Andrew's Reviews > Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do

Grand Theft Childhood by Lawrence Kutner
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Jul 27, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: one-book-per-week-08-09, non-fiction-books-that-i-love
Recommended for: Everyone
Read in December, 2008

Every now and then you read a book that makes you want to run out into the street, grab random people, and tell them all about it. This is one of those books. Straightforward, well written, insightful and practical, “Grand Theft Childhood” should be mandatory reading for every parent with electronics in their house.

“Grand Theft Childhood” is not a book that argues for or against video games. It sets out to present information from one of the most extensive descriptive studies of video game use by children and teens. Past research has employed mainly young adult undergraduates as experimental subjects in situations with very dubious external validity (in other words, experiments where the results in the lab do not translate to any predictable behaviour in the real world). Kutner and Olson did something novel; they asked talked to kids themselves. Through questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups, the authors sought to get a better understanding (among other questions) of what motivates kids to play the games they do, and what differentiates those who play violent games from those who don't. The results are somewhat unexpected, and I imagine they would be especially surprising to parents who are unfamiliar with games themselves and who buy into the fear-mongering and hype in the media.

In the final pages of the book, Kutner and Olson summarize their research, saying: “The bottom-line results of our research can be summed up in a single word: relax”. The research clearly shows that the vast majority of kids who play violent video games do not become violent themselves. Virtually all of the “evidence” presented by politicians and anti-game special interest groups is either hyperbole, poorly designed research, or even outright made up.

Kutner and Olson do not present their results in a vacuum. They describe the similarities between past censorship of comic books, novels, and television and the current drive to ban violent video games. They also explain the difficulties and challenges in doing research into the effects of violent video games on children (why can't experts agree on the fairly straightforward question: “does playing violent video games make kids violent themselves?”). By the end of the book the reader gets a pretty good idea of the controversies surrounding video games, and hopefully will have a more skeptical attitude about the claims thrown around by politicians and other censors. Best of all, the reader is encouraged to be skeptical of the author's research and the claims made in this book.

Towards the end of the book, after the authors have described what they found in the their study, they give plenty of practical advice for parents. More than anything else, “Grand Theft Childhood” feels like a worthwhile and informative read. Anyone who plays video games, in concerned about media censorship and politics, or has children should read this book.
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