Grand Theft Childhood Author Talks Violent Games, School Shootings

Dr. Cheryl Olson (left), co-author of Grand Theft Childhood, was interviewed about the video game violence issue recently on German television.

The game violence debate, as GamePolitics readers know, has been raging anew in Germany since last month’s horrific school shooting rampage in Winnenden.

Andreas Garbe, who conducted the interview, provides an English translation on his blog. Among other topics, Dr.Olson spoke about the oft-made claim that violent games motivate school shooters:

There is so much publicity about school shootings in the US, Germany and other countries. But a review of the data shows that this type of violence is not increasing – it’s the media coverage of the violence that has gone way up. So, people believe that school violence is much more common than it is. (Your child is actually more likely to be struck and killed by lightning than to be shot at school.)

The Secret Service and the FBI in the US have studied school shootings in an effort to identify a “profile” of potential shooters and prevent these tragedies. They were not able to find a profile. The only thing these shooters had in common was male gender and (often) a history of treated or untreated depression…

Dr. Olson also disputed the claim that school shooters learn to fire a weapon by playing violent video games:

Also, we researched the issue of whether it’s possible to learn to shoot from a video game. Experts told us that it’s actually not difficult to shoot a gun at someone who is not moving, is not shooting back at you, and is not far away from you – even if you have little experience with guns. Media reports on a few school shootings in the U.S. said that these boys had never fired a real gun, but learned only from video games; this turned out not to be true. They had practiced with real guns…

But Dr. Olson believes that video game ratings could be more useful:


One problem with the age ratings is that they don’t tell us about the context or the goals of the violence. Studies on TV violence tell us that the manner in which violence is portrayed could make a child more or less likely to imitate violence. For example, if the perpetrator of violence is appealing and attractive, if no pain or suffering is shown resulting from the violence, or if the violence is shown as humorous, these might increase the risk of imitation.


Age ratings also don’t address other things parents told us were important to them – such as whether violence is done to aliens, zombies or other unrealistic characters vs. realistic humans…

Dr. Olson, herself a parent of teens, tries to put video games in perspective:

It’s important to remember that electronic games are a medium – like books or films. We need to move beyond condemning the entire medium, and focus on the content of individual games. I can trace much of my son’s interest in world history and politics to computer games such as the Civilization and Age of Empires series. Many entertainment games also teach planning and strategy skills.

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  1. gentleminto says:

    The MPAA is worse than the ERSB. Movies which used to have G ratings now have R ratings(Bonnie and Clyde for example).  In fact most movies get an R rating.  In my opinion I think we should get rid of ratings all together. They’re knee jerk reactions at best and borderline communism at worst. It would be best to go unrated and unregulated just like the internet.

  2. Erik says:

    The MPAA’s ratings have done without entering into this insipid level of detail and they have done just fine.  I really think the problem is that parents don’t understand the ratings because they think they can’t understand the ratings.

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  3. BLF Hall says:

     Olson: "age ratings also don’t address other things parents told us were important to them – such as whether violence is done to aliens, zombies or other unrealistic characters vs. realistic humans…"

    Unless I’m confused and its just the bbfc or something, I thought that this was generally a part of game ratings criteria?

  4. JacobAWD says:

    I don’t think she gets the full picture, but at least she isn’t using this as a way to be in the news for a day.


    "The best politician is the one who says what everyone is thinking the loudest."

  5. ZAR says:

    Good interview! Olson at least is a REAL scientist and knows what she is talking about.

    Unfortunately, you won’t see her over here in Germany doing such an interview because our press rather wants to support the "blame game"-campaign of a certain conservative party.



  6. Aliasalpha says:

    Err bowling CLASS? Is this in school? What the hell is that about, do they have to bowl a 150+ game to get a pass, 200+ to get a credit & 250+ to get a distinction?


    Still I can imagine it could be handy if they wanted to kill people with those big round cartoon bombs with the fizzing fuses

  7. olstar18 says:

    Dont forget the two kids at columbine went to only 1 class before the ‘event’ and that was a bowling class. Just think kids learning to shoot guns by throwing a bowling ball at a bunch of little pins.

  8. JustChris says:

    "But a review of the data shows that this type of violence is not increasing – it’s the media coverage of the violence that has gone way up."

    It’s important to distinguish discoveries which change our view of the world and those that ACTUALLY change the world.

    Back in 1900 most people (as well as astronomers) thought the entire universe was just the Milky Way Galaxy. Our universe didn’t suddenly increase in size by a thousandfold over the last century. We developed better instruments that let our prying eyes see more.


  9. Icehawk says:

    When I was a young child before video games, or at least before they were available to the masses (yep I am that old) we used to play war, and cowboys and indians with fake guns and "Kill" each other.  Oddly this never had the effect of making me less sensitive to violence or make me want to go on a shooting spress. 

    Though were a few in school I would have not minded shooting, not because of playing with fake weapons (which did not teach me how to shoot a real one as I found out when I was 12) or playing war as a child but because I did not like them (bullies and such).  Nothing to do with being programmed.   I would think it safe to say that all school age kids run to those they simply do not get along with, the trick is to teach them not to act on those impulses, ie parents/adult guidance. 

    Parents were responsible for their childs actions in minor things like a paying for a broken window and would stand up with them in the more serious ones.   When you lost that due to both parents having to hold down jobs just to survive the children lost more I think.  Thing is all those running around whining about "Think of the Children" rarely do.  They dont take responsibility for that childs actions or well being on a personal level and henseforth are worthy only of scorn. 

  10. djnforce9 says:

    Sure. They already "presented" Pool, Darts, and even Bowling in GTA IV. Now add tennis into the mix :p

  11. Shadow D. Darkman says:

    Whoops, forgot that there sarcasm tag regarding Jack’s brain.


  12. hayabusa75 says:

    Maybe not, but she’s been quoted in a couple of their feature articles in the past.

    "De minimus non curat lex"

  13. axiomatic says:

    So I guess Dr. Cheryl Olson can be sure she will never be invited to Fox News as a panel guest.

  14. Kincyr says:

    I remember when it used to be the other way around. I read on a poster at high school during the ’00-’01 school year that getting shot at school, among other things with low odds, was more likely than getting struck by lightning. a friend of mine sarcasticly remarked it as "reassuring"

    岩「…Where do masochists go when they die?」

  15. DraginHikari says:

    Heh more then likely the reason is because violent media is something within human ability to control.  Lightning… not so much XD

  16. gamadaya says:

    You know, it’s always more likely for you to be struck by lightning than die in this way or that way. My question is, should we start being more worried about lightning?


    Believe in something! Even if it’s wrong, believe in it! -Glenn Beck

  17. Wormdundee says:

     Indeed, and I think she explained the point quite well. The funny part is how she mentions the ‘expert opinion’ that found that shooting a non-moving target from a close target does not require any training at all. The fact that people have to be told this is insanity. It’s common sense.

    The first time I ever fired a weapon that actually shoots projectiles was a BB ‘rifle’. We were aiming at pop cans that were about 10 meters away. Having never fired any sort of weapon before I think I probably got around 75% of the shots to hit a can. Aiming and firing a gun is not rocket science. You line up the gun and pull the trigger.

    I imagine at school shootings they are probably much closer than 10 meters. I mean really, these people are not sniping students from 1.5 kilometers away in high winds or something.

  18. Stealthguy says:

    I think they’re just a bit confused is all, it’s not training so much as becoming proficient. After all, what better way to become a better shot with a pistol than with a mouse or ps3 controller.

  19. State says:

    So people learn to shoot from games? As in put a gun at someone and pull the trigger? What sort of training is required to do that? Just about everyone trained or not could do that, it’s not exactly hard or a skill in shooting someone at point blank range (at distance requires skill). Probably knife crime could be blamed on games too, as in someone learnt and got trained by a game on how to stab someone (instead of people realising that there is no training required for that either).

    Learning to load them and such requires some slight training. It just seems to me that people believe people to be so ignorant that they wouldn’t know how a gun worked and would "learn" from a game. It’s just common sense.

  20. Stealthguy says:

    I think you’re confused, I don’t think Thompson has ever claimed to think before in his life. After all, thinking can lead to developing an imagination, maybe even an opinion. Why have your own opinion when there are so many others just floating around.

  21. Shadow D. Darkman says:

    Cue Jack calling "Doctor" Olson a tool of the industry in 3, 2, 1…

    In Dr. Olson’s defense, as a parent, she is not as ignorant of the "facts" as Jack thinks, or claims, or claims to think.


  22. DraginHikari says:

    They believe if a person never played these games that they would be more senstive to the pain of others and never be able to learn how to fire a gun…

    Pfft, yea right.

  23. Akira420x2 says:

    Theres something I don’t understand, why do people blame video games for school shootings? Its basically the schools themselves that do it, bullying and making fun of students for weight, race, sexuality, or girls rejecting guys. Those are what cause school shootings, and in some cases I see that it is some what justified. But it isn’t video games.

  24. mdo7 says:

    I knew it!!!

    Table Tennis can really make you violent.  I remember my 2 friends playing it and I was watching.  When both of them play aggresively, and every hit on the ball, they become more violent and aggressive.  At the end, they throw their small rachquet and yell in profanity and say to each other "I’m going to kick your ass".  I was right, table Tennis can make you violent.  therefore, we must ban it before everybody will go killing people.


    (end Sarcasm and humor)

  25. Leet Gamer Jargon says:

    ROFLMAO!! Well, you know what that means: ban table tennis!


    Game on, brothers and sisters.

  26. TBoneTony says:

    While I do sometimes think that as some parents who don’t know much about Videogames, they are less likely to even understand the videogame ratings even with all this other information written down for them.


    The most likely answer to her response about how the ESRB could better inform parents about the ESRB and what is in the game can already be answered by the new ESRB wiki system that can detail what is of consern within the game and the detail of how the violence is portrayed.


    Of course if you tried to do that same thing on the box, then it will be too much information to cover…so it is better to stick to the simple things like the E, E10+, T13+ and M17+ for game age recogmendations.


    As an Australian who has the OFLC, I can deffinately say that the ESRB is already as better than the Australian OFLC and I will chose the American ESRB over the Australian OFLC because it is my choise as a gamer and also a (possible) future parent to chose what I want if I ever have kids someday in the future.


    I am so far an Uncle, so that is where I would stand when it comes to Videogame Classification when it comes to my nieces and nephews and also my younger cousins.


  27. Roh02 says:

    y’know the terrible thing is that I as a gamer can never go on a murderous rampage as they would blame it all on my favorite hobby woe is me. *sniffle*

    I’m being sarcastic.

  28. OmegaWarrior says:

    Is there any information on the response she got? 

    The provided link appears to be about midway bankruptcy…

Comments are closed.