Do you have someone on your Christmas list who's begging for the newest "Grand Theft Auto" video game? Fifth in the popular series, the game was released just in time for Santa Claus to get it under the trees this year. It's expected to be a hot seller, and that's sad, because the "Grand Theft Auto" video games have led to something brutally sinister in real life -- it's called the "knockout game" and police say the dangerous game is being "played" by youths across the country. If you haven't heard of it, let me explain how it works.
One person challenges another to knock out a random person on the street. This can be in the form of hitting, punching, or kicking. The assault is recorded on a cell phone and is then posted on YouTube where gamers vie for who executed the "best" knockout. I found one chilling assault that showed a woman falling face first onto the pavement, after being hit from behind. More than half a million people had already watched her being assaulted on YouTube.
This so-called "knockout game" that has gained popularity through the Internet simulates the video game "Grand Theft Auto," where players assume the roles of thugs who, as part of the game, randomly knock people to the ground. If you've ever played the video game, then you know that shooting and carjacking drivers are additional thrills.
Knowing about these simulated random attacks, I was shocked to read a new report from the American Psychological Association proclaiming, "playing video games, including violent shooter games, may boost children's learning, health and social skills."
According to the APA, Dutch researchers found playing these video games did the following:
* Improved cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception; enhanced abilities to problem solve;
* Enhanced a child's creativity and;
* Promoted social connectedness by allowing players to compete in virtual social communities.
If you're hoping to get "Grand Theft Auto V" for Christmas, be sure you look up their research and e-mail a copy of it to Santa. He might still believe the decades of research warning about the negative effects of gaming. Most recently it was reported that Sandy Hook Elementary School gunman Adam Lanza was a huge fan of "Grand Theft Auto." I don't know about you, but I hardly think that is a positive endorsement for the game.
You don't have to look far to find studies suggesting violent video games lead to aggression. And yet now we have the journal "American Psychologist" telling parents there's an upside for playing violent video games.
Perhaps the psychologists and researchers are just too busy to check out the latest crazes on YouTube. If they do, they'll realize that the virtual -- and real worlds -- DO intersect, and sometimes in very dangerous ways.
Gail Huff is a reporter at WGBH-TV. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.