Researcher’s New Book Cuts Through the Negative Hype About Video Game Violence

Gamers and parents of gamers will likely find Dr. Cheryl Olson’s new book reassuring.

The Massachusetts General Hospital researcher contradicts much of the standard research on video game violence, offering a real-world approach based on studies of real children. With Grand Theft Childhood (co-authored with Dr. Laurence Kutner) set to release in April, Olson spoke with GameCouch’s Terry Bosky:

From the start, our research was designed with parents in mind… we wanted to help parents and policymakers understand what’s normal, when to worry about violent video games, and when video games might benefit some kids.

Olson believes that some of the best-known studies have serious flaws:

The most-publicized studies came from a small group of experimental psychologists, studying college students playing nonviolent or violent games for 15 minutes. It’s debatable whether those studies are relevant to real children, playing self-selected games for their own reasons…

Also, the most-published researchers have built their careers around media violence… [that is] just a small part of what we do, so we could look at the issue with fresh eyes and no agenda.

Olson found that games helped 12-14’s sort out their feelings:

This included playing games to “help get my anger out,” to forget problems, to relax, and to feel less lonely… When we began our research, we didn’t fully grasp how politicized and emotional this topic was.

What about the upcoming Grand Theft Auto IV ?

One of the most surprising things in our research was how many kids aged 12 to 14 are playing Grand Theft Auto games; the series was #1 among boys, and #2 among girls. So, parents can assume that their teens will play GTA IV sometime, someplace…

We found is that most children who play GTA don’t see the characters as role models, and don’t see the game as like real life. In fact, the “unreality” is one thing they like about the series. They can test boundaries and try things that, as one boy put it, “hopefully, will never happen to you.

Don’t miss the full interview at GameCouch.

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  1. 0

    […] Because I’m just so excited to crack into the AP Econ review book I purchased today, I also picked up some “lighter” reading at the library, a fascinating new book titled Grand Theft Childhood. I first read about the book through, who also led me to an interview of the author’s by Adam Sessler. […]

  2. 0

    […] The soon to be released new book Grand Theft Childhood says, “Um, no. That’s not true.” In fact, they found that video games were an outlet for kids to do stuff they would never do in real life, and act out in a safe environment.  Keep in mind, kids are increasingly held to standards where they can not blow off steam in school, or even express their anger in words or pictures without drastic consequences. […]

  3. 0
    EOTD says:

    Honestly, I think my favorite part about this book is that, just looking at the cover, it seems to be a sensationalist, knee-jerk tirade – which is what sells. I imagine a lot of people will buy this book expecting to have their ideas about murder simulators confirmed, onl yto be slapped in the face by the facts. Whoever designed that cover is freaking brilliant. XD

  4. 0
    BmK ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    That’s exactly it. Obama wasn’t saying kids shouldn’t be playing video games or watching T.V. at all, but parents should only allow them to play video games and watch T.V. in moderation rather then them sitting inside all day and getting no exercise. Obama has also said for the most part he’s against government regulation of Free Speech. Much better then Hillary “here comes the nanny-state” Clinton.

  5. 0
    Twin-Skies ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    If I read Obama’s transcript correctly, the point being made was that parents should try to encourage their kids to go out more and do something healthier like sports and the fine arts, rather than just allow them to sit all day watching TV or playing video games.

    If I read that properly, I don’t have any problems with it, as a gamer even.

  6. 0
    Aliasalpha says:

    Pfft. McDonalds, illegal MP3 downloading and japanese tentacle porn is bigger than jesus nowdays.

    Hell the MAC is bigger than jesus nowdays…

  7. 0
    Mutantemeco says:

    “So, parents can assume that their teens will play GTA IV sometime, someplace…”

    Fuck yeah, I want Jack to know this. We don’t need moral approval from anybody in this industry. Everytime I load up my copy of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas the veins on my rigid cock contort that much more.

    Grand Theft Auto 4 is gonna own SOULS! GTA 4 is bigger than Jesus!

  8. 0
    Coravin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Barack Obama is not an anti-videogames activist.

    His comments suggest he equates videogames with a waste of time and considers them of no viable benefit, but that appears to be sheer ignorance.

    He may be biased against videogames simply because of politicians’ and others’ mistaken spins on videogames, but we can’t actually be sure of the degree of his lack of respect for this passtime. So far, he hasn’t spouted that ignorance as cause for a federal case against games based on no facts or scientific support, as have the other 2 names in vasudean’s list.

  9. 0
    vasudean says:

    I certainly don’t listen to him, I just laugh at how stupid he is. Also, to the person who wrote that book, I give you a thumbs up for clearing the air of the stench of anti-video game activists (Jack Thompson, Hillary Clinton, Obama to name a few)

  10. 0
    GryphonOsiris ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Whenever you’re ready GLaDoS:

    “This was a triumph
    I’m making a note here
    It’s hard to contain my satisfaction.”

  11. 0
    mogbert ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    As for the GTA game, I’ve never played it (I’m a guy) and the only person I know who played it excessively was a female. As a point in fact she joined the reserves and is now overseas. I tweaked and modded Q3 instead and I’m now a database programmer.

    I’m tired of the negative press without anyone realizing that kids have been playing shoot-em-up ever since there were guns. When I was little, my parents were very anti-violence. Everything was blocked, and I STILL ran around with other boys with sticks pretending to shoot each other.

    How is that any different then a video game?

    The only difference is a lower chance of getting hit by a car and the stadard argument of:
    “I shot you!”
    “Nuh-uh, you missed!”
    has been replaced with:
    “u r a h4xx0r!”

  12. 0
    Kris O. says:

    The original link wasn’t working because of a period at the end of the URL. Dr. Olson’s proper grammar just happened to hose up the website address. 😉

    I’ve read the excerpts and I’m impressed. Sadly, much of this is already common sense to the people whose voices aren’t loud enough to be heard by politicians and parental groups. Hopefully, though, this book can be our voice.

    And on that note, I believe that it’s time to fire a good majority of politicians and government heads, and replace them with people who live in the year 2008. Most of these people are still living in 1960, and a handful are wishing that they were residing in the year 708.

  13. 0
    jdecamp says:

    I can’t wait to read this book. The excerpts are great. Down the road I’ll be confronting these same issues as a parent, so I am glad someone finally did some real research on the issue.
    Thanks Dr. Olson!

  14. 0
    Kommisar says:

    I get asked for a password when I try to access the site with Firefox, so I dusted off IE (blarg) and got a 404 error…

    Did it get “slash-dotted” or something?

    @Dr. Olsen: Thanks for taking the time to produce (hopefully) unbiased and sensible research about this topic (I’ll reserve judgement until I read the book, which I just pre-ordered on Amazon…).

    I think a lot of adults underestimate a child’s ability to separate fact from fiction. I remember a professor who wrote a book (or article, not sure since I can’t even remember the name) who talked about how children develop at a very early age something he called “the magic circle of play”. Inside the ‘circle’, you can pretend to do things that are not ok to do when you aren’t playing, for instance, ‘shoot’ your friends while playing ‘cowboys and indians’.

    It’s always amazed and offended me that, even though kids have been playing violent games since there have been kids, now that the games are on a TV screen instead of running around in the back yard, somehow they suddenly become more of a threat to society.

    I mean… does anyone ever look at two kittens wrestling together and think, “Gosh, they’re going to be killers when they become adult cats”. No.

    But if the kittens were playing a kitten-wrestling game on a playstation… OMG! Killer Cats Training On Feline Murder Simulators! News at 11!

  15. 0
    Nordic says:

    Thank you, Mrs. Olson. I’m always glad to see people tackle this issue with common sense.

    I’ll read the exceperts when I can… the computer I’m on asks me for paswords to enter the site.

  16. 0
    Vagrant says:

    I’ll try to read some of the excerpts sometimes today. I’m very interested to see… well, really anything out of this book.

    Also, good book or not, Dr. Olson gets some major gold stars in my book for coming to GP and entering the discussion.


  17. 0
    Twin-Skies ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    I just hope that those 5-stars are going to be because her book was well-informed, and not because she rubbed us the right way.

  18. 0
    KayleL ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Remember when Cooper Laerance was razed by 1-stared reviews and most people never read he book. It’s going to be the same here with 5-stared reviews.

  19. 0
    Barly says:

    I can’t stop seeing Jack Thompson seething with rage at what he would surely call an ‘amateur, unsubstantiated, jingoist claim by a co-conspirator to the corrupt gaming organization”.

  20. 0
    PaulG ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’m speechless. An intelligent, reasonable and sensible study of video games. I wonder how many Jack Thompsons will point to this while bleating on about research.

    As Blackice says, this woman does deserve a medal

  21. 0
    Aliasalpha says:


    Its not the fanatics we need to convince, the moderates & the uncomitted are the real target because its them that either say “Yeah, he’s right” or laugh their guts up at overblown histrionics whenever Faux news or jacky boy trot out their traditional ‘society has gone to the dogs and [New Thing] is to blame’ litany.

  22. 0
    Murry ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Its good to hear about this book, but due to its unpopular stance I expect it to be ignored and refered to as complete rubbish by the opposition. It would be like a hardcore religious person giving a book about the unlikelyhood of a omnipotent being a serious read with an open mind.

  23. 0
    Coravin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Is it too soon to start up the Hallelujah chorus? I haven’t read anything beyond this article…should be asleep, but now I see why I’m not. It certainly SOUNDS like someone did a study in the real world instead of their own little fantasy realm of videogame-caused evil.

    Is this actual scientific process, with actual studies of actual children playing actual games they actually chose?

    …Yes, that was intentionally repetitive. But I thought scienctific process and reality had both been discarded for the sake of agenda and bias. This use of what looks and sounds suspiciously like it might be “science” has short-circuited some linguistic part of my brain.

    Don’t begrudge us our elation at what even MIGHT be reality intruding upon politically and bad-parentally connected lies. Nobody’s throwing “full support” behind anything, we’re just very enthusiastic gamers startled into optimism by what sounds like clear-headed analysis in an area important to us.

    We already KNOW we’re right, we’re just rolling our eyes until somebody who actually cares to see reality as it IS demonstrates proof to those who don’t know we’re right.

  24. 0
    Twin-Skies ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    As much as it brings me joy to see books like these in the market as a counter-point for the likes of JT and the PTC, I’d have to say I’ll need to read the material first before pumping my fist in the air in euphoric victory.

  25. 0
    Waffles ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Good to see that there are still researchers out there that don’t blow an opinion completely out of their ass.

    I might have to check me out this book.

  26. 0
    GRIZZAM 512 says:

    Hehe…The title is very sensationalist and will lure the anti gamers in…but when they open the book…BLAM! A nice helping of unbaised scientific research and reasoning! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….HA! BRILLIANT!

  27. 0
    LightWarrior ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    That’s what always dumbfounded me during this whole anti-gaming band wagon.

    We all as kids and even kids today are still playing predent games such as Cowboys and indians/Cops and Robbers and even “power rangers” or some form of martal art fighting. By everyone’s claims…these harmless predent games that kids played for genderations are not considered violent. Where something like GTA is just a digital verson of cops and robbers. Granted kids probably shouldn’t be playing GTA but it’s just an example of how harmless things are and the way the anti-game bandwagon spins things all the time…a simple game as predent beat up or cowboys and indians is training our kids to be violent when they grow up.

  28. 0
    Jack Thompson is a douchbag says:


  29. 0
    Asmo ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The sad thing is that what she’s saying is common sense. Kids play all these sort of games, cops v robbers (GTA anyone…), cowboys and indians (although this is probably PC’d out by now) etc because it is unreal and fantastic. That’s the point, it’s a fantasy world which you know isn’t real but you enjoy it nonetheless.

    The people against games are so far divorced from their childhoods that they easily forget that they probably did the same thing.

  30. 0
    Tye The Czar says:

    Wow. I just can’t think of the perfect Team Fortress 2 Cheers thing to use in this.
    Scout: Woo-hoo-hoo!

    @Sidewinder: Or if she’s a member of the ACLU, oy (On issues such as these, you do NOT want to fuck around with them).

  31. 0
    janarius ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dr. Cheryl Olson? Whoa! I happen to read some of her papers for my psychology thesis project (not related to gaming anyway).

    I might as well post the abstracts of her latest journal articles and the ones mentioned in GameCouch in my blog, but don’t expect any of my summaries and comments.

  32. 0
    Falleone says:

    Refreshing. Also, GTA is great just because of that reason the article gave: you can do things that you’d never do in real life. I see no reality in GTA, and I didn’t when I played GTA 3 when I was 14. It was a stress relief from the real world; where I know things like I did in the game were not good things to do if you wanted to have a happy, safe, enjoyable life.

  33. 0
    Buckeye531 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dr. Olsen’s remarks are nothing short of common sense. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to read this book.

    That being said though, cue Thompson, PTC, NIMF, Fox Noise, CSM, and CCFC accusing Dr. Olson of being an idustry stooge and a member of the ACLU in 5…4…3…2…

  34. 0
    dedre ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Holy shit, that sounds so reasonable…let’s hope the public figures don’t just shy away from this because it conflicts with their whole “what about the children” and nanny-state agenda born out of their ignorance from fear of video-games

  35. 0
    GM ace says:

    Good to see my hometown hospital pulling through for us. Not surprising that they’re cool-headed about this, they’ve been getting a shipment of toys from Child’s Play for a few years now, so they probably at least knew going in that gamers weren’t a slavering horde of baby-eaters.

    Hell, I’ll think I’ll give this book a look-see when it comes out. If they’ve done a good job, I shall add it to my bookshelf. No kids of my own, but I have some relatives with young kids that might be interested.

  36. 0
    Bogans ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I love how this book has a sensationalistic title that will get anti-gamers to buy it, and then they’ll realize it is actually contains reasonable pro-gaming arguements.

  37. 0
    Repudiator ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    What is this? More of this nonsense. Guess we’ll have to go book burn- Wait… what?

    This… makes sense? What the fuck? Am I awake?

  38. 0
    Ghost Coins ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    Apologies for the sudden spur of elation and support, but we have felt a bit…entrenched here in the video gaming community. So when something like this comes about, basically re-enforcing damn near everything that has been posited as the failings of the “video-games equal violence” theory, we tend to get a bit excited.
    Truly, we should not be jumping up and down and hailing it until we have examined it, and weighted it for the merit to the person, but, for the time being, let us enjoy an ever so small victory. We’ll share the cake, we promise :-).

  39. 0
    Sir.Jamesgreen says:

    Hmm, we criticise knee-jerk support for any research which does not support the line of argument we follow, yet one book is released contradicting these claims and we’re willing to throw full support behind it despite having no evidence in our hands that it is well written, scientific, or even remotely accurate research.

    An excited wave of “We Were Right!” because one paper pertains to evidence, no matter how compelling in our direction…

    Give Me the same blind faith and I’ll happily prove the existance of a god and the flatness of the earth…

  40. 0
    Zerodash ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I like the term “unreality”- I never understood how anyone could really think they depicted reality, regardless of graphical fidelity. Hell, I would equate games these days to the new action figures. When I was a kid, you enacted epic and “violent” combat in the sandbox with GIJoe figures. Nowadays, the same kind of wars happen on my TV screen (albiet with less creative input from me).

    The anti-games zealots like the term “hyper-reality” which suggests lawnmower man or matrix type immersion. The media loves the idea, but I can’t begin to fathom how anyone would believe in such a concept.

  41. 0
    Unruly ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    That’s a great way of putting it. I say we should prosecute all actors who have handled any weapon in a movie and prosecute them “for the children.” Its what they’re doing to video games, but this one has more factual basis in the “training” than the video game argument does. We can pull it off.

    This study is delicious. You must eat it. Seriously. Eat it, Jack.

  42. 0
    Ghost Coins ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    damn, Garret beat me to the ‘seconded’ claim, but I’ll ‘third’ it, and move to bypass committee, and just mint the damn medal myself. If approved, it will be ready on Friday :-). I’m thinking something akin to the staff or crown of wintereenmas. The “Medal of Winter-een-mas”. I wonder if Tim Buckley would do the honors of drawing one up =-D.

  43. 0
    kurisu7885 says:

    Another vote for a medal.

    Sadly, this research is likely going to vanish under the agenda rug.


    He’ll likely take it on TV and rip it up calling it all lies.

  44. 0
    Canary Wundaboy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Can we get a link to the full paper?
    Including conclusions, basic research lines and authorities?

    Theres a fair few people I want to mail this to.

  45. 0
    chadachada(123) ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The only thing I’m surprised about is that GTA is the favorite series, lol. I mean, i like it sure, but its by no means my “favorite,” and I’m 16

    Still though, damn good study *claps*

  46. 0
    GoodRobotUs ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’ve always considered gaming to be something along the lines of being able to act without having to buy an entire movie crew. Kind of like when you were a child and ran around with your arms out pretending to be a spaceship or airplane. As you get older, your imagination cannot be quite so forgiving, so we use things like movies and video games to help. I suppose saying that someone who plays Grand Theft Auto is likely to go out and commit a crime is about the same as saying Arnie shouldn’t be a governor because there’s a chance he might go out and kill anyone called John Connor, after all, I’m sure he rehearsed the chase hundreds of times, so surely the moment he meets someone called John Connor his ‘training’ is going to kick in, his eyes will glow red and we’re all screwed…..

  47. 0
    BearDogg-X says:

    That book pretty much destroys any statement by any anti-game person, whether it was made by Jack Thompson or by Leland Yee.

    Dr. Cheryl Olson ftw

  48. 0
    Dracis says:

    Wow, I can’t say believe I just read that. Oh, and my vote also for the medal. All I can say is it’s about damn time someone did some decent research and realized it’s a much broader issue.

  49. 0
    Deepminded says:

    I am mother of two gamers. I am also an avid gamer myself who admins a PC game website to boot for eight years. The article and your book only confirms what I have come to learn, and know, over the years in those roles.

    The vast majority of young gamers DO know the difference between “real” and “reel”. The games do help them work through anger, relieve stress and more. Also for many, it’s a way to make friends across the globe while in cooperative play or against another player/s in MP. I remember when the call against too much “TV Violence” turning kids to violence with all the Cop and Cowboy shows….This back in the 50s!

    I am looking forward to telling other about this book and getting a copy for my own library

  50. 0
    Cheryl K Olson says:

    I just clicked on the link above and got a “404 not found” page. Weird. If you search for the book’s title on Google, the book site comes up at the top of the list. Hope that works for you guys.

  51. 0
    BmK ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’ve always said that kids (particularity older kids and teenagers) aren’t as impressionable as people make them out to be. They know not to emulate games like GTA and they know it’s all fantasy and role playing.
    The only kids who are really negatively effected by the games are those with a pre-disposition to violent or aggressive behavior to being with and usually have really shitty parents and bad upbringings in which case even if the games weren’t there for them to play they’d just get their ideas and inspirations from something else, like the violence on the 10:00 news or even the Holy Bible. If anything these games are probably good for older kids and teenagers in some ways by allowing them to release their pent up anger and aggression in a fantasy setting while still knowing that doing these in real life is wrong and stupid.

  52. 0
    Elomin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Great news but I wish this had come out a few months earlier, I could have used it in my Dissertation on the perceptions on video games by all people.

  53. 0
    Coravin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    …because somebody’s bound to say something, reality as we know it consists of videogames NOT being evil destroyers of morality that arm our children and turn them into murderous automatons, nor even a remotely significant factor in any violence committed.

    Since, you know, numbers suggest the exact opposite of videogames promoting criminal children, as do other heavily-gaming nations’ considerably lower crime rates.

  54. 0
    Matthew ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Wait, what? You mean people don’t play games for escapism? You mean they don’t aspire to be like the people they pretend to be in the games? Nonsense. BURN HER.

  55. 0
    JC ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Unfortunately, I fear this book may be damned in some way or some extremists will go nuts and the good doctor a quack or something.
    I’m skeptical myself right now, but it’ll be interesting to see exactly what was written.

    I’m going to laugh if the book makes more sales than Out of Harm’s Way.

  56. 0
    Aliasalpha says:

    This woman isn’t related to the olson (Or is it olsen for them?) twins is she? No matter how sensible and moderate her research appears on face value, I could never support anyone remotely connected to those two freaky little shits.

    On the other hand I would most certainly watch a ‘reasoned debate’ vs ‘wild mudslinging’ match between her & jack.

  57. 0
    JustChris says:

    I like the cover of the book. It’s a nice bait-and-switch trick to people that believe violent games are 100% bad.

    “The series was #1 among boys, and #2 among girls.”

    Surprising to know, that those teen girls are so into GTA. Well, when I was in high school teen girl gamers were hard to come by.

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