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Opinion

Stop blaming video games for America's gun violence

Studies show that a child playing a violent video game does not necessarily increase the likelihood that he or she will engage in real violence. Americans need to stop blaming something other than our own behaviors and ideologies for societal violence, especially gun violence.

By Kristin M.S. Bezio / February 12, 2013

A copy of the book 'Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games' sits on the table as Vice President Joe Biden convenes a meeting with representatives from the video game industry in his Washington office Jan. 11. Op-ed contributor Kristin M.S. Bezio says: 'The dialogue we need to have is about real violence, not virtual violence.'

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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Richmond, Va.

Recently, America’s 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, harmful violence.

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While I applaud increased vigilance on the part of parents in supervising their children’s 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 life.

Various reports and commentaries have documented the fact that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza’s 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 massacre.

But if Lanza was playing Call of Duty 4, he was one of millions. On the Xbox 360 console alone, the game’s developer, Infinity Ward, has documented nearly 4.4 million online players, not counting players who use a PlayStation 3 or aren’t 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 violent behavior.

So why are so many people blaming the video game industry?

It’s a phenomenon known as “cultural lag,” and it’s 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 I’m seeing with recent criticism of the gaming industry.

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 aren’t 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.

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