As this is to do with video games, some may be interested in this long-winded, waffly piece I had to write for my Criminology course. Revealed somethings to me I didn't know before writing it. Do video games cause or affect violent crime? Among the most common allegations levelled against video games is that they increase violent tendencies in young people. Ever since 1976 and a game called Death Race, in which players ran over pixelated representations of gremlins, video games have caused controversy and outcry perhaps because, in theory, active participation in virtual violence is more damaging than mere observation, as in films. Even in the early 1980s, Long Island PTA president Ronnie Lamm pushed for legislation to limit how close video games arcades could be situated to schools and also to limit the amount of hours children were allowed to play on them. The Donnerstein, Slaby and Eron study of 1994 came up with four main alleged effects from playing a large amount of violent entertainment. 1)The aggressor effect: People tend to become more aggressive and violent. 2)The victim effect: People begin to view the world with fear and adopt self-protective behaviours, such as carrying guns or knives. 3)The bystander effect: People become desensitised to violence, more callous and less sympathetic to victims of violence. 4)The appetite effect: People exposed to a large amount of violent entertainment find themselves wanting more and more extreme violent entertainment. (Anderson, G. & Gentile, D., 2003) It is well known that in games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, virtual violent crimes are committed regularly, with murder, assault and gore a huge part of these and other games. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City came under fire for inciting racist hate crimes, as during a gang-war between Haitian and Cuban refugees the player is instructed to ‘kill the Haitian dickheads.’ By far the most infamous case used in arguing that violent gaming causes real life violence is the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Eric Harris, 18 and Dylan Klebold, 17 committed the deadliest attack on an American high school ever recorded by killing 13 and injuring 21 before committing suicide. Both were big fans of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom in particular (both first-person shooting games). Harris had created levels for Doom that were widely distributed on the internet, and a large mod called ‘Tier’, which he called ‘his life’s work.’ Speculation that some of the levels resembled Columbine High appear untrue. However, ‘Tier’ was uploaded to AOL and the school network shortly before the massacre but was lost and Jerald Block argued it was nearly certain that ‘Tier’ contained a mock-up of Columbine High. (Block, J., 2007). One popular explanation is that media such as Doom desensitised Harris and Klebold to violence, with their constant exposure leading to depersonalisation. They were both known to be fans of the film Natural Born Killers and used the code NBK frequently in their work, journals and videos. This theory is supported by David Grossman, who has often used the phrase ‘murder simulators’ during interviews on his books, in which he argues that games unethically train children to use weapons and harden them emotionally to acts of murder. (Grossman, D. 1999). A study by Crag et al says that “exposure to risk factors [violent media] casually increases the likelihood that they and people around them will one day suffer the consequences,” using smoking as an example. A smoker may not have lung cancer now but he increases his chances as time goes by and he continues to smoke. (Lynch, P., 2001) Marshall McLuhan stated in the mid-60s: “The games people play reveal a great deal about themselves.” (Gonzalez, L. 2009). If we take this as true then the increasing popularity of violent video games in the US suggests that the US has a violent culture. And indeed it has, with an estimated almost 1.4 million violent crimes committed in 2008. (US Department of Justice, 2009). But have video games affected this figure in any significant way? The other main line of reasoning for explaining the Columbine massacre and others is that the perpetrators are pre-disposed towards violence already. In the Columbine case Harris and Klebold began to get their computer access restricted and this opened up idle time that would otherwise be eaten up by their online activities. They began to express their anger and anti-social tendencies increasingly and of course this led to further restrictions. Upon being banned from using the computers for a month they began to document their plans to attack the school. Interestingly, the plans first appear in Klebold’s diary, not Harris’, who was the more ‘dedicated’ game player of the two, thus weakening the theory of video games’ influence on the attack. Another similar case was 16 year old Daniel Petric, who, in 2007, killed his father and injured his mother with a handgun after being banned from playing Halo 3 (a first-person shooter). The court dismissed claims from the defence that Petric was influenced by video game addiction. This strengthens the theory that these kinds of crimes would almost certainly still happen regardless of video games. A study by Swinburne University of Technology in 2007 found that only children predisposed towards aggression and/or violence became more aggressive after playing a violent video game for a period of time. “The majority did not increase in aggression at all.” (smh.com.au, 2007). The major flaw with this study is that children were analysed after just 20 minutes of gameplay, which is a very short period of time compared to the general amount of time spent on video games. Supporting the Swinburne study, another found that bullying behaviour was the more likely result in children, stating “our research found that certain patterns of video game play were much more likely to be associated with these types of behavioural problems [bullying] than with violent crime.” (Kutner L. & Olson C., 2008). The Interactive Digital Software Association stated “the most objective and methodologically sound studies of video game play and aggressive behaviour find no link between the two” and quote Surgeon General David Satcher: “We clearly associate media violence to aggressive behaviour. But the impact was very small when compared to other things.” (Wright, B., 2004). Of course, they could be accused of protecting their own interests. Media reports play a huge role in the public perception of video games and their influence. When 17 year old Warren Le Blanc killed 14 year old Stefan Pakeerah, blame was immediately laid at the feet of the killer’s obsession with the visceral street-crime game Manhunt by the newspapers and other media despite police quickly finding that Le Blanc did not even own a copy of the game. However, the media storm had done it’s damage and the horrific crime will forever be associated with the game. Another high profile media mistake was made in relation to the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, the worst shooting by a single gunman in American history. Reports were made that Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and wounded many others before committing suicide, was an avid Counter-Strike player (a first-person shooter involving terrorists, hostages and special forces). Cho’s roommates have since stated they had never seen him play any video games. Video games, alongside music and film are easy scapegoats and the media are quick to blame and sensationalise rather than explain situations using much more complex social and psychological factors. It has also been suggested that the more graphically realistic gameplay became, the more violence would increase. On the contrary, violent crime rates in the US, the biggest market for video games, have declined substantially since 1993. (US Department of Justice, 2009). During the same period gaming popularity has boomed and video games themselves have greatly increased their visuals and realism. Violent crime existed before computer games existed and during their biggest rise in popularity, it has decreased, so there is no tangible link between the two. Video games are evolving and progressing all the time, both in terms in levels of interactivity and visuals, too fast to research thoroughly, and research has only been going on for a relatively short period of time, but evidence so far supports that video gaming does not have a significant effect on crime rates. Of all the violent crimes committed how many are actually associated with video games? A very small number and often erroneously. Other environmental factors such as family life and peers and psychological tendencies are all much more important influences. Of more concern perhaps should be the effect of games on children’s social interaction and development as fully fledged human beings.