No, Your PS3 Is Not Making You Crazy
by J. Andrew Zalucky
I’ve argued a couple of times, once in my rant against censorship, and again in my article on the Sandy Hook massacre, that the scapegoating of violent video games and other media is unjustified and misguided. Some people, particularly those in the media, will often say that if a young man constantly plays violent video games and watches violent movies, there must be some effect on his behavior and consciousness. I do not deny this, and as someone who’s played plenty of violent video games and seen plenty of horror movies, there is no denying that exposure and immersion in this type of media can get you very riled up. But this does not mean that there is causation between the popularity of violent media and overall violence in society.
In fact, a recent New York Times article makes the opposite point:
The proliferation of violent video games has not coincided with spikes in youth violent crime. The number of violent youth offenders fell by more than half between 1994 and 2010, to 224 per 100,000 population, according to government statistics, while video game sales have more than doubled since 1996.
So is the problem the games themselves? Or is it much more likely due to obsessive behavior on the part of the individual? How do we account for the innumerable instances of children who grew up playing video games and turned out fine? I don’t have all the data in front of me, but I can make a few assertions from my own experience. What it essentially comes down to is guidance and honesty on the part of parents that imposes reasonable limitations on kids until they reach a certain level of maturity, and the ability of those parents to make the understanding of fantasy vs. reality clear to their children. Of course, the onus inevitably falls on the individual to grow and mature and be able to say, “Ok, this game is pretty sweet, but I think 2 hours is enough for now.”
The persistent urge to blame violent media for the ills of society is nothing more than a dodge of real questions of mental health. It comes from the desire of those who see things about modernity they dislike, and choose to throw their alienation on the face of larger forces of culture like music, film, and gaming. As Ronald Bailey put it in his recent article in Reason, “Killing pixels is no more a cause of juvenile crime than reading comics turned out to be.”
Anyway, as it is the weekend, I feel obligated to share something a little uplifting. And in the spirit of that, I leave you with this TED lecture presented Steven Pinker, on how violence has declined in recent centuries. I particularly like how it challenges the assumption that pre-civilized society was some sort of hippy-esque Eden of love and understanding:
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check on the release date on Rome II: Total War.