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February 28, 2008
"Killer" Video Games Do Not Produce Killer Kids Politicians
and media play blame game, avoiding the root causes
youth violence, according to summary article in Contexts magazine
Blaming violent video games for violent kids is nothing new. In 1999, the
culprit was the first-person shooter game Doom, and the tragedy was the
Columbine High School shooting rampage.
But holding video games
responsible for violent youth ignores the fact that as video game play has
skyrocketed, youth violence has plummeted, University of Southern California
sociologist Karen Sternheimer says in an article in the winter issue of the
American Sociological Association’s Contexts magazine.
Annual sales of
video games and accessories now top $10 billion. Yet in the 10 years following
Doom’s release—not to mention many other brutal-sounding titles—juvenile
homicide arrest rates fell 77 percent. Students have less than a 7 in 10 million
chance of being killed at school, Sternheimer found.
“If we want to
understand why young people become homicidal, we need to look beyond the games
they play,” Sternheimer says.
Placing the blame on video games
exonerates the environment that a child lives in that might nurture violence:
poverty, instability, family violence, unemployment, and mental illness,
“It is equally likely that more aggressive people
seek out violent entertainment,” Sternheimer says. “After adult rampage
shootings in the workplace, which happen more often than school shootings,
reporters seldom mention if the shooters played video games.”
end, blaming video games also removes the culpability of the criminals, and this
is an especially tempting approach when white, middle-class boys who live in the
safe suburbs of America are the culprits, Sternheimer says.
from “good” neighborhoods are violent, they are often naively characterized in
the media and by politicians to be “harbingers of a ‘new breed’ of youth,
created by video games rather than by their social circumstances,” Sternheimer
writes. “White, middle-class killers retain their status as children easily
influenced by a game, victims of an allegedly dangerous product.
African-American boys, apparently, are simply ‘dangerous.’”
article, Sternheimer analyzed newspaper coverage and FBI statistics detailing
trends on youth crime. She has been studying these issues extensively for the
past several years while compiling information for her books, "Kids These Days:
Facts and Fictions about Today’s Youth" (Rowan & Littlefield 2006) and "It’s
Not the Media: The Truth about Pop Culture’s Influence on Children" (Westview
A highly touted 2001 analysis of previous studies in the journal
Psychological Science found that video games did increase aggressive behavior.
But it is rarely noted that the analysis used college students and measured
aggression in terms of reading “aggressive” words on a computer screen or
blasting opponents with sound.
“They don’t offer much insight as to why
a few isolated kids, and not the millions of others who play these games,
decided to pick up real weapons and shoot real people,” Sternheimer says.
Two other more recent studies in leading journals could not support a
finding of increased aggression among players of violent video games.
Sternheimer found their results were rarely cited in news accounts.
copy of the article can be found here
Contact Sujata Sinha, (202) 247-9871, firstname.lastname@example.org or Eddie
North-Hager, 213.740.9335, email@example.com
Further information on Contexts can be found at www.contextsmagazine.org
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org),
founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to
serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science
and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.