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.