Gamers are suspect: it is only a matter of time before they bring a gun to school and start killing off everybody indiscriminately. In fact, it won't be long before bands of gamers, with unsteady gazes and foaming at the mouth, will roam the country -- killing and commiting arson. At least, that is what the scare-mongers will have you believe.
Let's be honest. The amount of violence in the media has increased. Children are more subjected to violence than they were twenty years ago. Surely that has a bad influence on them!? Well, if you look at the cold, hard facts, it becomes apparent that today's youth in the US is the least violent in recorded history. An excellent article here sums it all up very, very nicely.
How does Europe, and in particular the Netherlands, measure up? Well, looking at a report from the Dutch Statistical Agency, it says on page 12:
In general, the violent crime amongst the youth has risen fast since the mid-eighties in various European countries. Since halfway the nineties, more young suspects of theft and property destruction have been registered in Europe. (Translation mine.)The Playstation 1, which I think was the first gaming console to really take off in Europe, was introduced in 1994. The rise in violent crime had already occured by then, so it can't have been caused by violent computer games.
See figure 6.4 on page 5 of the same report for a historical breakdown of the crimes committed by youngsters. There is a rise in violent crime, but the trend had already begun far before the consoles were released. Also of note is that roughly half of the youthful suspects are suspected of theft -- violence is the least common crime.
Of further note is figure 6.1 on page 138 of this report, which gives a historical perspective on youth crime. There is a steady rise all the way from 1960 to 1980 -- surely that can't be all the fault of the recent violence on TV!? Heck, when Phil Bloom appeared naked on Dutch national television in 1967 it caused an outrage -- television was very, very calvinist at that time.
In 1983, youth crime had peaked, and then slumped in only to rise again around 1995. Can we see the bad influence of game consoles here? Only the launch title Battle Arena Toshinden sounds like it has violence that teenagers could even hope to emulate -- but with an ESRB rating of 'Teen' (meaning ages 13+), it doesn't sound like there was much danger of kids confusing the Battle Arena with real life. The slew of supposedly even more violent games that came after it, were released amidst a decrease of youth crime.
Note that the graph only shows all youth crimes, and we know that half of that is theft! So it's not all violent crime.
It could be possible that the European youth is more susceptible to suggestions of violence in the media than the US youth -- but I don't think anyone believes that. Also, I have a gut feeling that television is more violent in the US than in Europe -- but I have no data to back that up.
In short, there is no evidence suggesting that video games cause a rise in violent crime amongst youth. I would wish that people would stop complaining and spend their energy on things that do make sense.
I know that I have no qualifications to give out advice on parenting, but I'm going to do it anyway. Concerned parents, here's a tip: take charge. Know what your kids are doing. Know what media they are consuming and what they think of that. Talk with them about what they see, and how that makes them feel. Don't be afraid to set rules as to what they may or may not see or play. In short: be a Parent, and don't leave the education of your kid to the Playstation or DVD player.
No rating system or metal detector in schools or police crackdowns can ever be a sustitute to parenting.