fervor, and many other things.

There’s just one problem:  violent crime isn’t rising.  Oh, there’s been a slight increase in the last few years, but only slight in comparison to what it’s been in the recent past.

So, let’s take a look at crime rates and violent video games:

violent video games
The blue line is the reported violent crime rate for the year according to DOJ statistics.  The numbers call out when various video games that were controversial for violent content were released.

Mortal Kombat was particularly noted as a fighting game where one graphically killed ones opponents.   Wolfenstein 3D and Doom were among the first fairly realistic “first person shooters”.

Now, I’m not going to claim that the reduction in violent crime is a result of these games release.  Correlation does not equal causation.  But what it does show is that the claimed link to “violent video games” and any rise in crime is ridiculous because crime hasn’t risen.  If playing these kinds of caused people to commit real-life crimes we would expect to see a rise in crime coupled with the games becoming available and popular.  We do not.

Have many violent criminals played these kinds of games?  Probably.  But then lots of people have played these games so that’s to be expected even in the absence of any causal connection.  Or perhaps there’s a causal connection the other way.  Perhaps those prone to violence are more likely to play violent video games.  That would give you a higher percentage of violent playing the games without the games being any kind of cause.

There are all sorts of possible reasons that folk might see a connection between video games and violent crime.  It may seem “reasonable” to them that what they “practice” in the game they might try to do in reality.  But the simple fact is, there is no increase in violence to explain.

So this is just one example of many, where people try to use something that, for whatever reasons they want to restrict, as an “explanation” for crime and violence.  You have to agree with their restriction, right?  Why not?  Don’t you want to reduce crime and violence?  What kind of monster are you?

The only problem with that is that what they’re wanting to restrict often has little or nothing to do with actually causing crime and violence.  That’s not even to consider whether the restriction itself is even more dangerous than the crime and violence  it’s supposed to combat.  Why, yes.  The cure can be worse than the disease.

It’s especially nonsense when the rise of the thing they’re wanting to restrict is accompanied by a fall in crime and violence.

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14 thoughts on “The Rise in Violent Crime has been Caused By…”

  1. Another example of unwarranted correlation is the relationship between both serial killers and mass murderers (why the difference in the noun for the actor?) is that both groups overwhelmingly have eaten potatoes in the year leading up to their criminal acts.

  2. “There’s just one problem: violent crime isn’t rising.”

    No, violent and other crime reporting is being discouraged or ignored. In lots of larger cities, the cops won’t even show up or investigate thefts under $500 – $1000. We’re now seeing announcements that illegal immigrants won’t be prosecuted for felonies so that ICE won’t throw them out; it’s been unannounced policy for years. A group of 10+ “yutes” surrounds someone and one or two assault them. The one or two might get prosecuted; the rest of the accessories won’t be. This has the additional effect of intimidating victims from filing charges, because they know not all the gang is locked up. We won’t even discuss the “Ferguson effect”.

    Bottom line: treat crime rates with at least as much skepticism as any other government number.

    1. A group of 10+ “yutes” surrounds someone and one or two assault them. The one or two might get prosecuted; the rest of the accessories won’t be.
      Still one crime and is still reported. Likewise, a reported crime is not determined by whether the police show up or not. And events like Ferguson have less effect on overall crime rates than you might imagine. Those numbers are “per 100,000”. With a nation of over 300 million. For a single extended event like Ferguson to raise the rate by 1 you’d need rapes, murders, aggravated assaults, or robberies (not burglaries, not arsons unless somebody is actually injured, not vandalism, not any of a lot of things that were involved) in some combination totalling over 3000. To get the 10 or 20 required to even be visible on that chart would require 30-60 thousand of those crimes. The simple truth is as nasty as Ferguson was, as nasty as Baltimore was, as nasty as Charlottsville just was, and as much press as they got, they were a drop in the bucket compared to the entire nation and loom in impressions far out of importance to the reality.

      It’s one thing to be skeptical of government numbers. It’s another to just throw them out and make up what you want them to be which is exactly what “the rise in violent crime is caused by [cause du juor]” types do.

    2. A tempting argument, but it falls apart around the statistic of homicide. You have to have a body, and you can’t pretend the body isn’t there (Detective novels aside). You might rule a few as suicides, you might have witnesses to one thrown overboard or off a cliff, but it’s essentially binary. So that’s a strongly anchored statistic and it shows the same pattern – in fact, it’s even more dramatic. The only thing undermining it is improved Emergency Room medicine, which saves some. Though not enough to change the graph drastically.

  3. Read a report some years ago about the shooting at a Paducah school. Seems the shooter had a game where the player aims a gun-like device with a laser at a screen and shoots the enemy. He had, presumably, tens of thousands of “shots”, mostly not aimed but from the hip. So he was good. By a horrid coincidence, the gun he took to school had the same “point” in his hand as his gaming device and he was very deadly.

      1. I’ve heard this as well but like you it might be ‘an urban legend’. But even if true I’m sure some kid, somewhere at some time ran around the neighborhood with a ‘finger gun’ and then later shot people for real.

        This anecdote doesn’t take away from the fact that there is absolutely no relationship between violent VGs and violent crime as you’ve stated.

        1. Yep. Part of the reason I am skeptical is that I have played “shooter” video games like “Hogans Alley” which is what the description sounded like and I have shot real guns and, frankly, the skills do not transfer well at all. Skill at one does not translate into skill in the other. The Marine Corps (that I know of) has a video “shoot house” where people shoot modified weapons at videos of targets. The screen takes up the entire wall to at least give the impression of being out in the field. The guns are modified to use (I believe) CO2 bursts to simulate recoil (basically small rockets that push back when you pull the trigger). And every effort made to make this as close to reality as possible. And it’s still not a replacement for live training. Some coin operated machine or a PC with a 23″ “full HD” monitor isn’t going to do anywhere near as well.

          1. Have you seen anything about first person shooter games helping with PTSD? There was supposedly some initial testing where soldiers with combat PTSD would play ‘realistic’ combat (MOH type games I believe) first person shooter games and the brain (the memories of particular instances of combat) would eventually not be able to tell the real combat from the video game combat. The effect was supposed to re-wire the brain, so to speak, so the ‘horror’ of real combat was greatly diminished.

          2. I have not seen the use of off the shelf video games per se as a PTSD treatment (not saying it’s not out there, just that I haven’t seen it). I have seen some work with using VR as a treatment technique.

  4. The issue isn’t the violent games in general creates violent criminals, except perhaps at the margins. It’s that playing them creates people who are so obsessed with those games that they’re opposed to any evidence that their might be a link between, say a particular game, and violence. That’s true of any addiction.

    You see that all the time. This article is an illustration. It’s drugs, fatherless homes and rotten schools that drive violent crime. If a link to violent games exists, it’s lost in the noise created by that—that and the fact that cellphones have made life as a mugger much harders.

    I do think a case can be made for a link between playing violent games and a disinterest in doing something about violent crimes and their victims. What someone pretends to do for fun becomes something they don’t care to change in real life. That’s basic human nature.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride

      1. In addition to the fact that the “Official” numbers are falling, I would point out that the “Ferguson”-type effects are quite recent. The fall in reported violent crime has been going on for 25 years by now. The police and citizenry simply have not been intimidated that whole time. Here in the Portland area I meet 2 sorts objecting to the reported drop in violent crime:

        Those who want it believed that anyone they like is being persecuted.

        Those who dislike a particular set of people, and want to name them as persecutors.

        The drop in violent crime *is* real, as far as I am concerned. Ask any prison felon why. His likely answer is: “Fool!, I don’t want my ass shot off!”

    1. “It’s drugs, fatherless homes and rotten schools that drive violent crime.” Co-occurring. Cause not established despite repeated attempts, except that having drugs currently in your system leads to an increase. Interestingly, there is some genetic evidence of predisposition coming out (one very bad), including genes that may be activated by childhood abuse.

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