Video games get a needlessly bad reputation. If they're not being examined for 'dumbing down' teenagers, they are being linked to reasons why there are school shootings, murders and acts of antisocial behavior. Grand Theft Auto tend to always be on the tips of politician's tongues when it comes to games having a bad influence on consumers and there have been games which have even been banned in certain territories such as Manhunt – ironically both of these titles are from Rockstar.
After the 18+ rated content in both of these titles there is a simple question that needs to be asked – at what point does art imitate life?
There is certainly an argument to say that as games have progressed over the last 20 years to almost photo realistic levels in some cases (Gran Turismo series, Crysis series, soon to be released show stopper, The Last of Us) and as a result we are experiencing much more realistic and lifelike worlds to become absorbed with that can blur reality with virtuality. The danger this can have in rare cases is a lack of understanding between what is real and what is illusion. This is true for both television or books or any other medium where you detach yourself from real life and for most there are no issues.
People who are suggestible, have low self esteem or simply view these means as an escape into a 'better' world with excessive amounts of time used for their 'virtual' life are where the issues lie. It's the people and not the medium. Any 'reasonable' consumer understands the differences but entertainment mediums are very powerful indeed in all their forms and when video games become a retreat as opposed to a hobby … that's where it can affect the mind. There are many cases of children in mainland China who have played for 2-3 days straight with barely any food and water who have sadly died as a result. It's an extreme example but the fault lies with the parents as opposed to the medium of Gaming, who failed to monitor their child or communicate with them. Gaming was simply their chosen medium used to escape in an obsessive manner. It could have been exercise, eating or the cinema – it's the obsessive behavior that affected their normal cognitive processes.
If anything, playing games helps reduce crime and is beneficial in 99% of the cases – the news will only focus on negatives as it sells. Simple as that. It's a way to wind down, release frustrations so that you do not release them in the real world – it can be a conduit for stress release. In the same way as going to the gym helps release stress. Punching a bag is infinitely more constructive than punching someone in real life. It keeps young people off the streets, helping them meet new friends with similar interests and absolutely can be a very constructive hobby. Even the Nintendo 3DS has a built in pedometer to incentivise people walking around in real life to collect Game Coins while it is in 'Sleep Mode'.
No medium can be blamed for the actions of one person, that one person has themselves to blame.