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Study: Video games reduce U.S. crime rate

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Video games have been blamed for a lot of bad things, but new research from a trio of institutions indicates that crime isn't one of them.

Research from the Centre for European Economic Research (also known as ZEW), Baylor University and the University of Texas at Arlington showed games reduce the number of criminal incidents by keeping potential assailants, thieves and other ne'er-do-wells occupied.

Put another way: That "one more turn" quality so many games possess is keeping criminals off the streets.

Potential violent criminals, the study found, were less likely to be drawn into volatile situations when they were occupied with games. And while many politicians (and some other studies) maintain that violent games make people more aggressive, the ZEW report noted that was only showing part of the picture.

"The findings linking gameplay to an increase in aggression are mainly based on psychological laboratory experiments," it said. "However, these experiments do neither consider the intense usage of these games by relatively violence-prone people nor the resulting time use effect. This incapacitation effect prevents gamers from engaging in other violent activities during the time spent playing video games."

The matter of government regulation of games is, of course, a moot point these days, based on the landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. But researchers note that should games -- particularly violent ones --  ever be restricted, it could have an opposite effect to what politicians are hoping for.

"Our findings for the United States show that the time use effect on players is stronger than the aggression-promoting effect," says Benjamin Engelstätter, researcher at ZEW. "Therefore, possible regulations of violent content in video games should be carefully designed. They could lead to a reduction in long-term aggressive tendencies. However, in the short-term, they would probably lead to a rise in crime rates as a number of gamers would spend less time playing video games that might have lost their appeal due to the regulations."

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