| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Playing video games does not turn
children into deranged, blood-thirsty super-killers, according
to a new book by a pair of Harvard researchers.
Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, a husband-and-wife team
at Harvard Medical School, detail their views in "Grand Theft
Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and
What Parents Can Do," which came out last month and promises to
reshape the debate on the effects of video games on kids.
"What I hope people realize is that there is no data to
support the simple-minded concerns that video games cause
violence," Kutner told Reuters.
The pair reached that conclusion after conducting a
two-year study of more than 1,200 middle-school children about
their attitudes towards video games.
It was a different approach than most other studies, which
have focused on laboratory experiments that attempt to use
actions like ringing a loud buzzer as a measure of aggression.
"What we did that had rarely been done by other researchers
was actually talk to the kids. It sounds bizarre but it hadn't
been done," Kutner said.
They found that playing video games was a near-universal
activity among children, and was often intensely social.
But the data did show a link between playing mature-rated
games and aggressive behavior. The researchers found that 51
percent of boys who played M-rated games -- the industry's
equivalent of an R-rated movie, meaning suitable for ages 17
and up -- had been in a fight in the past year, compared to 28
percent of non-M-rated gamers.
The pattern was even stronger among girls, with 40 percent
of those who played M-rated games having been in a fight in the
past year, compared to just 14 percent for non-M players.
One of the most surprising things was how popular mature
games were among girls. In fact, the "Grand Theft Auto" crime
action series was the second-most played game behind "The
Sims," a sort of virtual dollhouse.
Kutner and Olson said further study is needed because the
data shows only a correlation, not causation. It is unclear
whether the games trigger aggression or if aggressive children
are drawn to more violent games.
"It's still a minority of kids who play violent video games
a lot and get into fights. If you want a good description of
13-year-old kids who play violent video games, it's your local
soccer team," Olson said.
The researchers also try to place video games in a larger
context of popular culture. The anxiety many parents voice over
video games largely mirrors the concerns raised when movies,
comic books and television became popular.
"One thing I like about their approach is that they've
tried to historicize the whole concept of a media controversy
and that we've seen this before," said Ian Bogost, a professor
at Georgia Tech known for his studies on video games.
The book urges a common-sense approach that takes stock of
the entire range of a child's behavior. Frequent fighting, bad
grades, and obsessive gaming can be signs for trouble.
"If you have, for example, a girl who plays 15 hours a week
of exclusively violent video games, I'd be very concerned
because it's very unusual," Kutner said.
"But for boys (the danger sign) is not playing video games
at all, because it looks like for this generation, video games
are a measure of social competence for boys."
Many video game fans have embraced the pair as champions of
the industry, a label that makes them uncomfortable.
"We're not comfortable doing pro and con. We've been asked
to do the pro-game side in debates, and I don't consider myself
a pro-game person. Video games are a medium," Olson said.
(Reporting by Scott Hillis; editing by Patricia Reaney)