Ten-country comparison suggests there’s little or no link between video games and gun murders

The search for meaning is a natural response to any tragedy, and the latest U.S. mass shooting is eliciting questions about, among other things, the potential role of violent video games. After all, with kids and increasingly teenagers spending so much time hammering away at simulated shooters, is it any wonder when they pick up actual guns? Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod lamented on Twitter, "In NFL post-game: an ad for shoot 'em up video game. All for curbing weapons of war. But shouldn't we also quit marketing murder as a game?"

But it turns out that the data just doesn't support this connection. Looking at the world's 10 largest video game markets yields no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings. 

It's true that Americans spend billions of dollars on video games every year and that the United States has the highest firearm murder rate in the developed world. But other countries where video games are popular have much lower firearm-related murder rates. In fact, countries where video game consumption is highest tend to be some of the safest countries in the world, likely a product of the fact that developed or rich countries, where consumers can afford expensive games, have on average much less violent crime.

Here's the data for video game spending per capita and gun-related homicides in the world's 10 largest video game markets. The United States, as it so often does on gun-related statistics, really stands out:

Click to enlarge. Data source: UNODC, others. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

Of course, these comparisons assume that national video game markets are largely uniform, with Dutch, Korean and American consumers playing the same spectrum of games. With the possible exception of Japan, video game markets are quite global, so this is an imperfect but generally safe assumption.

Now, if there were in fact a close correlation between video game consumption and gun violence, then we would expect the data to trend upward. That is, we would expect that the countries that spend the most on video games per person would also be the most violent, by virtue of the effects of the games. Here's what the data should look like, in that case:

Click to enlarge. Data source: UNODC, others. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

But, the data does not show this trend. Here's a linear trend line for this data. Again, with only 10 datapoints, it's not a perfect comparison. But it's hard to ignore that this data actually suggests a slight downward shift in violence as video game consumption increases. 

Click to enlarge. Data source: UNODC, others. (Max Fisher/Washington Post)

So, what have we learned? That video game consumption, based on international data, does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence. That countries where video games are popular also tend to be some of the world's safest (probably because these countries are stable and developed, not because they have video games). And we also have learned, once again, that America's rate of firearm-related homicides is extremely high for the developed world.

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