Dr. Lawrence Kutner on the Myths about Youth Violence and Violent Video Games

The Huffington Post serves up a video of Dr. Lawrence Kutner discussing what he calls the myths about violent video games and his research on the links between video game violence and youth violence.

Kutner is nationally recognized clinical psychologist who trained at the Mayo Clinic and teaches at Harvard Medical school, where he's co-founder and co-director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media. He's also the president of Health Communication Consultants, Inc.

IGDA Urges New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Veto S2715

The IGDA and its New Jersey Chapter have written a letter to Governor Chris Christie (R) strongly encouraging him to veto S2715 – or as the group calls it, "the New Jersey Video Game Disinformation law." The IGDA urges Gov. Christie to veto the law because it provides "false and misleading information to the people of New Jersey" and because it could expose the state to lawsuits "if the state fails to propagate a full and accurate assessment of the research into video games."

Chris Ferguson: No Good Evidence that Video Games Contribute to Violence Among Youth

Kotaku points out that Chris Ferguson, who you may know better as the professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M University who often argues against the idea that violent video games have a causal effect to violent behavior in the real world, has written a small bit of commentary over at Time Magazine's web site.

IGDA Statement on SCOTUS Decision

The International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) issued a statement today condemning the censorship of video games, in a show of support to the industry in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to review Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association, 08-1448 this fall.

Boy Won’t Stop Playing Games, Mom Calls 911

The refusal of a 14-year old to turn off his videogame system in the wee hours of the night resulted in his mother calling 911.

The Boston Herald has the story, which begins with 49-year old Angela Mejia noticing a light on in her son’s room around 2:30 AM on Saturday, hours after she apparently told him to go sleep. Finding him playing a videogame, she called 911 rather than simply turning off the videogame console. Police responded, told the boy to “Chill out” and to “Go to Bed,” which the boy then did.

The boy was playing a version of Grand Theft Auto, which the mother, further demonstrating her lack of prowess in the parental arena, rightfully disapproved of. Mejia said she has no problem with sports videogames, but said about GTA, ““I would never buy that kind of video. No way.”

Grand Theft Childhood co-author Lawrence Kutner even weighed in a quote for the piece, saying, “Clearly, it’s a very, very rare situation for someone to call the cops. That she went to the extreme of calling the police tells me more about her level of frustration than anything else.”

|Image via FailBlog|

Activision Pairs with Dr. Olson on Game Education Initiative

Activision Publishing Inc. has linked up with Dr. Cheryl Olson in a bid to enable parents and teachers to “optimize” children’s videogame experience.

Dr. Olson, no stranger to this site, is co-director of the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games.

The partnership will result in a series of seven videos posted on Activision’s Ratings Are Not a Game website. The first two are already up:  Using Videogames to Teach Problem Solving and Planning and How Can I Tell if a Game is Appropriate for My Child and How Do I Set Play Limits.

Dr. Olson stated, “These videos give practical research-based advice on how to help your kids–and your family–get more out of video games, and how to watch for and limit electronic game play.”

In related news, Dr. Olson’s husband and co-author of Grand Theft Childhood, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, has been appointed Executive Director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

Grand Theft Childhood Authors To Appear on Penn & Teller Bullshit

Dr. Cheryl Olson, co-author of Grand Theft Childhood, dropped GamePolitics a line to say that she and her husband/writing partner Dr. Lawrence Kutner will appear in an upcoming Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode which examines the video game violence controversy.

As we reported last September, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson was also interviewed for the show.

A Penn & Teller producer indicated that the game violence episode would likely air in the summer, but could not provide a specific date.

Penn Jillette twittered briefly about the filming of the episode earlier this week:

We’re taping "Video Game Violence" BS. A first-person shooter game where you get to be BS "Penn". My Father-in-law got to get shot.

Olson also mentioned to GP that a Korean language version of Grand Theft Childhood is being published.

Gaming’s Most Politically Fascinating People of 2008

It’s Game Over for 2008, a year full of fun, excitement and more than a bit of controversy for the video game community.

A couple of weeks back we looked at the Top 15 Stories of 2008. Today GamePolitics presents the most politically fascinating people of the year:

15. Politicians Who Play – The mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma is a gamer. So is the mayor of the Anzin Saint-Aubin in France. Both were elected in 2008, a year which saw more gamers hold political office than ever before. Hard to believe? Check out our coverage of gamer-politicos.

14. Sarah Palin – While she’s not a politican who plays video games, game designers can’t seem to resist the controversial Governor of Alaska. During her failed vice-presidential bid Palin was the subject of so many online games that we actually lost count. Big-time game publishers cashed in on Palin-mania as well. A Palin character was featured (along with Barack Obama) as DLC for Mercenaries 2. Maxis created a Palin creature for Spore and featured the world’s best-known hockey mom dancing in a bikini in a trailer for The Sims 3. And, even with the election in the rear-view mirror, Palin’s hunting habit was lampooned this week by PETA. Personally, I even got into bit of a tiff with David Jaffe over Palin. In retrospect, I think I was too rough on the God of War designer.

13. Brad Wardell – While the big-time publishers continue to alienate their loyal PC customers with intrusive DRM schemes, delayed release dates and silly threats to abandon the platform altogether, Brad Wardell, CEO of boutique publisher Stardock (Sins of a Solar Empire) is one guy who is actually thinking about ways to provide PC gamers with a better experience. The Gamer’s Bill of Rights that he and Gas Powered Games CEO Chris Taylor released at PAX 08 was a bold, if preliminary, step in the right direction. We also love what Randy Stude and the members of the PC Gaming Alliance are doing to keep computer gaming alive.

12. Wafaa Bilal – In an effort to show his belief that American foreign policy actually encourages terrorist recruitment, Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal’s controversial Virtual Jihadi game puts the player in control of a reluctant suicide bomber who must target President Bush. The game was at the center of a free speech controversy when Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in upstate New York invited him to display Virtual Jihadi but abruptly un-invited him when campus Republicans protested. Bilal (left), a naturalized American citizen, then set up shop in a small, off-campus art gallery, but Republican city officials closed the place down, dubiously citing building code violations. The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the city.

11. Hal Halpin – Yes, some will criticize Hal’s selection since the Entertainment Consumers Association, which he heads, is the parent company of GamePolitics. But the ECA represents the first organized movement to protect and nurture the interests of the gaming public, so it’s impossible to ignore. What Hal started in late 2006 really gained momentum in 2008. This year the ECA lobbied on behalf of game consumers and took positions on important issues like Net Neutrality, EULAs, Universal Broadband and game censorship.

10. Cooper Lawrence – The author of fluffy books about dating and celebrities clearly had no idea what she was stepping into when she smeared RPG hit Mass Effect during a Fox News-orchestrated video game beatdown in January. Thankfully, Spike TV’s Geoff Keighley was on hand to provide some rational counterpoint. Lawrence’s ridiculous comments about the best-selling Xbox 360 title were widely reported in the gaming press. Outraged gamers took guerilla revenge by flocking to Amazon.com where they trashed listings for Lawrence’s books with one-star reviews. In the end it turned out that Lawrence was completely unacquainted with Mass Effect and relied instead on a lurid Fox News briefing, a fact which she later admitted to the New York Times. Whether or not one approves of the tactics employed against Lawrence, the episode provided an object lesson for the mainstream media: Gamers will not sit idly by while they and their hobby are slandered. (more after the jump)

Pennsylvania Task Force Says NO to Video Game Legislation

There is good news out of Pennsylvania today, as the commonwealth will apparently not pursue video game legislation.

A working group assigned by the Pennsylvania legislature to study the video game violence issue has strongly recommended that no laws regarding video game content should be enacted.

The Task Force on Violent Interactive Video Games began meeting in November, 2007 and has just released its findings. The group emphatically recommends that the Pennsylvania General Assembly not pursue video game content legislation. Indeed, the language used by Task Force leaves no room for doubt as to its view:

The General Assembly must avoid enacting restrictive legislation similar to those that have been invalidated by the Federal courts.

The Task Force also called for more research into the effects of games on young people and suggested that legislators fund a program to educate consumers about video game issues.

Among those who testified before the Task Force are some familiar names:

  • Patricia Vance, ESRB
  • Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner, authors of Grand Theft Childhood
  • Dr. Patrick Markey, Villanova University

Task force members included Markey, as well as a pair of well-known First Amendment lawyers, Clay Calvert and Robert Richards. Representatives from the ESA, MPAA and RIAA also participated. Asked about his impressions of the task force and its work, Markey told GamePolitics:

The task force members had extremely different backgrounds — experts on First Amendment issues, social science, clinical psychology and members of  the game industry, law enforcement, and parents.  I was the only member who was a  social scientist.  My main job was to discuss violent video game research (pros and cons). 


Although there were disagreements at times, I think the members of the task force worked together extremely well and came to a fairly "common sense" conclusion.

GP: The 69-page report is a document you will likely want to have a copy of. It does a nice job of summarizing the research and legislative issues surrounding violent games and also has a handy listing of the federal court challenges to various state laws. For your copy, click here.

Psychiatrist (and GP reader) Takes Issue with Grand Theft Childhood

Gamers and the video game industry were cheered earlier this year by the release of Grand Theft Childhood. The book, written by a pair of Harvard researchers, Cheryl Olson and Laurence Kutner, basically said that fears about the effects of games on children are largely overblown (see: Researchers’s New Book Cuts Through the Negative Hype About Video Game Violence). In fact, the book was so well-received in the game community that the authors were invited to present at PAX 08 in Seattle.

Not everyone in the field agrees with Olson and Kutner, however. Dr. Jerald Block, an Oregon psychiatrist and professor, works with patients suffering from video game addiction. He also happens to be a longtime reader of GamePolitics. Block’s review of Grand Theft Childhood appears in November’s Psychiatric Times, where he criticizes Olson and Kutner’s perspective on game addiction:

The authors report being consulted by the mother of a 22-year-old man who is “addicted” to video gaming. The authors conclude, “Clearly, the young man had some major problems. The obsessive video game play was much more likely a symptom than the root cause.” Kutner and Olson do not seem to understand that while the computer use can often be a symptom of other disorders, it can also be a serious, self-perpetuating problem in its own right. The computer use is often an early defense against despair, but it can also socially isolate, perpetuate false feelings of power, and socially de-skill people; it can become its own source of pain and isolation…

Block also touches on the Shawn Woolley case:

In another example, the authors discuss, by name, a man who shot and killed himself in front of his computer. They dismiss the event on the basis of a magazine article that reported on it. They write, “It’s much more likely that his obsessive video game playing was a reflection of his other, more profound problems… and not the root cause of his suicide.” Having discussed the suicide with the man’s mother at several conferences, I found Kutner and Olson’s synopsis disturbingly trite and inaccu-rate. Moreover, the ethical breach of publishing the man’s name and speculating as to his diagnosis from afar was disturbing…