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“The book is one of those rare phenomena: a scientific, psychological and sociological study that manages to be relevant to a hot-button topic today without being dead-dull and bogged down in all manner of technical jargon or medical terminology…. This makes for a very calm and even-handed approach to a subject so rife with emotional blow-ups and political soundbites that it’s often hard to tell where the research ends and the hysteria begins. And if that’s not a breath of fresh air in this charged arena, I don’t know what else is.”


“Parents and educators seeking a pronouncement that all violent video games are bad and must be avoided will not find reinforcement from Kutner and Olson. Instead, parents and educators will see a balanced approach to a complex topic…. Perhaps most notably, the work of Kutner and Olson explains why most well-adjusted teens and adults never display any antisocial behavior despite their enjoyment of video game play. It is an explanation that has caused this writer to reconsider his views on this complex topic.”

−Thomas J. Hanson, OpenEducation.net

“Overall a very highly significant book in the development and acceptance of video gaming as just another (superior) form of popular media. Anyone involved in game design, marketing or senior management in the game industry should read Grand Theft Childhood. Obviously we need to protect our children; we also need to have a realistic view based on factual research.”

−Bruce Everiss, BruceOnGames.com

“Kutner and Olson 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.”

−Adam LaMosca, The Escapist

“Contrary to concerns that the games lead to violent behavior and social isolation, their research found that the games were a means of venting emotions and promoted social interaction because children play together or discuss strategies. Kutner and Olson analyze the current rating system for games and offer commonsense advice on how parents can monitor and moderate game playing…. Aimed at adults, but this book offers lucid, balanced arguments for older teens’ debates at school and at home.”

−Vanessa Bush, Booklist (American Library Association), Feb. 15, 2008


I wonder: What would happen if I did this? That question is the driving force behind many video games, including the new Mature-rated Grand Theft Auto IV for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360: You can experiment and push physical, ethical, legal and moral boundaries within the relatively safe confines of a virtual play space.

This week, I also wondered what would happen if I read a new book, Grand Theft Childhood:

The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, and then spent a few days kicking the tires of

the new version of the game that inspired its title. It worked out pretty well because both works

have a lot in common: They are political, often angrily so, and they are brilliantly conceived.

−Scott Colbourne, “The moral lesson that drives GTA IV.”

Toronto Globe & Mail, May 1, 2008

A new book, Grand Theft Childhood, says games, even some violent ones, may have social benefits. “Video games are now a social tool for boys,” who use them to interact and build livepage.apple.comfriendships, says co-author Lawrence Kutner, who is on the Harvard medical school faculty. The games also teach kids to solve problems, the book says.

A study for the book found Grand Theft Auto, rated “M” for “mature,” was the most popular game among boys and second among girls, whose favorite was The Sims (rated “T” for “teen”)…..

Despite benefits, the study found that kids who played M-rated games were more likely to get into fights, damage property, steal from a store and receive poor grades.

−Wendy Koch, “Release of latest ‘Grand Theft Auto’ comes under fire.”
USA Today, April 25, 2008