Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crime Rates, Recession and Video Games

So last week the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2009, noting a continuing trend downward in incidences of crime.

The 2009 statistics show that the estimated volumes of violent and property crimes declined 5.3 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, when compared with the 2008 estimates. The violent crime rate for the year was 429.4 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants (a 6.1 percent decrease from the 2008 rate), and the property crime rate was 3,036.1 per 100,000 persons (a 5.5 percent decrease from the 2008 figure).
A five percent decrease in crime across the board is good news. It's also being used as "evidence" that recessions don't cause crime rates to increase. As I've noted previously, crime tends to increase after recessions are over, and the permanently unemployed class of people who are left behind become desperate (see also: increases in crime following the Great Depression, the 1981-1983 recession, and the slight uptick following the 2001-2003 downturn).

This isn't a prediction that a crime wave is brewing, but it does suggest that crime tends to go down during hard times and rise disproportionately following those hard times.

Nonetheless, Jay at Montclair mentions a interesting argument I have also seen bandied about: that video games are making us more safe (quote from economist Larry Katz's research).
Video games can not only provide hours of entertainment. They can also give people — especially young men, who play more than their fair share of video games and commit more than their fair share of crimes — an outlet for frustration that doesn’t involve actual violence. Video games obviously have many unfortunate side effects. They can promote obsessive, antisocial behavior and can make violent situations seem ordinary. But might video games also have an upside? I’m willing to consider the idea.
I don't think there's anything wrong with the notion that video games might "have an upside," and the topic is certainly one to be researched. But I would question the idea that they are reducing crime.

Video games have been the purvey of "young men" for over 30 years now, and during this time we've seen both drops and increases in crime. While Wii or Xbox may help channel aggression or "keep young men busy" and thus off the streets during times of high unemployment, crime is such a multifaceted phenomenon, we must consider other variables as well.

Like pharmacology. I would make the argument that a latent function of the Millennial Generation being one of the most heavily medicated generations ever may be social control and the low rates crime and delinquency during the past decade.

Throw in the narco-effects of gaming all day long, and voila, we have a new "opiate of the masses," both literally and figuratively.

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