In the preceding GamePolitics article we covered University of Michigan Professor Brad Bushman's criticism of Grand Theft Childhood.
The book, written by Harvard researchers Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, downplays the effects of video game violence on adolescent behavior.
We also contacted the authors for comment on Bushman's attack on Grand Theft Childhood. Dr. Cheryl Olson shared these thoughts (and provided several of the links):
I don’t mind other researchers criticizing my work as long as they don’t engage in personal attacks... Brad Bushman is absolutely entitled to air his views.
Unfortunately, Dr. Bushman has some of his facts mixed up. In the 2001 Surgeon General’s report on youth violence, exposure to TV violence was actually near the bottom of the list of influences on real-world violence – so low that it was relegated to an appendix!
He theorizes that teens are more likely to identify with video game characters than TV or movie characters. That’s plausible, but I could just as easily argue the opposite; boys told us repeatedly in focus groups that they enjoying taking the bad guy role in a video game specifically because they don’t want to behave that way in real life. Also, because video games require active control and participation, players are constantly reminded that the game is merely a game.
Dr. Bushman’s statement that video games directly reward violence is only partly accurate; anyone who actually plays video games knows that players are not always rewarded for acting violently, and in fact are often penalized immediately or later on (even in parts of Grand Theft Auto IV). The content and consequences in video games are extremely varied, which is one reason that studying their influence is so difficult.
Finally, regarding his experimental study of Dutch teenagers playing a game for 20 minutes in a lab: Those teens are fully aware that no researcher will allow them to act in a way that causes permanent physical harm to someone. Dr. Bushman may be a bit too credulous – a view that is supported by a quote from that Surgeon General’s report.
Co-author Dr. Lawrence Kutner added: