I've been reading excerpts from a new book called "Grand Theft Childhood," to be published next month by Simon & Schuster. Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, co-founders of
the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, co-wrote the book, which is the result of a $1.5 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice on the
effects of video games on young teenagers.
The Harvard Center project is a multidisciplinary study:
Project activities include a review of existing data and trends across disciplines to identify strengths and weaknesses and develop testable hypotheses; surveys of adolescents and their parents; multinational reviews of game ratings systems and regulations; qualitative studies; and experimental studies.
According to the publisher, Kutner and Olson came to the project with "no agenda except to conduct sound, responsible research," and their findings "conform neither to the views of the alarmists nor of the video game industry."
Kutner and Olson's findings dispel several widely-held assumptions about teenage gamers and the impact of games on their behavior. Among these is the notion that girls don't play games like Grand Theft Auto (according to the study, they do in rather large numbers); and that school shooters "tend to fit a profile that includes a fascination with violent media, especially violent video games" (which, according to the study, cannot be supported by statistics or longitudinal studies of such attacks).
Among the excerpts I found most interesting was an analysis of how video games affect friendships among kids:
Academic research on video games and kids has typically focused on games played in isolation. Yet for many young teens in our surveys and focus groups, friendship was a major factor in their video game play. Forty percent of middle-school boys and almost a third of girls agreed that one attraction of video games is that "my friends like to play." Roughly one-third of both boys and girls said that they enjoyed teaching others how to play video games.
According to Bill, another parent, "Most of the interaction my son has with his buddies is about solving situations within a game. It's all about how do you go from this place to that place, or collect the certain things that you need, and combine them in ways that are going to help you to succeed."
Wendy saw a similar pattern with her son: "Jody and Alex talk constantly in the car and everywhere else about the games and the characters, so it’s part of their friendship, part of what they do and what they like to play…. And they give each other help sometimes when they get to different levels."
If you're interested in the ongoing debate about the impact of video games on kids, you may find this project and its forthcoming report useful. "Grand Theft Childhood" is scheduled for publication on April 15. You can read an interview with co-author Olson about her work on the project here, courtesy of Game Couch.