Civilization sinks still lower this week with the release of Grand Theft Auto 4--the latest in the multi-billion dollar video game series that immerses players in a virtual world of depravity, violence, lawlessness and mayhem. The parent company Rockstar may market and sell the game to "adults," but GTA still tops the list of the most played video games among 12-14 year old boys, and it is the second most played video game among 12-14 year-old girls, according to a poll conducted by a research team hired by the game's "authors" and cited today in a Washington Post business column.
How can that be? How can a game marketed and sold to "adults" be so accessible to middle schoolers?
The problem is parents. (For more, see Chapter 4 in The Death of the Grown-Up: "Parents Who Need Parents.")
"If you let your child play this game, you're a bad parent," said Lazlow Jones, one of the game's writers. "The thing is, Rockstar does not want kids playing this game."
"Rockstar does not want kids playing this game." But parents do!
Welcome to the abyss.
The Post column doesn't get very specific about why parents should listen to Rockstar's advice, mentioning only generic "blood," "intense violence," "partial nudity," "strong language," "strong sexual comment." While this should be more than enough to steel parents to bar Junior from GTA, I happened across the British Board of Film Certification's assessment, which offered plenty of more vivid reasons for Junior (and the rest of us) to stay far away. Here is what the BBFC reported:
This fourth generation of the series has players taking on the role of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European who comes to the United States in search of the 'American Dream', only to find the reality of his new life far from what had been promised. It has been rated '18' for strong violence, very strong language, very strong sex references and drugs use.
Violence is a central theme of the game, with the character able to engage on missions which invariably involve killing in return for money and other in-game rewards. The character can gain use of a variety of weapons including machine guns, Molotov cocktails, a serrated knife and a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Injuries and death are shown with blood including blood projected onto nearby walls, windscreens and the camera lens. The character is able to attack and kill any other character in the game, including 'innocent' non-player characters, although this carries a strong risk of being pursued by the police providing a negative consequence for such action.
The game includes several uses of very strong language, (eg 'c**t', 'motherf**ker'), and frequent use of strong language (eg 'f**k'). The very strong language occurs within 'cut scenes' in which the story and character development take place, in spoof television episodes and during a stand up comedy routine.
Sex references also occur during cut scenes, including strong references to sexual behaviour. During gameplay the character can pick up prostitutes and pay for three different levels of service. What follows is an undetailed portrayal of masturbation, fellatio and intercourse. The character can also visit lap dancing clubs and request a private dance. While the game contains sexualised dancing and the portrayal of sex, there is no sexualised nudity.
Reference is made to drugs trafficking and several cut scenes portray cocaine snorting. There is also a satirical reference to the domestic production of a hard drug, but it does not contain the detail necessary to reproduce this in the real world.
'18' means suitable for adults only. No-one younger than 18 may rent or buy an '18' rated video game.
I can hear GTA parents now: "But, but, but...attacking innocent characters "carries a strong risk of being pursued by the police" and, and, and..."there is no sexualised nudity," and the drug reference "does not contain the detail necessary to reproduce it in the real world."
Doesn't cut it. Depravity for pleasure is something parents should reflexively guard their children against, and teach them to resist. Or is that old-fashioned or, worse, uncool? Gotta to hand it to GTA's Lazlo Jones for sending a grown-up message to post-grown-up parents. Too bad so many of them won't understand it.