As Grand Theft Auto IV hits shelves today, parents and political pundits will be sure to debate the effect of the new installment of the game—that has frequently been seen as controversial due to its portrayal of violence—on teenage behavior.
But in their recently published book Grand Theft Childhood, Medical School Professors Cheryl K. Olson and Lawrence A. Kutner say that this link may be more tenuous than previously thought.
In 2004, Olson and Kutner began a $1.5 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice to tease out the connection between the two variables. They found that video games do not affect all children equally and that the effect on behavior is not solely dependent on violence, gore, or sex.
Olson said that gaming—including playing “M”-rated games—is such a widespread teenage phenomenon that it should not be considered abnormal.
“A moderate amount of violent game play is unlikely to hurt you,” Olson said. “You just need to have some balance.”
Olson and Kutner found that the Grand Theft Auto series is the most popular game among teenage boys, and students said that it is extremely well-received among the college-aged population as well.
“Scintillating social portrait,” said Gregory R. Scruggs ’08. “Everything is either a parody, a satire, or kind of a dig at aspects of culture. Absolutely brilliant piece of work.”
Students also expressed disbelief that violent video games can cause aggression, instead viewing gaming as a means of escapism.
“I don’t particularly think there’s a huge link between violent video games and violence in the real world,” said Jeremy M. K. Raper ’08. “Some people might even be able to get [aggression] out through violent video games rather than taking it out in the real world.”
For college students, Olson said that the main risk of Grand Theft Auto is simply getting too wrapped up in the game.
“If you’re a college student, don’t start to play unless you’ve got a number of hours of free time,” she said. “You might screw up your exams.”