REVIEW: Grand Theft Childhood

REVIEW: Grand Theft Childhood

REVIEW: Grand Theft Childhood

Heather Chaplin looks at the book Grand Theft Childhood – by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson (pictured) –  which reveals some surprising findings about violent games and the people who play them.

Heather Chaplin is the co-author of Smartbomb, and covers the game industry for, among others, NPR.


Whenever I’m doing a story for which I need an “expert” on violent videogames, I make a face kind of like – well, you can’t see it, but suffice to say it involves scrunching up my nose and rolling my eyes, and sometimes even sticking out my tongue.

You all know why. Most of these folks are either out-and-out charlatans who couldn’t put together a scientific study if their houses were on fire and their children locked inside, or they’re agenda-addled fogies, so afraid of a this new medium that they misconstrue data to justify their own fears.

Of course, on the other side of the spectrum are the apologists – those who claim media has no effect on children, and certainly not on teens and grown-ups. This is as much a load of crap as the people who want to say videogames are destroying our youth. Anyone out there really want to say you weren’t affected, even shaped, by the media with which you grew up? Come on.

When it was time to do my Grand Theft Auto IV story, I really cringed. I didn’t want to get mired in the so-called controversy about the game, but I knew my editors would insist on addressing the fact that teens, pre-teens and kids play the game, M rating or not.

moscalloutAnyone out there really want to say you weren’t affected, even shaped, by the media with which you grew up? Come on./moscalloutWhen I found Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Videogames, by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, I unscrunched my nose, and stopped rolling my eyes.

Kutner and Olson told me that they’d gone into this project with no agenda. They’re mental health experts and they were curious. They had no idea before they started what they would find and in some ways they didn’t care. Or rather they cared, but they cared about actually finding out the truth – not trumpeting some agenda.

Kutner and Olson interviewed more than 1,200 teens and pre-teens. They were thorough in how they set up their focus groups, and smart about avoiding the traps that a lot of researchers fall into – like forgetting that kids get bored while being interviewed and make things up, or finding causal relationships where there are only interesting parallels.