Grand Theft Auto video game
December 24, 2002 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Steal cars and kill prostitutes for points The fourth instalment of the popular Grand Theft Auto video game has become the fastest selling title of all time in the UK. In its first five days on the U.S. market, GTA:VC sold 1.4 million copies of Grand Theft Auto. Entertainment Weekly rated it No. 1 on its 10-best-game list for 2002. But unlike most video games, where the player represents a hero struggling against evil, Grand Theft Auto invites players to pose as a vicious criminal named Tommy Vercetti. Tommy earns money for his crimes, which include running over pedestrians, hiring and then murdering prostitutes, and killing other gangsters with guns, Uzis, swords and Molotov cocktails. Unsurprisingly, the game has its critics and protestors. Real life crimes have been linked to it. Well, MeFiers, is a society ever justified in banning something like this video game?
posted by orange swan (39 comments total)
I've played every single GTA except Vice City, because it's not available on PC yet. Personally the GTA series are my favourite games. It's just a game, all my friends love it, and none of us have carjacked anyone, or gone on Gouranga sprees.
posted by riffola at 6:44 PM on December 24, 2002

Where in the game can you kill prostitute for points exactly?

That link is also pretty shakey.
posted by Darke at 6:52 PM on December 24, 2002

Atilla the Hun killed people, and he didn't have Streetfighter/Mortal Kombat/GTA, etc...
It's a shame so many twats jump on the 'violent video games turn kids evil' bandwagon, because behind the hysteria, the concept of interpellation - whereby one's addressing an audience in a certain way, as if the possessed certain tastes and preferences, the audience eventually adopts those tastes and preferences.
The game shouldn't be banned by any means - the events it portrays and the world in which it's set don't map onto reality very well. But, you know, there's a lot to be said for more morally wholesome games which make one think that little bit more. Take Final Fantasy X, for example. When one ignores that you basically slay anyone who gets in your way, it has a pretty natty Buddhist subtext goin' on right 'dere...
posted by RokkitNite at 6:55 PM on December 24, 2002

Err... I just realise that first paragraph doesn't end in a sentence. Damn my illiterate ways! Too many days and nights spent playing Super Mario Sunshine. ^_^
posted by RokkitNite at 6:57 PM on December 24, 2002

My 9-year old son loves the series and I can attest that to this day, he has never run down a pedestrian or shot a prostitute. Hell, I doubt he's ever even HIRED a prostitute. ;-P
posted by mischief at 7:09 PM on December 24, 2002

is a society ever justified in banning something like this video game?

No. Plus, the soundtrack is great.

I gotta admit, though, listening to the radio stations in my own car just isn't the same without casual drivebys.
posted by adampsyche at 7:12 PM on December 24, 2002

I think the world, especially parents, need to realize that video games are not toys. They are a form of media. This realization happened for films, music, and television, and now for games. Parents need to watch the games their kids play, and know that games can be realistic, a long way from Pong. Everytime video games are on TV, the anchors say "Wow, looks a lot better than Pac-Man."

There's also the fact that GTA is an very intricate game that allows you to do anything. It is this freedom that makes many buy GTA.

Also, the prostitutes in the game are not part of any mission. You pay them to get health, and you kill them if you want the money back. But who's doing that? The player. The game just allows you. Same with running over pedestrians.

It is an extremely violent creation. So is GoodFellas.
posted by ALongDecember at 7:30 PM on December 24, 2002

i had to choke back laughter at the link to FOX17 news. a bigger bunch of mouth-breathing cretins would be hard to find in the grand rapids area. yellow sensationalist gossip-mongering parasites. recently some lunatic crackhead opened fire randomly as he walked up the street. he drew down on a young police officer arriving on the scene, who immediately dispatched him via shotgun. before the blood on the pavement was even dry these salivating gore worshippers had found some unemployed 16 year old high school dropout from the hood to dis the cops and claim the shooting was racially motivated. later that week they breathlessly informed thier audience of gullible fools about the exciting "facts" surrounding the mysterious "ghost cat of kalkaska county". wherever elvis next is sighted, wherever there's fear and suspicion to be exploited, wherever there's blatant bullshit to be spread - FOX17 will be there to obfuscate and complicate and prevaricate in the service of its viewing public.
posted by quonsar at 7:35 PM on December 24, 2002

Banning or censoring video games or books or anything will not remove from basic human nature its tendency towards evil. You can't force people to be good, and as the game does mimic, some would argue that committing acts of evil against humanity pays better than committing acts of kindness. In fact we call acts of kindness "charity." And acts against one's own fellow man are given fancier names like "embezzlement" or real cool words like "theft" which would probably look good on a T-shirt.

No. We can't remove from humanity its base instinct to commit horrific acts any more than you could remove its more noble qualities. One can opt to cultivate and encourage one over the other. Perhaps the use of media and entertainment as a vessel with which to channel these crueler tendencies can be a good thing. Better to kill virtual people as opposed to real ones. And perhaps such cultivation only desensitizes the psyche, so when push comes to shove it would be easier for some to turn dark. It's an endless argument that can perhaps never be rectified.

As I type these words, It's A Wonderful Life is playing on television. Again. This time of year it seems impossible to avoid the darn thing. What an obnoxious, smarmy, feelgoody show. Makes some people wanna retch after the 37th time they've seen it.

However, ultimately that's what the show's all about. Is it enough to do the right thing? The main character spends his entire life helping others, when he has his own selfish desires to get out of the crummy town and leave the worries and cares of friends and family behind. Just run away and be selfish just for once. However, at every turn in his life there always seems to be something that stays his hand, and keeps him trapped in Bedford Falls. It just makes him more frustrated and upset and unhappy. Spends his entire life doing the right thing, helping others, and where's it get him? He becomes a white collar ciminal on the run from the law due to one silly mistake. He faces the loss of his family, his profession, everything he spent his life building up, and doesn't see any place to turn but the one guy in the town with all the money, the one guy who wants to see him "run outta town on a rail."

Then he is shown how terrible the world would have been had he not been there to do all those things that his conscience told him to do. Had Potter been able to buy up Bedford Falls without any interference. Had there been no young child to show a druggist his mistake. Had there been no one there to save a child from drowning in the icy cold lake, or show others that there was another way to buy a home or keep their business afloat other than signing their life away to the selfish Potter. Had there been no one there to counteract the selfishness of mankind with selflessness.

Maybe if more people got out their selfish tendencies in computer games, they'd be more selfless towards one another in the real world. Maybe not. Maybe the use of media to explore more selfish tendences of humanity just makes us all potentially that much more selfish. It's hard to say. However, one thing I do know is that history proves censorship only leads to a less joyous and free world. So I'd have to stand in favor of games like Vice City and Quake, because along with that comes Myst and Freedom Force. Video games not only show the dark side of our character, but the rest as well.

We gotta take the good with the bad.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:40 PM on December 24, 2002

you can take the cd out of my cold, dead hand. merry xmas!
posted by condour75 at 7:42 PM on December 24, 2002

I love the video game hysteria stuff that starts off with "this one crime may be related to [whatever game]" then cranks it up with "and this game's sold 1.4 MILLION COPIES!! run for the hills, it's an army of [game]-heads!"

so wait, what you're saying is that 1.4 million people own this game, many more have played it, and one guy went nuts? wonder if he might have gone nuts anyway...
posted by bingbangbong at 7:46 PM on December 24, 2002

I love "freeform" games. Games where you can run around and do what you want. GTA has always been this type of game. It allows you to escape from your life (which although pretty sweet isn't the most exciting thing) and do things which you morally object to but at least you get to try it.

Banning this would be like banning a book for being too violent. Restrict public viewing, restrict access to children, just don't restrict it to responsible people.

Besides in GTA there are consequences for killing people, people try to kill you (including the police).
posted by abez at 7:58 PM on December 24, 2002

Bah. This is a tired issue. Boils down to shitty parents making excuses for shitty parenting when their kids go bad. Violent vids are bad for kids, but only when the vids are raising them. Gimme a break. Next thread.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:01 PM on December 24, 2002

Oh, and check out this, this, and this, for the debates we have already had about this issue. ::yawn::
posted by lazaruslong at 8:05 PM on December 24, 2002

Real life crimes have been linked to it

Copycat crimes are soooo boring. If you can't even think of an original way to break the law, you've no business being a criminal. Become a screenwriter instead.
posted by Fabulon7 at 8:50 PM on December 24, 2002

I love "freeform" games. Games where you can run around and do what you want.

I agree. And I think we can also all agree that they should have put hooker killing in Ultima 7.
posted by frenetic at 8:53 PM on December 24, 2002

Media vs. Media. And a FOX TV show, to add to the delicious ironing:

Meyers: I did a little research and I discovered a startling thing...
There was violence in the past, long before cartoons were invented.
Kent: I see. Fascinating.
Meyers: Yeah, and know something, Karl? The Crusades, for instance.
Tremendous violence, many people killed, the darned thing went
on for thirty years.
Kent: And this was before cartoons were invented?
Meyers: That's right, Kent.

posted by shepd at 9:18 PM on December 24, 2002

VRock 4 life yo!!
posted by rudyfink at 9:22 PM on December 24, 2002

One thing that I'm definitely tired of is the mainstream media's inability to understand what any video game is actually about. Because of this, the GTA games are described in the news in narrow terms that completely miss the point of the game. The game doesn't really "reward" player for hiring prostitutes and then killing them to get their money back. It just so happens that in this game you can hire a prostitute and, yes, you can also kill people and take their money. GTA 3 was said to reward players for killing elderly people... much in the same way.

The various media, especially local television news, will always prattle on about violent video games. If that's what they want to do to get ratings, then I guess we're just going to have to let them do it. They should, however, be held accountable for describing their subject matter accurately. Vice City is not about killing prostitutes. It's a much larger opera of violence that is entertaining because it lets people do all the things that would be ultra cool but obviously morally repugnant.

If only the local news media would look more deeply into issues in order to educate their viewers rather than creating very shallow stories aimed at scaring them. Maybe then we'd have a more educated and wordly populace. I feel sorry for (and am slightly afraid of) people who only get their news over the airwaves through their tv's bunny ears. Jesus, even basic cable has CNN and FOX news, which while not much better than local news, at least give some sort of context and substance for the viewers to chew on.

The real issue here is not violent video games--it's shoddy television made by corporatized television producers who are overworked, overpaid, overvalued, and not really interested in the true common good.
posted by Hammerikaner at 9:22 PM on December 24, 2002

I gotta give a shout out to the old Wing Commander: Privateer here. Probably not the first game to do it but definitely the first one I played that let the morality of play be a matter of strategy. You could be a space pirate and run drugs, blow up merchant ships, steal their cargo, and sell any survivors as slaves (I only sold slaves to the pleasure planets never to the mining or refinery bases).

This would make you an enemy of the local militias, the merchants as well as the confed. But you could make it up to them by going on bounty hunting and patrol missions and blowing up pirates and retros and kilrathi (the alien enemies of the humans). In fact the only faction you couldn't become friendly with was the ultra luddite retros.

Most times you'd slide into one faction or other and stick with it because it was easiest to be either a black hat or a white hat. But it was in theory possible to play a faction neutral, amoral bounty hunter taking sides only where it was convenient to do so.

They don't make 'em like they used to.
posted by wobh at 9:29 PM on December 24, 2002

If video games are outlawed, only outlaws will have video games...

Doesn't the world realize that video games are preparing our minds and reflexes to fight the inevitable war with alien invaders. When they arrive, I'll be ready...
posted by Argyle at 9:30 PM on December 24, 2002

Orange Swan - to answer your question I pose another: what about a video game in which the players represent Al Qaeda members and get points for inflicting mass civilian casualties? And what if this game was marketed specifically to an Islamic target group?
posted by troutfishing at 9:37 PM on December 24, 2002

trout, I believe Flight Simulator sufficed for that purpose. Would you ban that?
posted by condour75 at 10:04 PM on December 24, 2002

It is an extremely violent creation. So is GoodFellas.

Goodfellas is a film created for adults, and has an R rating. GTA is a video game clearly marketed towards adults, and teenagers. Goodfellas hardly glamorized crime or the act of violence. GTA makes killing look cool, and rewards players for killing people in various colorful ways. Goodfellas portrayed mobsters as dirtbags and scum, usually more brutal than smart. GTA portrays the criminal as cool and hip. Lastly, Goodfellas accurately showed that a life of violent crime has it's own set of horrific consequences, and what criminals, in the film, that are not killed by each other, end up in prison, or in hiding. I suspect the ending to GTA is far more glamorous and spectacular.
posted by Beholder at 11:29 PM on December 24, 2002

Have you actually seen Goodfellas? They were definitely hip.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:41 PM on December 24, 2002

Yes, it's an amazing game. The best video game ever, probably. Yes, I've spent uncountable hours playing it. And yes, in small ways, it turns me into a sociopath.

I first played GTA3 at a friend's house. On my way home, I saw a Porsche parked on the street. I actually pulled my car to the side of the road and I was about to get out to steal the Porsche before I came to my senses. This kind of stuff keeps happening to me. I was in a traffic jam the other day, and I almost started driving on the sidewalk to get around it.

Because the game gives you the same kind of freedom you have in real life (the freedom to just wander around and do stuff, instead of being trapped in a linear storyline) and because the game is so much fun, Grand Theft Auto becomes a little dangerous. The lines between gameplay and reality get a little blurred (especially when you spend many hours playing it) and it's hard to remember which behavior belongs in which realm.

Of course the news media gets it all wrong- hyperbole and shock tactics scare people into consuming more news, and of course censorship is not the answer. However, I start to wonder about life imitating art vs. art imitating life anytime I (a non-car-thief-type of person) start to try to steal a car.

I'm pretty sure I would've been thwarted in my attempt to steal the Porsche, though, when I realized that you need a lot more than the triangle button to actually steal a car.
posted by faustessa at 11:56 PM on December 24, 2002

Hey faustessa, you know it's bad when you see a police car, and get ready to try and open the passenger door, then take off with the cop car when the cop gets out to come round to you...

I never realised how much I love the absolute freedom of GTA3 until I started playing Hitman 2 (yesterday) and realised that I can't just go hooning around when I am between missions, I have to just get the next mission.

But seriously, anyone who commits crime based on the things they saw and did in a computer game is pretty unbalanced to start with, and frankly it was probably going to happen sooner or later. I think in many cases it may help relieve people of the homocidal urges - it is good to be able to go into GTA and climb up on the roof of the carpark with a sniper rifle and take out random citizens. You can visualize them as your boss, co-workers and that rude deli guy from the supermarket - all I wanted was the try a piece of the salami before I commited to buying it, was that too much to ask! Jerk.

I can't wait to play Vice City, but seeing as I don't have a PS2, it may be some wait. In the meantime, I will have to satisfy my urges on the street!

Also, I don't advise beating up real hookers to get your money back, they tend to watch each others back's and, frankly, it's not easy to fight off 6 cheap hookers - for a start the perfume is almost overpowering!
posted by sycophant at 2:03 AM on December 25, 2002

Zachsmind - you may think It's A Wonderful Life is "an obnoxious, smarmy, feelgoody show" but you could also read it as showing the hell that lurks just beneath the surface of contemporary America, a hell that is only restrained by collective action. Watching this week the overwhelming feeling is that we all do live in Pottertown. Potter won. There is a bitter, possibly subversive edge to the 'feelgoody' element.
posted by rolo at 3:43 AM on December 25, 2002

Well, there are a lot of media links between real life and media violence. But not that many with video games (that I know of).

But I do know Jet Set Radio and it's sequel have made me really want to graffiti up some stuff. And I'm sure playing games like Gran Tourismo makes me actualy drive faster.

But GTA is diffrent. Unlike Grafiti and speeding, people have a huge narual inhibition preventing them from stealing cars and running over people, and have already bulit up blocks preventing them from doing it.

It would be an intresting thing to study.

That said, you don't actualy need to be violent in the game. In fact, the more violent you are, the harder the game becomes (as your wanted level goes up).
posted by delmoi at 5:42 AM on December 25, 2002

So i can explain my horrible insane driving habits on the fact that i played pole position as a kid (or the fact i live in boston). With a game that sold 1.4 mil copies if it was really having an effect on people we wouldn't see 1 person go batty, we'd see 1000 or 10000 people go batty.
As a culture we are MUCH more decencitized then we used to be, but that's as much a fault of the media, capitolism, and human behavior as it is of videogames. At this point you can't really fight it, you can just try and understand what it means and how it will make us behave.
posted by NGnerd at 6:22 AM on December 25, 2002

Since I started playing the GTA series of video games, I've noticed that I'm killing three, four, sometimes five more people a week than I did before I started playing. Although the initial killings could be blamed on other, unrelated factors, such as violent films, books, television programs, plays or human nature, I think the increase in my killing can be directly linked to GTA.

Even if we have, as a society, created an environment where killing is cool and often rewarded, I think we should blame this latest marginal increase in level of violence instead of the long-standing and underlying problems which cause such content to manifest itself. I think I'll call a television panel discussion show featuring actors, models and faux doctors so I can air my grievances.

Well, I could do that, or I could kick back and play a video game (or read a book, or watch a movie) and realize that things aren't getting worse, they're only changing, and the same values which we are so completely leveling today are the same ones that we, as a society, defined yesterday.
posted by mmcg at 6:02 PM on December 26, 2002

You know, it's funny. The press never talks about video games where the whole point is to save the world, or to become the emobodiment of good.

Anyone remember "Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar" ? The whole point of that game was to live the most virtuous life possible. You had to give to the poor, save the damned, and NOT steal from the blind shopkeeper(among other things). There are a lot of games out there that reward people for being "good". It's unfortunate that the press is more concerned with sensationalism that it is with depicting reality.

And speaking of violence: What about "America's Army"? Hello? It's a game about killing people paid for with YOUR TAX DOLLARS. (assuming you're USian, of course. Yeah, I know -1 to US centric)
posted by jaded at 6:13 PM on December 26, 2002

every time you jack a car, a hooker gets her wings.

god bless you quonsar, mmcg and mefi'ites, one and all.
posted by lescour at 7:58 PM on December 26, 2002

Well, MeFiers, is a society ever justified in banning something like this video game?

To what end, I'd ask. To stop people from doing the crimes that are featured in the game, that happened before the game? I'd think that...zzzzzzz
posted by holycola at 9:40 PM on December 26, 2002

I work in a branch of the largest computer games store in the UK. When Vice City came out, all we had were eight year old kids coming in off the street with their piggy banks trying to by it.

It's an 18 rated game, same as Goodfellas is an 18 (R) rated film; there's a reason.

Fact is, we get parents coming in, too, buying PS2 consoles for their eight year olds. They say "Hi. My son would like a PS2 and Grand Auto Theft City Vice for Christmas. could I have one please?"

I have to ask, contractually, how old their son is. Usually 8-12. I say, "GTA Vice City is an 18 rated game, for a reason. I have to tell you that, to increase your health in the game, you can hire a prostitute, sleep with her in your car, pay her, then beat her over the head with a baseball bat until she's dead to get your money back."

The faces I get are priceless. You'd be surprised how many parents don't even consider what they're buying their children.

"But the box looks cartoon-ey!"

"Yes, Madam, I know. But the game's content is quite graphic. I suggest that you buy it, and give it a spin yourself. You have until January the 12th to bring it back, if you like."

Three days has been the longest I've waited for a pay-play-return mother. Each time, they have been greeted, on entering the store, by my surprised face.

And yes, like real life, you have the freedom to choose between doing good and doing bad. Collecting little hearts or fucking over streetwalkers. However, unlike real life, the only way to succeed is by commiting crime and being a generally nasty person. And the consequences for doing so are practically nonexistant.

GTA Vice City is not turning children into preteen homicidal monsters. I grew up on Duke3D, GTA1, etc. But there are better habits to condone and instill into them.
posted by armoured-ant at 11:43 PM on December 26, 2002

From the "Protestors" link:

"I'm for freedom of speech but … Grand Theft Auto is heinous," Washington Post columnist Mike Wilbon said on ESPN's live commentary show, Pardon The Interruption. "The people who put it together should be stoned in the street."

If I don't stop thinking about all the things that are wrong with this statement, my head's going to explode.
posted by Samsonov14 at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2002

GTA inspired carjackers terrorise North London. It is believed police trapped them by mounting a four foot high rotating neon heart outside Marks and Spencer.
posted by grahamwell at 8:45 AM on December 27, 2002

If GTA Vice City wasn't around for hooligans to take their cues from it would be something else. It's an excellent game, although like RokkitNite I'm getting my current jollies from super mario sunshine, courtesy of Nicholas Christmas.
posted by nthdegx at 10:29 AM on December 27, 2002

And yes, like real life, you have the freedom to choose between doing good and doing bad. Collecting little hearts or fucking over streetwalkers. However, unlike real life, the only way to succeed is by commiting crime and being a generally nasty person.

Well put. GTA is "R" rated. We don't even have an "R" rating on games in Australia. Obviously, it's about time we did. Games should rated in the same way as movies. Adults should understand the ratings system and choose games for their children accordingly.

I see this as partly a problem of public perception. Middle-aged people who don't play games quite often assume that all games are made for and suitable for children. However more and more adults are buying games.
posted by lucien at 2:17 PM on December 27, 2002

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