Violence and Video Games, Again

Monday, August 08 2005

Disclaimer: I’m notoriously bad at simple math. Keep that in mind, but also, note that I think I’m pretty safe to stand on the forthcoming soapbox regardless of the math.

I don’t watch my traffic levels or where people are coming from typically, so I find it weird when old blog entries start getting legitimate comments after years of sitting dormant. Today’s entry: Violence and Video Games, a bit I wrote nearly 2 years ago.

I thought I’d see where the traffic was coming from – maybe I’d shown up higher in some Google listings or something. While searching, I found this article from the same year that’s so full of holes I couldn’t help but pick at it a bit. (And sorry Mom, I know it’s from your alma mater, but for perhaps that reason alone, it should adhere to a higher level of accuracy than your general run of the mill institution).

The article, Research links violence to video games, throws out some important numbers: “An estimated 145 million Americans, or 60 percent, play video games on a regular basis.”

That’s a lot of people right? I mean, seriously, over half of America is playing video games on a regular basis. The article goes on to state that “80 percent of the best selling video games contain violent content”, a figure that, along with the amount of American’s playing, has surely gone up since 2003. It’s at least clear that violent videos games are nearly ubiquitous.

Now, take the number of big time recent media events where a child or a teen shot up a school (the article lists the well known ones towards the end), or sniped at people, or hurt bunnies (sorry, these aren’t trivial things, but I’m sort of working up to a froth here) then compare it to the total amount of people playing violent video games. Consider that in 2000, there were something like 72 million kids under the age of 18, and assume that 60% of them play video games (though the number is probably a lot higher). That leaves you with about 43 million kids. Out of 43 million kids, what percentage of them are shooting up schools or performing abnormal violent behavior (and I’m making a distinction between abnormal and normal violent behavior – society has always had knuckle heads that pick on kids and do stupid violent things, whether their entertainment of choice was Mortal Kombat or throwing rocks at eachother)? Even if I put the estimates at a high 1000 abnormal violent incidents, the percentage is so low it’s hard to comprehend (about 0.0023%).

Now, let’s consider some other things from the US Census that are worth chewing on:
Amount of teen pregnancies: 425,000+ in 2002 alone1
High school dropouts: 367,000+ in 2002

Where’s the media fervor over teen drug use, high school dropouts, and teen pregnancies? Combined, those problems plague 1.8% of all 72 million kids under 18, a number that is 500x greater than my guess at 1000 incidents of abnormal violence. Even if my number of 1000 is off, the real number is no where near 1.8% of all kids under 18.

The only real conclusion that can be made from any of the data being collected and presented lately surrounding video games and violence: video games and violence are like summer and sharks for traditional sensationalistic news outlets.

1 I have a theory about why teen pregnancies were down for 2002, but I’ll leave the reader to draw their own conclusions. Hint: video games are surely to thank.