Multiple websites have picked up on an article from the BBC reporting on America's plummeting crime rates. The article takes a snapshot view of several different theories on what may be causing or contributing to this, including smarter policing, less demand for crack (cocaine, that is), and the baby boomers growing older than the "criminal age" (which is a just a euphemism for 18-29 year-old males). Among the other reasons is the one that's caught the gaming community's eye:
9. A study released last month suggested video games were keeping young people off the streets and therefore away from crime. Researchers in Texas working with the Centre for European Economic Research said this "incapacitation effect" more than offset any direct impact the content of the games may have had in encouraging violent behaviour.
This is an interesting little tidbit as it flies in the face of the greater narrative of video games corrupting our youth (speaking of flying in the face of greater narratives, check out the article's graphing of robbery and murder rates: Both stay flat during the three Bush administrations, but drop sharply during the Clinton and Obama years). According to that research, then, video games are keeping young people too busy to commit crimes, the inference being that young men disproportionately play video games and young men disproportionately commit crimes. A few words of caution are in order, however: The article doesn't claim that this is the only reason for dropping crime rates, but rather it's one of many; also, the article doesn't link to the study from the Centre for European Economic Research (aka. the ZEW). After having scoured the ZEW's website and the internets in general, I was unable to find the study to which the BBC article refers - so if any of our readers has a link, I'd love to see it.
According to the blurb above about the study in question, video games aid in reducing overall crime rates because of the "incapacitation effect" they have over gamers. This term is one typically reserved for research regarding prisons and crime prevention. It holds that certain activities, games in this case, prevent crime by keeping would-be criminals busy doing legal things. In this case, it also heavily suggests that the "incapacitation" part involves heavy doses of loafing on the couch.
I'm really interested to see what the research itself says, as opposed to the BBC's digest of it, as this sounds like a bit of a back-handed compliment to gaming. "These guys are helping keep crime rates down by beating sex workers and shooting people in the head in the virtual world instead of the real one." I guess that's a win for video game advocates?