NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione had "no idea what he was talking about" when he blamed a rise in teen knife crime to violent video games, according to a leading video game psychologist.
"In fact, in most countries youth violence has reached 40 year lows during the video game epoch," said Dr Christopher Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and communication at the University of Texas.
Mr Scipione told The Daily Telegraph that young people were being desensitised to violence by playing out deadly scenarios on their computer screens. He said teenagers were being rewarded for killing and raping people, stealing money from prostitutes and crashing cars.
"The thing that's concerning me is the prevalence of people who are at this stage not just prepared to carry a knife, but prepared to use it," Mr Scipione said.
"That has increased significantly."
Dr Ferguson told news.com.au that Mr Scipione's claims were "irresponsible" and "based on no good research data as an emotional reaction to a 'recent spate' of knifings that could simply be due to a random fluctuation in crime rates".
The video game expert said Mr Scipione ignored longer trends that showed no increases in youth violence.
A report by the Australian Institute of Criminology released in March showed crime rates had fallen across most major categories. It showed that car theft had dropped over 60 per cent over the past decade and homicides had dropped by 27 per cent between 1996 and 2010.
the past decade and homicides had dropped by 27 per cent between 1996 and 2010.
“Although many video games do allow players to explore a range of moral choices both good and bad, they do not typically set up rigid reward structures to reward antisocial behaviour,” Dr Ferguson said.
“Many games have considerable consequences for the moral choices players make.”
Professor of Communication and Media at Bond University, Dr Jeffrey Brand, told news.com.au that Mr Scipione had ignored several major studies that found no conclusive proof that violent video games made people violent.
In 2010, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case from California law enforcers to place a ban on violent video games because of their alleged links to violent behaviour.
Hundreds of scientists from both sides of the debate presented evidence to support their claims before the court ruled it had insufficient evidence to rule that video games were the problem.
Former Australian Attorney General, Robert McClelland , released a report in the same year concluding research found no connection between video game violence and aggressive behaviour in youth.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for the minister for home affairs, justice and defence material, Jason Clare, affirmed that the government had reviewed the effect violent games had on violent behaviour, and that the results had been inconclusive.
However, the spokesperson reassured police commissioner Scipione that the government would continue to refuse classification and ban the sale of video games that contained extreme violence.
"The creation of an R18+ category for computer games will help protect children from material that may be harmful, while also making sure that adults are free to make their own decisions about the computer games they play, within the bounds of the law, " the spokesperson said.
"The R18+ category will bring the Australian classification system in line with comparable systems overseas."
A bill to introduce an R18+ classification passed through the Senate with bipartisan support in June, but according to Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, the success of the classification hinges on the states and territories following suit, along with classification guidelines that adequately reflect an adult rating.
The R18+ rating will bring classification categories for gaming in line with existing categories for films and television shows.
Professor Brand said video games were not helpful common denominators as "most people" in Australia played video games.
92 per cent of Australian households had at least one gaming device, according to a study which was commissioned by the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA).
"Does a criminal play computer games? Very likely," Professor Brand said.
"Does a non criminal play computer games? Very likely."
"It's asymptomatic. It doesn't vary.”
Professor Brand said it was not useful to focus on the "fringe element" and that to do so was extremely harmful because it diverted people's attention away from the true causes of violence, such as pre-existing mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction.
"If Commissioner Scipione is part of the one third of Australians that don't play video games it may be useful for him to get to know them before making those claims, because it might help the police in their work to better understand the medium or dismiss it as potential cause of violence," he said.
"Or if they believe it is harmful they can more tightly focus on that basis for concern."
Games editor of IGN Australia, Luke Reilly, said it was not helpful for the Police Commissioner to refer to games that in his words, rewarded players for “raping women”.
"No video game that rewarded players for raping women would ever pass through the Australian Classification Board in a million years, and no video game console manufacturer would allow such a game on their systems," Mr Reilly said.
"It’s an ignorant myth that these games exist on Australian store shelves. They do not. In 2006 this country banned a video game for promoting illegal graffiti.
"If Scipione truly believes he can jog down to JB and buy a video game full of rape he is grossly misled."
Mr Reilly said adult video games that feature vehicle theft and killing as part of their stories do not seem to be persuading more people to steal cars and kill each other.
“But we’re supposed to accept that they are to blame for an increase in knife crime?," Mr Reilly said. "It makes no sense. You can’t just apply this lazy reasoning to wherever it suits the figures."
Mr Reilly said the overwhelming majority of children who play video games do not commit any kinds of antisocial acts.
"The discussions we should be having should be about the quality of these kids’ home lives, the ones with parents who don’t care their 13-year-old child is out drunk in the city in the middle of the night," he said.
Top five most violent video games
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation
Bloody, violent 16th century video game where gamers play assassins. Use a machete and blowpipes to destroy your enemies.
A game that makes a sport out of beating prostitutes with sex toys. Players spend the game killing people, blowing stuff up, swearing, selling and buying drugs and robbing people.
Gears of War
An incredibly violent and gory third-person shooter. Use deadly weapons to kill aliens. Use a chain saw to rip enemies in two.
Shoot drug gangs dead with a spray of bullets, take drugs to keep your health up. Shoot enemies with a grenade launcher from a helicopter. Violence is as common to this game as breathing.
The creators of the WWII third-person shooter researched what happens when a bullet enters a human body, along with Nazi propaganda to ensure the violence depicted was accurate. The "KillCam" allows gamers to follow the bullet from the gun through to its victims showing what happens when bones and skin are destroyed.
Source: The Telegraph