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.