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Video games and Criminology
Frequent Commenter

The link between video games and criminal or deviant behavior has been a hot topic for the past few years. With new games constantly coming out and new platforms being developed with continuous upgrades in their technology, video games are now a consistent and normalized part of childhood.


When I ask this question of my students:


How many of you have had at least one gaming platform in your home growing up and/or are currently using them?


On average about 90 % of my students raise their hands. Therefore, as a result I try to use video games in order to describe and engage students in discussion on theory, which at times can be dry or difficult to break down.


One of the most talked about video games is Grand Theft Auto, specifically GTA 5. I use this particular version because of the in-depth story narratives that are played out in the game, there is Michael, Franklin and Trevor. Before bringing up criminological theory I watch a trailer of the game with the students, look at some screen shots, and also have them share their own experience in playing the game:



I discuss with students the personifications of the different characters and then start to engage them in questioning of the three main character’s lives and special abilities. Here's a video byte from GTA:



After this conversation I point out how it appears that the students know these characters on a more personal level and how maybe one has become their favorite, which usually results in a giggle but overall a general agreeance.


Now from here we get to theory, sometimes I bring in multiple theories but let’s say for this lecture I only talk about Sutherland’s differential association. After going over the basics of the theory I then bring up the point about how the theory does not clarify that the “intimate other” has to be a living human being. I then pose the question:


How could one learn criminal/deviant behavior from one of the three characters in the game and their story line?”.


This usually opens up a huge conversation and where things get interesting. Students then start to not only make links of the theory to GTA 5 but then start bringing in other games or even fictional characters from graphic novels or anime for example.


My favorite part


This is a way for students to parallel their daily lives to theoretical concepts which they may not realize they are doing. So the next time you are struggling with getting the students interested in theory I highly recommend to not be afraid to bring in multimedia such as video games, it can be such a great ice breaker to student engagement.  


Has anyone else had success with video games/movies/social media examples when discussing theory? I would love to hear what others use and share some ideas!

Valued Contributor

This is a fantastic method for applying theory into practical application in a controlled setting! My video gaming experience started with Gallaga, and Asteroids, to a 3D Police Shootout (or aliens), so I pretty much missed the role-playing scenarios. More importantly, I've never actually seen GTA in any version and considered it a enhanced version of Mario Brothers racing. I confess my ignorance of these types of video games, because they simply never appealled to me so I never invested any time (when I was younger) in playing them. 

Now that you've brought it to my attention, I'll need to explore them a bit. Injecting criminolgical theory into the academic discussion via GTA (or any other video game) is very interesting! Thank you for that.

As to your central question of use - obviously my current answer is no...I hope to change that moving forward!




I like this example too, though you have to be careful when showing videos of Grand Theft Auto in class.  That game is pretty "crass"!

Frequent Commenter

Hi Eugene,


I have talked about these early games even when discussing operant conditioning and I parallel it to an offender’s escalation of violence. Thinking about new gaming platforms that are coming out consistently and now even going into the realm of virtual reality there is an escalation in what is required to satisfy the average gamer. Just as an offender can need a greater reward to satisfy their needs and therefore escalate, gamers need more stimulation and a feeling that they are actually in the game not just playing.