New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has come under fire for implying that violent video games are to blame for a spate of stabbings in recent months.
Speaking about the youth of NSW, Scipione claimed that there was "nothing more potentially damaging than the sort of violence they're being exposed to, be it in movies, be it in console games they're playing."
"You get rewarded for killing people, raping women, stealing money from prostitutes, driving cars crashing and killing people,” he said.
"How can it not affect you if you're a young adolescent growing up in an era where to be violent is almost praiseworthy, where you engage in virtual crime on a daily basis and many of these young people (do) for hours and hours on end?"
Dr Christopher Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and communication at the University of Texas, said that Scipione's comments were "irresponsible" and "based on no good research data as an emotional reaction to a recent spate of knifings”.
The fact was, youth violence in most countries had reached 40-year lows, he said.
He also rejected Scipione's claims regarding the way games rewarded player actions.
“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.”
“Many games have considerable consequences for the moral choices players make,” he said.
Professor of communication and media at Bond University, Dr Jeffrey Brand, said that Mr Scipione had ignored several major studies that found no conclusive proof that violent video games made people violent.
He cited a 2010 trial in the US that centered on gaming violence, wherein the US Supreme Court ruled it had insufficient evidence to rule that video games were the problem.
That same year, former Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland released a report which concluded that there was no connection between video game violence and aggressive behaviour in youth.
"Does a criminal play computer games? Very likely," said Brand.
"Does a non-criminal play computer games? Very likely."
A focus on the fringe element was harmful, he said, because it diverted people's attention away from the true causes of violence, such as pre-existing mental illnesses, 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" said Brand.
Jason Clare, Minister for Home Affairs, Justice and Defence Material, said that the government had reviewed the effect violent games had on violent behaviour, and that the results had been inconclusive.
Clare also reiterated that the recently-created R18 category for games would “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."
In March, the Australian Institute of Criminology showed that crime rates had fallen across most major categories: car theft in Australia has dropped more than 60 per cent over the past decade, and homicides dropped by 27 per cent between 1996 and 2010.