Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Escapist Reviews Grand Theft Childhood

"Must read" alert - check out The Escapist for Adam LaMosca's recent review of a new book on video game violence by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, the Harvard-based husband and wife team that co-founded the Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Mental Health and the Media. Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Video Games and What Parents Can Do (what great timing on the title, btw), primarily reports on a big, well-funded study of violent videogames and teens, which the authors conducted between 2004 and 2006. As LaMosca reports, the book also provides a thorough overview of the controversies and misconceptions that continue to cloud public discourses around video games (a reprise of which we've been seeing all week with the release of GTAIV), while other important social issues go unaddressed. Here's an excerpt of LaMosca's review:
Throughout Grand Theft Childhood the authors note the inescapably social aspect of games, especially for young males. For boys, playing videogames - even M-rated video games - is normal. It connects them with their peers, providing both recreation and a source of conversation. The authors demystify kids' interests in games, noting that their motivations to play aren't borne of reclusive or antisocial tendencies. Instead, kids play for excitement, escapism and to relieve stress or boredom. In addition, kids are surprisingly capable of recognizing the difference between in-game and real-world violence - sometimes even more so than the researchers themselves.


Kutner and Olsen address common misconceptions about gaming with deftness and precision, demonstrating that they understand both videogames and their detractors. Although their own research informs much of the book, they devote abundant space to reasoned discussions about junk science methodology, political grandstanding, recent developments in anti-game legislation, current events, and more. Grand Theft Childhood's chapters are peppered with quotes from public figures, which the authors usually waste no time in debunking through research or common sense.

I look forward to finding out for myself how balanced their approach is, but I suspect that either way this book will have a lot to offer -- particularly for those of us interested in the unfolding discourses around kids and gaming.

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