In the media over the last couple of days there have been several commentators calling for Rockstar‘s latest Grand Theft Auto incarnation to be banned in the UK after it was banned in Thailand after someone murdered a taxi driver and claimed to have been influenced by it.
According to Captain Veerarit Pipatanasak of the Bangkok police, “he wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game”. Fair enough.
Following this, though, the standard comments appear from columnists, broadcasters and self serving do gooder groupies about how kids are being turned into mass murderers by games that feature realism in terms of driving, shooting or explosions.
Even if games are an influence on people, which I suppose in some ways they are, it’s as if other forms of “acceptable” media such as books and television are not influential. I mean, those that shot JFK, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan and Martin Luther King all had copies of and were heavily influenced by The Catcher in the Rye. Is it banned? Nope. Is there an outcry about it? Nope. They even study it in school in the US.
Movies are full of explicit criminality these days. I suppose they always were. Even at a rating of 12A the latest Batman incarnation – The Dark Knight – features people having their cheeks sliced with a knife and someone having a pen smashed through the middle of their forehead within the first 20 minutes, as well as a far more influential villain in the Joker who makes it fun to blow up hospitals, burn people alive on bonfires, disguise innocents as terrorists to cause friendly fire deaths and induce fear with Catch 22 mind games where the outcome is death if you don’t kill loads of other people.
Some say Heath Ledger died due to his role as the Joker which I find somewhat ironic. Without wishing to go into a critique on this film (which I thought was a good film), there were also plenty of incidents of grand theft auto and other crimes involving vehicles as well as weapons including a rocket launcher.
So why then has Grand Theft Auto 4 (a game rated as 18) been slammed constantly by people for being too violent and/or influential when The Dark Knight has just as much violence and is rated as only a 12A?
I believe part of it is down to the antisocial stereotype that comes with owning a games console. Nintendo have broken this stereotype somewhat with the Wii, but it’s the only console that is seemingly exempt from it. Its just a shame almost all the games for it are crap.
Since video gaming became mainstream in the mid 1990′s with the Commodore Amiga, Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo, there has always been an older generation of people that didn’t have video games as a kid and look down at gaming as being a strange solo activity. They have no concept of multiplayer games or gaining enjoyment from playing games that are remotely realistic. Apparently if it’s cartoony then it’s OK, though.
But people of this distant generation seem to think that in order to play GTA 4 you have to have ambitions similar to the main character of the game. Not true. It’s just a character around which the storyline is based. If the suggestion is that people want to get guns because of GTA 4 I would argue that people who are determined to get guns already have one.
Some people suggest that people buy GTA 4 because it teaches them how to steal cars but really this just shows their own lack of knowledge and acceptance of media scaremongering as fact. GTA 4 doesn’t teach you how to commit real world car theft: it merely provides a means to get a new car. You press the yellow button on your Xbox 360 controller. It’s hardly the same, is it? Gone in 60 Seconds probably teaches you more about it in the real world, but nobody ever mentions that.
Realistic video games are all about doing fun or crazy things you couldn’t or wouldn’t do in real life. It’s about being part of the action rather than a spectator. For example in FIFA 2008 you can be a Premiership footballer. In Project Gotham you can drive fast and recklessly in cars of your dreams. In NBA Live 2008 you can be Kobe Bryant.
In GTA 4 you can be a common criminal involved in a battle of mafia-style families. You can steal a helicopter and fly freely around Liberty City, land it wherever you want, even jump out of it in mid air. You can drive a high performance car up a large number of ramps to complete crazy stunts such as barrel rolls. You can be a law enforcement officer and settle the most wanted list. You can even cruise round in a fire engine blasting the water hose at people if you want to.
The best thing is that unlike many games which are heavily scripted, GTA 4 isn’t. The city is amazingly realistic and you have freedom to do whatever you want within the city. Whilst the storyline is finite, the game never ends until you get bored. Which is generally when you complete the storyline.
Rockstar have combined three popular genres with GTA. Driving and roleplay with a bit of first person shooter (FPS) in there as well. The driving aspect is modelled so that each vehicle drives individually and as you might expect it to drive in the real world. So a sports car is both fast and handles sharply whereas a large American style lowrider drives like a boat.
Some might suggest that those that have played GTA 4 would want to get in their car and run over a pavement of pedestrians. I obviously haven’t done it (although some crazy Japanese guy did recently), but it is impossible to re-enact a GTA 4 pedestrian steamroller scenario in real life anyway. In GTA 4 you can mow down the entire centre of Liberty City (modelled on Times Square), suffer no damage to your car, attract no police attention and even if you do it’s really easy to get away from them. In real life all you have to do is shine a laser pen at a police vehicle for 4 months behind bars.
Police chases are something that people love: look at the popularity of the Police, Camera, Action fly on the wall cop shows or indeed most action movies. But unless you’re a criminal in real life, you probably wont ever be involved in one. Unlike movies though, where you only spectate whilst John Travolta is hammering it in his TVR Tuscan in Swordfish, you can be the one being chased in GTA 4 and it’s up to your own driving skill and ingenuity to get away. Personally I think whilst I’m able to enact this in a video game I’m less likely to want to do it in real life.
Many people that have no interest in gaming often claim that video games are for kids but this is yet another completely unfounded statement based on nothing at all. I don’t even agree that controversial console games such as GTA 4 are marketed to kids even though the media likes to tell us that they are. Ian Collins on talkSPORT commented that GTA 4 had cartoon-like packaging and therefore was marketed at children. Rubbish. It’s just a style of art. He then admitted that he bought a Playstation “to play Space Invaders”. Right.
A recent survey was done by Experion group to find out the facts about Xbox 360 and PS3 owners. It concluded that the average age of Xbox 360 owners is between 35-44 and of PS3 owners is over 44 years old.
I’m pretty sure software developers are aware of this demographic. Since GTA 4 is only out on these two consoles why would they market the games at kids? The answer is they wouldn’t unless it was a game actually designed for kids.
People often overlook the fact that Rockstar really didnt need to advertise this game. Call it viral advertising or whatever but everyone knew it was coming out and it was much anticipated. This was proven by the fact that it outsold all movies ever with something like $500million of sales within the first week of release.
Maybe if those people in the media that have so much to say about games such as GTA 4 actually went and played it they would realise that it’s nothing more than a realistic city with no limits. It’s up to the player how they want to play it.