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Gaming and Violence

This generation of kids, hooked on Halo and Grand Theft Auto, are actually committing less crime, reveals USC sociologist Karen Sternheimer.

In the past decade, video games have gone from a fringe activity for teens to a mainstream pastime for families. Today the video game industry — highlighted by violent titles such as Halo and Grand Theft Auto — rivals the movie business.

With this rising popularity, many see a connection to an increasingly violent American society.

But sociologist Karen Sternheimer of the USC College takes issue with that premise.

Society isn’t becoming more violent and kids aren’t committing more crime, according to several national and statewide statistics Sternheimer cites in her forthcoming book.

Contrary to popular belief, youth crime has been trending downward for more than a decade, Sternheimer says.

The connection between video games and violence is just one myth that Sternheimer busts in Connecting Social Problems with Popular Culture: Why Media Is Not the Answer (Westview Press, August 2009).

Sternheimer has studied the links between the media and socials ills for more than a decade and has written two books on the subject.

In Connecting Social Problems with Popular Culture, Sternheimer looks beyond the headlines and the sound bites to examine promiscuous teens and the role of Hollywood, hip-hop culture and misogyny, and other notions.

“Popular culture is an easy answer for many of society’s problems, but it is almost always the wrong answer,” she says.

Sternheimer did find one commonality linked to high crime and dropout rates, violence, teen pregnancy, child abuse and drug problems: poverty.

Karen Sternheimer, sociologist in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is an expert on mass media, children and popular culture. She writes frequently for her Everyday Sociology Blog.

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