Do video games kill?

The features article “do video games kill?” is by Karen Sternheimer, and in winter 2007 issue of Contexts, the magazine of the American Sociological Association. Here’s a link to a PDF of the article – kudos to them for publishing it online this way! Not everyone is so free with their content.

Subtitle: When white, middle-class teens kill, the media and politicians are quick to blame video games. Are they right?

It’s a very interesting sociological analysis, and it’s encouraging that she pretty thoroughly debunks the idea that video games cause this violence. And this is actual research, by a PhD sociologist at USC, based on analysis of newspaper coverage, as well as on FBI statistics on youth crime. It’s compelling – and it raises a very very important question: if we wrongly focus on a false cause of violence and teen deaths, what real causes are we failing to address because of that? Causes she identifies such as poverty, instability, family violence, unemployment and mental illness?

This is an important article about the way our society works, the way politicians work, and the way media news coverage works – in this case, all with video games as their target, as a “contemporary folk devil.”

Here’s the most basic argument she makes against demonizing games, and it’s based just on numbers. Kind of tough to argue with numbers:

The game industry is now a $10 billion industry annually. Tens of millions of kids play video games every week. Yet in the 10 years since Doom’s release – which Orrin Hatch held up before congress as an example of how video games teach kids to kill – juvenile homicide rates have fallen 77 percent.

Any such event is horrible, a nightmare – but at the moment students have less than a 7 in 10,000,000 chance of being killed at school. That is 7 in 10,000,000 too many, absolutely – but

1) The data just doesn’t suggest that video games actually cause those 7

2) At 7 in 10,000,000, there are clearly many many more common problems which are deadly to kids – and which we’re not addressing when we’re stuck on video games

I googled teen driving death rates to prove the point. For males aged 16 to 19, the motor vehicle death rate is 23 per 100,000. That is, according to my calculator, 338 times more likely than being killed at school. Teen suicide – something we very carefully don’t talk about or address as a society – is the third leading cause of teen deaths at 7.3 per 100,000 – 100 times more likely than being killed at school. All of those statistics are based on government data – I’m not making it up.

So: maybe we ought to react out of fear less, use our brains more, and actually address most important issues first? Note that I’m not even pointing much of a finger at political and media manipulation around the issues – but Karen does that in her article.

I realized this was heavy stuff when I got to this point in the blog entry. But what am I supposed to do? NOT blog about it because it’s heavy stuff? :-/

I also realize someone could blame driving deaths and suicides on video games, too.  And I think that’d be just as wrong of a focus to address those problems.


One thought on “Do video games kill?

  1. […] Do video games kill? March 2007 Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)A Blog’s Life […]

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