Monday, March 22, 2010

Violent Video Games And Youth Violence

Tom Jacobs concludes his recent account of this subject by asking whether our "instinctive antipathy toward censorship of any sort [is] blinding us to a growing problem". First, I don't think we have an instinctive antipathy towards censorship. Historically, censorship has most often been used as a tool for certain groups to gain power or status over other groups, and for that reason cultivating a wariness towards it is justified. Second, I don't think that violence in video games is a growing problem, based on two key pieces of evidence:

1) Total US violent crime per capita has been falling steadily from 1993 until the BJS's most recent data point in 2007 (from here):

Moreover, Harry Jenkins notes that the "rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low." So, at least in the US, it's not like we need to actively search for something to explain why violence might be on the rise.

2) The most recent meta analysis (abstract here) finds that the longitudinal causal effect of playing violent video games after adjusting for initial aggression and sex has an r value of 0.152, for a percentage variance explained of only 2.31%. The authors of this study argue that small effect sizes can have high practical significance if they accumulate over time or if high proportions of the population are exposed. That may be; it's hard to say. But we do know this: 2.31% variance explained is not a particularly large effect size.

The relevant question should not in this case (nor ever) be reduced to whether a statistically significant effect exists, "yes" or "no." Instead, "how much" should always matter. The poison is in the dose.

(Thanks to Robert Wiblin for sharing the Jacobs article, and to Vaughan Bell for being an inspiration to bloggers everywhere.)