Updated: Saturday, 19th April 2014 @ 9:38am

Video games: Entertainment or an incentive for violent crime?

Video games: Entertainment or an incentive for violent crime?

By Alex McIntyre

With the help of Manchester gamers and experts, Alex McIntyre looks at the debate surrounding violent games and whether they really do have the potential to create violence in the real world.

In November, Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, put forward an Early Day Motion condemning the release of the best-selling game of 2011: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3.   

In this motion Mr Vaz voiced his concern about how ‘players engage in gratuitous acts of violence against members of the public,’ and about the ‘increasing evidence of a link between perpetrators of violent crime and violent video game users.’

Just a few weeks ago he continued his campaign by tabling another EDM conveying his claim that the regulation of the video game industry is lacklustre in comparison to other industries.

As an MP, his job is to represent the public, but is his view popular? Well obviously not with those that play these games.

Rich Went, former student at Manchester Metropolitan University said: “The average mentally sound person is perfectly capable of separating fantasy from reality – just because I’m shooting aliens or whatever in a video game, doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to go out and shoot people instead.”

Surely this is obvious. Different social rules are applied to games than to real life due to one being real and one not – killing someone in real-life is horrible and immoral, but killing someone in a game is fine and can admittedly be quite enjoyable.

So why does Mr. Vaz think that violent games can cause a person to blur that line between the virtual and the real?

There have been several studies linking violent games with heightened aggression but this research can be pretty suspect.

One example of such research was published in June 2010 in the Review of General Psychology by the American Psychological Association. In the issue Dr Patrick Markey ascertains that people with a more aggressive personality react more aggressively to violent games than others.

So the study found that more aggressive people are more aggressive. Shocker.

Dr Garry Crawford, Senior Lecturer of Cultural Sociology at Salford University, very kindly sent me an extract of the fifth chapter of his book Video Gamers (London, Routledge, 2012), in which he examines the issue.

In the chapter he views the literature on the subject with some suspicion, suggesting that some research claiming to find a link between violent games and aggression is not sufficiently critical of itself and its methods.

These methods include experiments carried out on small sample sizes in labs, which he calls extremely problematic when relating them to the wider population due to them being conducted outside of a normal gaming environment.

Yet the most important thing to learn from reading the extract was the uncertainty and lack of evolution on the issue. This is due to an absence of conclusive evidence – the thing Mr Vaz claims is increasing.

Perhaps Mr Vaz has, knowingly or unknowingly, severely underestimated the complexity of the issue?

He has gone straight for the jugular, ironically, and claimed a link between ‘violent games and perpetrators of violent crime’ despite research only having ever been done on whether they increase aggression. They are not one and the same – increased aggressive does not automatically lead to violence.

MM spoke to Fardad Izadi, director of Manchester gaming bar Kyoto Lounge, to see what he thought about Mr Vaz’s claim.

Fardad said: “It sounds like he really doesn’t understand the gaming industry.”

“Well we obviously disagree. There is just no clear evidence of anything like that. There are just too many variables.”

This is the most important point on the issue – there are too many variables.

It is subjective. If a person plays a violent game, gets angry and proceeds to harm somebody that does not make it the game’s fault. It is the individual who should be blamed for his lack of self control and his choice to react violently.

If we did condemn games for this then what about football, relationships or money? These have increased aggression and in some cases led to violent crime so should we think about regulating them or getting rid of them completely?

Perhaps we just have to accept that we’re always going to have violence in the world because of some people’s nature.  

The interesting thing though, is that the British Crime Survey in 2010/11 report violence to have dropped by 11% since 2006/7 and homicides having dropped significantly since 2000. 

If these figures are to be believed then as the video game generation has grown both in size and age, violent crime has decreased. There may not be any link, but it doesn’t really help Mr Vaz’s argument.

Rich said: “Acts of violence have always been blamed on aspects of popular culture thought to celebrate it: Gangster rap, rock n roll, board games have all been previously subjected to the same accusations.”

What we’re seeing with the violence-in-video-game debate is what we’ve seen before, as Rich said, and despite Keith Vaz’s attempts to keep it going it will soon be consigned to the history books just like the recent debates on rap music, TV and film.

Yet it will come around again in a different form when the next technological innovation is accused unless the accusers can finally accept that it’s not the entertainment that’s to blame but the people who give it a bad name.