Violent videogames don't make killers: study

LOS ANGELES Fri Mar 2, 2007 8:15am EST

A journalist plays a new video game in San Francisco, California, October 19, 2006. The jury is still out on whether violent video games lead to violent behavior in children, but a new study asserts that killer games do not make killer kids. REUTERS/Kimberly White

A journalist plays a new video game in San Francisco, California, October 19, 2006. The jury is still out on whether violent video games lead to violent behavior in children, but a new study asserts that killer games do not make killer kids.

Credit: Reuters/Kimberly White

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Do video games kill? The jury is still out on whether violent video games lead to violent behavior in children, but a new study asserts that killer games do not make killer kids.

University of Southern California sociologist Karen Sternheimer, who has been researching the topic since 1999, said blaming video games for youth violence fails to take into account other major factors.

"A symphony of events controls violence," said Sternheimer, who began her research after some experts blamed the video game "Doom" for the gun rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado in which two students killed 13 people and then themselves.

"It was a tragic and, very fortunately, rare event and it was discouraging to see that the conversation often started and stopped at video games."

Sternheimer's article, "Do Video Games Kill?," will appear in the American Sociological Association's Contexts magazine as the European Union weighs outlawing certain violent games and harmonizing national penalties for retailers caught such products to under-age children.

Her research, which involved analyzing newspaper coverage and FBI statistics detailing trends on youth crime, found that in the 10 years after the release of "Doom" -- and many other brutal-sounding titles -- juvenile homicide arrest rates in the United States 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 ... (or) we miss some of the biggest pieces of the puzzle," she said, listing community and family violence, suburban alienation and less parental involvement as other possible factors.

Sternheimer said violent video games have come to carry the baggage of social anxieties over youth violence as the industry has grown into a $10 billion-plus behemoth that rivals Hollywood box office sales.

This also provides a quick fix for when the public demands an explanation for why middle-class children become murderers.

In the United States, the video game industry is self-regulated and retailers deciding whether or not to sell

M-rated games for mature audiences to minors. These games carry content deemed appropriate for people aged 17 and older.

Sternheimer said putting the blame on video games exonerated the environment in which the child was raised and also removed the culpability of the criminals.

"It's a complicated problem that merits more than a simple solution," she said.