Recently, Americas attention has been understandably focused on
the potential causes of increased violence especially gun violence
particularly among children and youth, and how to stop it. Alongside
gun-control proposals, some of which President Obama is likely to
highlight in his State of the Union address tonight, much of that
attention has looked at the potential of violent video games to
cause or exacerbate the tendencies of youth to engage in real,
While I applaud increased vigilance on the part of parents in
supervising their childrens behaviors and pastimes, a child playing
a violent video game does not necessarily increase the likelihood
that he or she will engage in real violence at that age or later in
Various reports and commentaries have documented the fact that
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanzas video game playing included violent
shooter games like Call of Duty, Counterstrike, and Starcraft. Some
have cited that activity as a possible cause for his shooting
But if Lanza was playing Call of Duty 4, he was one of millions.
On the Xbox 360 console alone, the games developer, Infinity Ward,
has documented nearly 4.4 million online players, not counting
players who use a PlayStation 3 or arent online. The statistics for
Counterstrike are similar an estimated 62,142 per day. And
Starcraft is so popular in Korea, that it has professional leagues
and an estimated online player population of around 50,000 each day.
Of those millions of players, few commit an act of violence,
certainly not enough to say that, statistically, video game play is
a principle cause or even a significant cause of real-world
So why are so many people blaming the video game industry?
Its a phenomenon known as cultural lag, and its what causes us to
be hesitant in adopting new technologies, trying new fads, and
changing our social mores. Cultural lag can be a good thing some
new things are dangerous, come with high levels of risk, and can
infinitely do more harm than good. But cultural lag also can inhibit
the development of technologies and society because of irrational
fears, which is what Im seeing with recent criticism of the gaming
Before video games, society blamed rock n roll for violence and
bad behavior among young people. Before rock n roll, we blamed
television. Before television, movies. Before movies, mystery
novels, which were once known as penny dreadfuls. Before mystery
novels, Shakespeare, who repeatedly was accused of producing
violent, lecherous, and otherwise improper behavior in his audience.
In essence, as a society, we always will try to find out why bad
things happen, but we arent actually very good at finding the
answers. We look back at our past with rose-colored glasses and look
forward into the future with trepidation.
We see our own childhoods as joyful and carefree, and when, as
adults, we are exposed to the grim realities of our world, we
wonder, What happened?. And then we try to explain the difference
between the past that we remember and the present as we perceive it.
When we do this, we very often look to technologies that did not
exist 20, 30, or 40 years ago, and we think: That didnt exist back
then when things were better, therefore it must have some impact on
why things have gotten worse now.
First of all, I am unconvinced that things have gotten worse, but
even if we assume that they have, in blaming technologies like video
games for real-life violence, we assume causation, where numerous
studies show there is only correlation at best. …