Video games as crime inhibitors, redux

Posted by | May 25, 2010

Long has been the road of shrill, concerned citizens claiming that video games are the root of all evil—as with the long history of bad moral panics about new media from comic books to the invention of the novel—and like the past they’re starting to fall short of irrational. An article posted at the Economix blog of the New York Times suggests that an economist suspects that the drop in crime may correlate to video game usage.

A new claim, especially on the heels of discovering that video game usage does not correlate with crime statistics rising—primarily because violent crime rates have been dropping and video game usage is rising. Of course, as any good friends of us voces correlation does not imply causation, but a lack of correlation does have a tendency to point squarely away from it.

Lawrence Katz, a labor economist, has an intriguing item to add to the list of potential causes: video games. When I spoke to him recently, he was very careful to say it was only an idea. He is far from sure that it’s correct. But, as The Economist put it, “Larry Katz, a Harvard economist, suspects that video games and Web sites may have kept the young and idle busy during this recession, thus explaining the surprising lack of an uptick in crime.”

Video games can not only provide hours of entertainment. They can also give people — especially young men, who play more than their fair share of video games and commit more than their fair share of crimes — an outlet for frustration that doesn’t involve actual violence. Video games obviously have many unfortunate side effects. They can promote obsessive, antisocial behavior and can make violent situations seem ordinary. But might video games also have an upside? I’m willing to consider the idea.

The full study is linked from the article, but the evidence seems promising. Hopefully this can work to become another nail in the coffin of this ribald, inarticulate, and swiftly becoming demonstrably false front of moral lunacy blaming video games for as many social evils as possible.

Link, via New York Times Economix blog.

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