It’s Official: Violent Games Don’t Cause Violence

Media and entertainment, as a whole, has always had a bad rap with politicians and scholars. Since the 1920s – and maybe even earlier – violence in movies and media has been targeted as a contributing factor to actual violence in society. Over the years, many different forms of media became viable targets for this argument including movies, comics and graphics novels, literature, and more. Today, one of the most popular forms of media being named as a catalyst for violent crimes are video games.

It’s tough to argue with that sentiment, especially after what happened at places like Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora, Colorado, which saw a gunman attacking moviegoers in a theater. The latter incident was a direct attack on those indulging in a modern form of entertainment. Regardless of whether or not it had anything to do with the media and entertainment in question, politicians wasted no time pointing fingers.

As it turns out, all of this blaming and finger-pointing may be for naught. Recent findings published in the Journal of Communication revealed that there are no direct correlations between the consumption of media violence and real societal violence. The findings were the result of studies conducted by Christopher Ferguson, a researcher from Stetson University.

To discover this information, Ferguson organized two separate studies spanning different generations. The first study was related specifically to movie violence and homicide rates between 1920 and 2005. The second study was related to video game violence consumption and its correlation to youth violence rates spanning 1996 to 2011. What he found is that the consumption of violent and graphic content is not responsible for increased societal violence.

“Society has a limited amount of resources and attention to devote to the problem of reducing crime. There is a risk that identifying the wrong problem, such as media violence, may distract society from more pressing concerns such as poverty, education and vocational disparities and mental health,” says Ferguson. “This research may help society focus on issues that really matter and avoid devoting unnecessary resources to the pursuit of moral agendas with little practical value.”

During the first study, participants were asked to identify both the frequency and intensity of graphic violence in some of the most popular movies from 1920 to 2005. This information was then compared to homicide rates for the correlating years. As a result, Ferguson discovered that the trends do not match up – violent movies do not cause increased rates of violence in society.

In the second study, ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) ratings were used to estimate the amount of violence in video games from 1996 to 2011. Then, just like in the first study, the ratings were compared to youth violence rates for the respective year. It turns out that the opposite is actually true. As video games grew to be more violent, there was a decline in societal youth violence rates. However, Ferguson believes this decrease is just circumstance and doesn’t relate to societal trends in a significant way.

The real point here is that violence in media does not contribute to societal violence as many so often claim. It looks like the scholars and politicians may have been a little hasty when they drew their battle lines.

There have been studies in the past that made a connection to violent media and societal violence, but they were more focused on laboratory experiments and aggression in response to graphic content. This data does not convert well in the real world, because it doesn’t directly indicate societal exposure. Increased aggression doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an increase in violence, and laboratories are hardly the proper environment for judging societal impact.

For the time being, it seems like pre-existing judgments on violent media need to be abandoned. Keep in mind: this doesn’t mean it should suddenly be acceptable for younger audiences to experience violent content – that decision still leans heavily on the maturity of the child in question. It’s definitely refreshing, though, that science has given us the means to start dismantling some of the more persistent myths surrounding the causes of violence in society.

Image Credit: Flickr (via Creative Commons)

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