How Video Games Ended The Great American Crime Wave

The truth is that nobody really knows why all forms of crime have been declining steadily since 1992. It’s obviously a combination of factors, but i think Video Games deserve a lot more credit than they get. The Freakonomics folks have looked at this briefly, but there needs to be much more focus on this variable. As attractive as theories like unleaded gasoline and “Broken Windows” policing are to some people, I think people need to look at the question much more simply. Crime is primarily committed by young men. What do young men do with their time? Video Games. What did they do in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? Drugs and crime. That’s what I was up to anyway. Obviously there’s still time for drugs and crime with the youth of today, but the mix has changed dramatically.

Criminologists are already well aware of “street time” as a factor in crime. The heaviest crime months are always the months when it is most pleasant to roam the streets. If there are less young men roaming the streets there is less crime. Video Games have done us an incredible favor.

You may be surprised to hear that Crime is still falling in the United States. I’ve covered the supposed “Ferguson Effect” over and over. This is the idea, pushed by the New York Times, and everybody’s favorite FBI director James Comey, that Black Lives Matter has scared police departments and led to a dramatic increase in crime. I’ve always been against the way that the “Ferguson Effect” concept has been used. But I have been open to the idea. It makes sense. Justified lack of trust in police forces is probably the main reason why crime persists in inner city communities. Blaming Black Lives Matter for this, however, rather than brutal policing has always struck me as a flat out evil choice. I did a video comparing this to blaming the scandals of the Catholic Church on sex abuse victims, and I very much believe this to be true.

I may not have needed to spend so much time trying get out ahead of the “Ferguson Effect”. It turns out it doesn’t exist outside of a few places with particularly horrific recent examples of police brutality like Chicago and Baltimore. There’s a reason why Trump, Giuliani, and Lead “Broken Windows” propagandist Heather MacDonald spend so much time shouting about Chicago. The news everywhere else remains good.

The worst example that the pro “Stop and Frisk” types had throughout 2016 was Washington, DC. In 2015, Murders went up a full 54%. That Breitbart article I linked there of course probably didn’t emphasize the fact that the 2015 figure only brought murders back to the level they were at in 2008, and 2015’s 162 murders was still only a third of Washington DC’s 1991 peak of 482 murders. Regardless, a 54% increase is something to freak out about, and it provided great support those who wanted to portray America’s cities as spinning out of control. I can’t be bothered to check, but I am pretty sure Trump used the Washington, DC figure in his inauguration speech in Cleveland in July 2016. It made an impact. Unfortunately for the Trumpkins, Washington, DC hasn’t cooperated. In 2016, Washington, DC murders fell 17%. Philadelphia posted one of it’s best years ever in 2016. Crime has continued to fall in New York City, despite the end of Giuliani’s cherished “Stop and Frisk” program.

So there’s a reason the “Law and Order” types keep shouting about Chicago. They don’t have anything else left. I suppose we should be grateful to them for bringing attention to the plight of Chicago, which is a very real problem. I need to do a video on Chicago before too long, but I believe the problem there to be largely about police brutality, and the corruption and budget issues that plague Chicago at large. I laid out part of that case here, with a dismantling of a Wall Street Journal piece on Chicago.

As a final note, you may be wondering why I haven’t addressed Trump’s anti-immigration Executive Order. I have a lot to say on this, but I honestly don’t see much of a point in adding to the chorus of electronic condemnation at this point. I was marching at the Los Angeles airport on Sunday. Over the coming months I will have a lot to say about Islam, Terrorism, the United States, and the way that our politicians abuse the issue. Rest assured, the Trump administration will not come out of that discussion unscathed. Nor will the Obama or Bush administrations.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hello All. For decades we’ve been told that violent video games are going to turn our children into monsters. In fact it’s done the complete opposite. It seems obvious to me that Video Games have made our children more peaceful, and they’ve made our country dramatically safer. Video Games save lives.

Nobody really knows why crime is falling across the United States. Is it policing? Dramatically different strategies across thousands of police departments seem to be yielding the same results, so it’s not just policing. I’m pretty sure that Chicago’s horrifically bad policing has a lot to do with why it’s an outlier. But Chicago is an outlier, Crime is falling almost everywhere else. No one factor created this happy situation. The whole, “we don’t have lead in the gasoline anymore” explanation is kind of interesting. Some say legalized abortion has cut down on angry unwanted children. But there is one variable that should get more credit, and may be the most important variable of all. That factor is video games.

Almost all crime is committed by young men. It used to be that young men spent the majority of their free time out in the streets socializing. In the 1970’s through the 1990’s a perfect storm of drugs and the breakdown of traditional authority structures led to a true epidemic of crime. Drugs haven’t gone anywhere. Traditional authority and family structures aren’t coming back. But from the 1990s to today there has been an unbroken trend of falling crime. Even the largely justified loss in trust for policing we’ve seen over the past couple years hasn’t yielded lasting spikes in crime outside of a few places. So what happened?

Video games are the latest craze to sweep the country and most of the world too. Millions of people are addicted to hours of gazing at electronic images on game screens in arcades, and in their own homes…

Starting in the 1980’s and at an ever accelerating pace since then, video games have gotten exponentially more interesting, time consuming and local. In the 1980’s you went to a public arcade to play the best games. Since the 1990s it’s all been home based systems of one kind or another. The young men that commit crime now spend more and more of their time plugged into the world of gaming, shooting people in virtual reality rather than actual reality.

In broader society this anti-social trend is something to be lamented. But I think it may also be why crime just keeps falling.

So maybe that’s what Chicago needs. Anybody want to fund a Playstations for Gangbangers program?

Thanks for watching. Please subscribe. You should also sign up for my e-mail list. I’m going to be putting out a lot of interesting non-YouTube stuff over the next couple months, and the email list is the best way to hear about it. I never send more than three e-mails a month. Thanks.

  • Travis DeMeester

    I’m glad you started this conversation… many assume it falls in line w/ increased standards of living and/or technology tools. But it sits in stark contrast to the growing income gap in the U.S. While this might or might not be THE answer, it makes sense to look more closely at how the traditional crime source demographic is spending their time.

    Love the new Disqus feature on your site, too!

    • Robert Morris

      Thanks Man! Happy to have commenting up and running. Yep, most criminologists will point to “street time” as an important factor in crime, though usually in the context of the weather. I think this is a promising avenue for future research.

  • Nathan Ruffing

    On the crime rate dropping, I like that you are reporting
    that in the article heading rather than the other more sensational options that
    EVERY other source reports. I like the theory, and I would guess that it is
    largely true. Fewer idle hands = less crime. Pacify!

    WRT the Catholic Church and the police. Shout out to two groups of people:

    1. I was an altar boy growing up. My dad was aware of what was possible (I’m
    not implying anything, or leaving out some detail, he was not abused). He had
    the balls to be pretty awkward with us as kids and tell us specifically what to
    look for. We were not soft targets. Shout out to the good people willing to
    call out evil when they see it, especially preemptively. It’s hard to bring it
    up before it happens when it seems ridiculous. That’s how it is allowed to take
    root. Respect as well for the victims who selflessly put themselves on the line
    to prevent future abuses.


    I like the Free Hugs guy, but that’s not the point. Skip ahead to 6:15 in the
    video. There’s a guy wearing a tie (plainclothes police or citizen, IDK) caring
    about his community and keeping the peace. We need to put a microphone in front
    of more people like him.

    We can blame the institution, but when the reform has done its work, we should
    identify and celebrate our leaders who could have prevented the situation in
    the first place.

    • Robert Morris

      Heh. Yeah, Reporting the positive in the video title isn’t helping my cause much. It’s having the worst open of any of my videos in months. I’m continuously surprised by how poorly my criminal justice videos do. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart though. More thought is needed.

      1. Interesting point. I tend to think that sexual abuse generally is over covered in the media. It’s obviously horrific, and we have to be vigilant against it, but I think it contributes to a break down in trust that’s had a negative effect on our culture. There just isn’t all that trust any more. Obviously I don’t want to go back to the 1950s or anything, when people could abuse with impunity, but I think it’s worth thinking about whether the pendulum has swung too far.

      2. Yep, that’s a good dude right there. I am tremendously optimistic on the topic of criminal justice. I am not anti cop at all. They are doing a terribly difficult job, and the bad situations they get in are a result of what we ask them to do, not any specific problem on their part.