Millennials and video games: a serious problem or an easy scapegoat?

Dan Rice

Dan Rice
Dan Rice

When a school shooting occurs, when a teenager steals a car, when the youths of the nation cause destruction, the media looks for the reason. What made this person do such a horrible thing? What’s to blame?

Scientifically speaking, both genetic and environmental factors seem to play a part. According to a 2013 study, criminals frequently have a poorly developed prefrontal cortex, which is the portion of the brain that regulates self-control and problem solving. Another study in 2012 found that early exposure to neighborhood crime led to higher crime rates from youths who grew up in those neighborhoods later in life.


In short, there are several factors that could cause someone to commit crime. But the media pays little heed to this; instead, one of the first questions sure to be asked is whether or not the criminal played violent video games.

This train of thought is understandable. Playing “Grand Theft Auto” and engaging in acts such as theft, murder and drug dealing on the TV is at least worth raising an eyebrow at, especially when the Columbine shooters, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter and the Aurora movie theater shooter all reportedly played violent video games.

But here’s the thing: Just because criminals have played violent video games doesn’t mean that the video games are the problem. Would it be unreasonable to point out that if these people are prone to violence in the first place, they’re likely to engage in it in a video game alongside real life? According to a study from Villanova University, an estimated 97 percent of adolescents play video games, but 97 percent of adolescents aren’t out committing murder.

Because adolescents play video games a whole lot more than adults, this could also be a case of blaming something adults don’t associate with. Comic books were to blame for problems in the ’50s; rock and roll was to blame in the ’60s; heavy metal was to blame in the ’80s; and now video games seem to be the best scapegoat, so we can ignore other societal problems that may really be the problem.

Should video games be taken into account? Absolutely. But alongside reports that these shooters played video games are reports that playing video games improves cognition in you guessed it  the prefrontal cortex, that same place in the brain that is so often poorly developed in criminals. Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that crime rates have gone down since the 1990s, so it seems like blaming video games, which certainly look a lot more realistic now than they did back then, is a bit of a stretch.

Granted, many of these studies point out that there is much more research to be done, and correlation and causation are two very different things. However, I think blaming video games for our problems when there’s so little evidence to go on is nothing more than a scapegoat — one that’s not a whole lot different from blaming that darn ‘60s rock ’n’ roll music.

Collegian Columnist Dan Rice can be reached at or on Twitter @danriceman.