Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA), the ultra-popular, ultra-smarmy video game series, opened to killer sales — a record $500 million estimated globally in its first week. According to Daily Tech:
The power of GTA IV… is not merely in sales, but in shock. On top of its extreme violence, usage of profanity, drugs and alcohol the new game pushes the envelope featuring masturbation, fellatio and intercourse — though stopping short of full nudity sex scenes.
Oh, they stopped short of “full nudity sex scenes”. How thoughtful of them. (Read: Full nudity sex scenes aren’t far behind!)
The typical responses ensued. On the one hand are those that cite GTA as further evidence of the decline of western civilization, tilting ever closer toward its censuring. On the other hand are those who staunchly defend its realism (usually rabid gamers), and regurgitate one of two mantras:
- We live in a violent age; GTA just reflects that violence
- GTA (and similar games) doesn’t make people violent
Both defenses contain elements of the truth, which makes their rebuttal even more difficult.
Along the way, a new antagonist has emerged. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is lobbying for a rating change from “Mature” to “Adults Only” for the game. Why? Because in GTA IV players can “drink” at bars and afterwards either (a) hail a cab, (b) walk off their liquor, or (c) drive drunk. When driving drunk, their view blurs and it’s difficult to steer. The player recovers from his inebriation after several minutes in-game. (I’m guessing that those players who don’t mind the “extreme violence, usage of profanity, drugs… masturbation, fellatio and intercourse,” won’t be bothered with taking a taxi.) In response, MADD simply points out that “drinking and driving is not a game.”
So does MADD have a point, or are they just part of the marching moralists trying to curtail our fun?
For starters, very few people reading this will have had a loved one die as a result of a drunken driver. And in all honesty, that matters. Face it, if someone you knew was killed or paralyzed by a drunk driver, your opinion about driving drunk — even video depictions of it — would be radically altered. So, I believe, we need to defer and think deeply about MADD’s objections to GTA IV. We may not agree, but at least we should listen to where they’re coming from.
Secondly, living in a free society will, by nature, produce such controversies. Those who are free to read, think and do what they want, inevitably read, think and do things that offend others. Debating where the limits of those freedoms are, and distinguishing between what is personally repugnant and/or culturally destructive, is a sticky proposition. Unlike countries where strict Islamic Law is imposed, Americans believe people should be given the freedom to do dumb things, dress inappropriately, watch inane TV shows, attend anti-government protests, and vote Democrat. So as much as I might personally dislike GTA IV and its ilk, I must allow that others can partake.
Nevertheless, those who assert that violent images do not negatively influence our youth are flat out wrong. There’s too much research to believe otherwise. Yes, GTA IV is just one of many streams that shape our kids. Heck, a casual reading of the local newspaper will reveal atrocities as heinous as any of those in that video game. However, watching the depiction of a murder (on TV or in film), reading about a murder (whether in fictional novels or factual newspapers), and being able to murder someone — even if it is vicariously through electronic media — are two different things.
Some threshold is crossed when we can tolerate our teens playing video games in which they can have sex with a prostitute, inject heroin, splatter a cop’s brains across the sidewalk and blow up the police station … all in the safety of their own bedroom.