For as long as violent media has existed, there have been those who believe that exposure to it is the driving force behind a majority of real-world crimes. When Columbine High School was tragically attacked by two of its own students, many news outlets were quick to blame the perpetrators’ behavior on their self-professed love of video games, namely Doom and Wolfenstein. While further analysis eventually found no credible evidence to support that theory, it begun an epidemic of media blaming nearly every violent crime on video games —and the occasional movie— if it was found that the perpetrator had even a passing interest.
Christopher Ferguson, a researcher from Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, recently published an extensive study on the issue in the Journal of Communication titled “Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When“. His study covered two primary areas: the effect of violent movies on crime rates (starting from 1920), and the effect of violent games on crime rates (starting from 1996).
By correlating assault and homicide reports from the last 85 years, Ferguson could find no connection between the releases of violent movies and violent crimes. However, that trend took a turn during the middle of the century when the records did begin to correlate. Ferguson believes that correlation may have been responsible for the popularity of blaming media for the disturbing crimes being perpetrated. That trend had apparently reversed after 1990.
For his study on games, Ferguson used ESRB ratings to gather the content of mainstream games from 1996 to 2011. He then compared them again to youth violence rates of the same period, and found that instead, youth violence had actually decreased during those years. He concluded that it was most likely due to chance, and that video games in fact weren’t responsible for the decline.
In regards to the outcome of the study, Ferguson remarked, “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.” With any luck, newscasters and politicians will begin to pay attention.
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