30th December 2008

Grand Theft Childhood – Review

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Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do
Authors: Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D. and Cheryl Olson, Sc.D.
April 2008

I have mixed feelings about Grand Theft Childhood – it was not what I was expecting in a book whose subtitle offers help to parents who don’t know very much about video games, yet it was in its own way very in-depth and in the end, I can see it being helpful to uninformed non-gaming parents. While the studies and procedures are valid – the authors spend the first four or five chapters quantifying their research and comparing previous studies done by others – I feel that they rely too much on the processes and not enough on the advice they promised, which they don’t get to until Chapter 9.

Throughout the book, the authors show that kids are much smarter than we give them credit for when it comes to reality versus game environment. While there is that small percentage of the population who are effected by extenuating circumstances, that percentage is very small even when the playing of violent video games is added into the equation.

There is also a chapter about the government trend of trying to restrict or ban violent video games, and another on the rating system. As with every generation, there has to be some form of media which is adversely influencing our children, and this generation’s bad boy is video gaming. I was pleased to see that an abundance of feedback from the kids who were studied was included in this book – who better to help parents understand the attraction of video games than the kids who play them?

All in all, the book in and of itself is good – it dispenses usable information and in the end does offer advice and a chance for understanding to parents. I just found it unfortunate that the bulk of the first four or five chapters read more like a standard clinical report than a “self help” book. The end message of the book is one which hopefully readers will take to heart, particularly if they are parents – be involved with your kids. If you don’t understand the gaming and computing culture, then educate yourself. Grand Theft Childhood is a good starting point, and parents will find many ideas for topic starters if they are not game-savvy. Grand Theft Childhood is also a very useful source of information for those work within the game development industry, and even with the reservations I’ve voiced above, I still recommend it as a decent read.

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