Grand Theft Awesome! – Violence down since video games began?

If violent video games are to blame, then why has crime gone down since their inception?

by Nick Nero

Look, mainstream media, I get it – I really do. Thinking is hard. It’s so much easier to pick up a narrative laid out by others, find analysts who will validate it and simply repeat the talking points ad nauseam in hopes that it becomes the accepted “truth”. And, this approach generally works. Time after time we see completely broken “facts” repeated by supposedly credible news sources until it ascends into the realm of common knowledge.

But every now and then there’s a narrative being sold that is so brazenly contradictory of the facts, so downright offensive to the logic center in the minds of rational people, that our brains simply reject it.

snap1That brings me to the topic at hand, that distinctly American event when the latest Grand Theft Auto game is released to anxious gamers everywhere and the inevitable mass media breathless bloviating about how violent games are ultimately to blame for anything that seems to be going on at the time – murder, rape, high gas prices, the sudden realization that Miley Cyrus is an unsophisticated hillbilly who, shockingly, doesn’t conform to a polite society . . . you get the idea.

So here we are with a perfect storm of media stupidity where a horrible and tragic mass killing at a military installation in DC occurs within 24 hours of the launch of Rockstar Game’s latest, Grand Theft Auto V.

There’s nothing new or novel about these ridiculous attempts to link violent games to violent crime and with a mass killing perpetrated by a psycho who allegedly played these types of games occurring so close to the release of a new GTA title, the stories practically write themselves: “Each time these games come out some psycho goes on a killing spree”.

This has caused Fox News, which just last week was telling me how ridiculous it was for the government in Michael Bloomberg’s New York City to regulate the size of my soft drink, to champion a cause that’s obvious to any fan of a small and constitutionally limited government – REGULATING VIDEO GAMES!

Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Fox’s newest addition to the logical reasoning-free zone that is “Fox & Friends”, in a moment of what appears to be genuine incredulity, proposed that very thing, forcing me to both laugh and cry at the same time.

Can we have just a brief discussion about, you know, some facts?

The mainstream media knows that violent crime is falling and has been for more than a decade. They know this because of all of the debates about gun control following the Newtown shooting in December 2012 failed to produce a single credible witness willing to say that crime had increased with data to prove it. Fox News absolutely knows this to be the case since their own analysts and anchors repeat this fact during these debates on air.

I’m not a psychologist so I’m not going to debate whether these games can and do cause violence, although it should be noted many psychologists have studied this topic and concluded they don’t. My interest here is purely in demonstrating if an explosion in Americans playing violent games has caused an explosion of actual violence which is what the media seems to be suggesting, at least when they are not outright claiming that to be the case.

So how in the heck do you get from “violent crime is falling” to “we are having an outbreak of violent crime caused by video games”? I wish I knew. But the argument is even more ridiculous underneath than it is on its face. The data not only doesn’t show a positive correlation between violent games and violent crime, it seems to suggest a NEGATIVE correlation. That is, it sure does look as if the more violent games we play the less violent we seem to be.

doom0201A short history of violent video games for context: the first game I would classify as a violent video game was Id Software’s Doom. It was also the first popular first person shooter, fulfilling what seems to be a core requirement in order to be called a “murder simulator” by the mass media. I don’t know anyone who didn’t think Doom was amazing and everybody who was anybody was playing it on a buddy’s PC in the early 90’s. When the original Playstation launched, we finally saw a 3D gaming device targeted at young adults instead of kids, the market Nintendo exclusively catered to. However, it wasn’t until right after the launch of Grand Theft Auto III, early in the life-cycle of the Playstation 2 that people really lost their minds over violent games.

Below is a chart of the rate of violent crime in the US per 100,000 population from 1980 to 2012. There’s no sleight of hand here – I got the data myself from the US Dept of Justice’s own crime report statistics page. I’ve plotted the release dates and sales numbers (when available) of Doom and the most controversial titles in the GTA series to see how reality lines up with the narrative. SPOILER ALERT: it doesn’t look good for the video game prohibitionists.

Notice how violent crime in the US peaked just a year or so before the release of Doom which was the first to start the “video games make people killers” craze and it has been dropping steadily along with each new release of a game that “turns people in psychopaths”? Also, sales figures sure do suggest that these games have gotten more and more popular.As I write this GTAV which launched 2 days ago made $800 Million in sales in ONE DAY.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.06.34 PM

There are 2 points made clear by the data:

1- The most difficult decision being made by an executive at Rockstar Games tomorrow morning is which gold-plated Bentley to drive to work.
2- The more people buy increasingly realistic violent games, the more free of actual violence the US seems to become.

I won’t be brazen enough to say the games are indeed making the US safer (this is simply correlation and can’t be assumed to be causation), but any argument that the games CAUSE violence when in fact there’s not even a loose correlation in the data seems sloppy at best and intellectually deceptive at worst.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly mention that the very same government that seems obsessed with regulating violent video games (it’s been a bipartisan obsession for more than a decade with Hillary Clinton and Rick Santorum both serving as champions of the cause) makes and distributes its very own “murder simulator” with the intent of enticing young men to join the Armed Forces where they can travel abroad and kill for real. Surely, a game conceived and programmed to promote real violence is clearly labeled as a dangerous product consistent with the rhetoric about these games coming from the political class and placed out of the reach of minors, right? NOPE – the game is rated “T for Teens”.

o-GTA-5-570So, reward Rockstar Games with $60 of your hard-earned money (like I did) and buy their latest masterpiece where you can sit back on your couch, escaping the highly regulated environment beyond your front door to a world where you can do whatever you want for your own amusement and leave no victims behind.

After all, there’s nothing more American than exercising your right to free expression. Especially when that’s in a form that pisses DC off.

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