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If video games cause violence, there should be a correlation between game sales and violent crime, right?

By on August 6, 2010
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Critics around the world equate video games with crime and the causes of crime. They routinely blame games for being “murder simulators” or for desensitizing our children to violence.*

If that was true, it would be a very bad thing. Especially as since 1990s, games have seen explosive growth. Research from the Entertainment Software Association in the US shows that 67% of all American households have games, and 40% of all gamers are women.The UK trade body ELSPA says  32% of the entire British population classify themselves as gamers.

Are we building up an army of killers?

I don’t think so

Let’s look at the numbers.

Screen Digest have very kindly provided me with North American software sales since 1990. It shows amazing growth from $2.3 billion in 1990 to $12.9 billion in 2008. That’s 461% growth, or a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10%. If video games cause violence, you’d at least expect *some* growth in violent crime wouldn’t you?

US violent crime statistics versus video game sales

Well that’ not what the chart above shows. I’ve plotted the Screen Digest numbers in blue on the right hand axis. On the left are the FBI’s official violent crime statistics for the US from 1990 to 2008.Violent crime in the US has fallen by a quarter during this period, a CAGR of -2%.

I know (unlike many journalists) that correlation does not equal causation. But if games were corrupting our youth (and adults) into violence, and we have just witnessed a massive explosion in games, you would perhaps expect violent crime to rise when games sales have risen nearly six-fold, not fall by a quarter.

I’m not saying that there are not some cases where games (like films, books and music) can inspire bad behaviour in impressionable people.

But politicians and scaremongers: just look at that chart and tell if you can really believe that games are making our society go to hell in a hand basket.

Because that’s not what it says to me.

* For the record, I fully support all efforts to create legally-enforceable age ratings for games.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com