Linking computer games and violence: some actual statistics

video-game-chart-with-trendline2Whenever there is a shooting in the US some pundit trots out a link to computer games; but is there any evidence for a link?

The Washington Post just published an interesting analysis comparing video game spend per capita and gun-related murders per 100,000 population. It should come as no great surprise that there is absolutely no sign of a correlation. The countries with the highest spend on computer games are actually the safest.

So why does an examination of the background of murderers so often reveal they have played computer games? Well because that’s what most young men do these days. It’s exactly analogous to drawing a correlation between gun-related deaths and mobile phone use, or wearing shoes, or watching TV, or…

Basically the USA has a ridiculous rate of gun-related death compared to the rest of the civilised World. Blaming that on computer games is not supported by any evidence and, I would argue, is evidence of yet another attempt to divert attention from the real underlying issues.

It’s not just about computer games though – the whole gun control debate is rife with really poor use of statistics. It’s unbelievable how many times in watching and reading opinion on this topic apologists for the USA’s poor gun control say something like “of course we have more gun-related murders per 100,00 population than Australia – we’re a much bigger country” (see for example Fox’s Bill O’Reilly in action).

And then there’s the idea trotted out again and again that gun availability in the US is not the problem it’s some cultural and poverty issue. An idea that completely ignores the other statistical anomoly that the USA can take pride in – they have more people in jail per 100,000 of population than anyone else in the developed World. And I’m going to draw a short bow and presume that most of the people in jail are the ones most likely to commit crimes due to poverty and ‘cultural’ issues. So even after removing the most likely offenders from society the USA manages to kill more of its citizens than is reasonable.

The USA has serious problems with violence that need to be addressed. And that has nothing to do with computer games.

Image: Washington Post.

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