Don’t blame video games

A publicity image promoting "Call of Duty: Black Ops II."
A publicity image promoting "Call of Duty: Black Ops II."
Associated Press

When the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre cast blame for gun violence, he listed all kinds of cultural elements, singling out, among other things, “vicious, violent video games.” The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan found the indictment compelling:

“The first half of the Wayne LaPierre statement, in which he passionately scored our culture – the video games, the movies, the whole thing. We’ve all been through this for 25 years, and yet we cannot say it enough. Our culture is helping to make unstable people sick and dangerous. It does make a contribution. He was right to say it; I was delighted to hear it.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) didn’t seem especially impressed by Noonan’s praise for LaPierre’s cultural criticism.

But is there anything to the larger argument? Putting aside the irony of the underlying point – blaming simulated, pixelated guns is fine; blaming actual guns is not – this isn’t new. Plenty of officials, including folks like Joe Lieberman, have been arguing for years that violent games desensitizes young people to violence and contributes to a larger corrosive effect on the culture.

There’s just no evidence to support the claims. Hunches and cultural criticisms notwithstanding, there is no science to bolster the contention that gaming and gun violence are connected. (Adam Lanza was reportedly obsessed with “Dance Dance Revolution” – which is a game, as the name suggests, about moving feet, not shooting weapons.)

But the point I keep coming back to is simple: the United States is not the only country with young people who play a lot of video games, but it is the only country with high rates of gun violence.

Gaming is a huge cultural phenomenon in countries like South Korea, England, Japan, and Canada – and they’re all playing many of the same games Americans enjoy – and yet, none of these countries comes close to the U.S. when it comes to deadly shootings.

And why not? Sociologists can speak to the differences in more detail, but I suspect it has something to do with access to firearms. It may seem tautological, but let’s state it for the record anyway: societies with fewer guns have less gun violence, whether they’re playing “Halo” or not.

Don't blame video games