Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV)

I couldn’t let this one pass by without blogging some thoughts.

Grand Theft Auto IV is, as the name suggests, the latest in a popular line of video games. This particular game has garnered so much acclaim and media hype that predictions of it’s opening sales would be huge (somewhere in the $400 million range)*. It may surprise some to know that whilst DVD and CD sales have been down in the past few years, Video Games have increased (partly, I think, due to a greater difficulty in software piracy).

A few years ago my brother had a copy of Grand Theft Auto (although I’m not sure precisely which one, it was definitely one of the earlier games). Being a bit of a computer game player myself, I found the game entertaining and slightly comical. I was a non-Christian at that point, but the game play (which was viewed mostly from an eye-in-the-sky-looking-down perspective) was pretty straight forward. You’re a criminal on the run and you earn money and points by doing various jobs and what not. Part of the gameplay, even at this stage, involved shooting and running down people in vehicles.

However the latest renditions of this game have grown in their sophistication – and I’m not referring to etiquette. The graphics are much better, the perspective has moved down to a traditional one-player role-player-game style (where the camera follows closely behind the main character to give you the effect that you’re controlling them through the world) and the storylines more involved and intricate. One of the problems with this is that while the level of sophistication grew the moral gameplay descended. For instance, GTA San Andreas was pulled temporarily from Australian shores because it discovered that a patch on the PC version allowed a mini-game known as ‘hot coffee’. This mini-game incorporated an overt sex-simulation between the main character and his girlfriends.

GTA IV picks up where San Andreas kind of left off. There’s new characters, new gameplay and new stories, but like San Andreas you can also pick up a prostitute, make your car rock more than suggestively and then when you’re done take that car and run her over.

Are we to call that entertainment?

Whilst I don’t want to get into a debate on whether or not video games (and other forms of ‘entertainment’) can be linked with violence later on in life there are a few things worth reflecting on.

Firstly, whilst the game has an MA15+ (or R18+?) rating, this game remains the most popular game for 12-14 year olds to play. If that is the case, I’d be very concerned. Particularly if I’m a youth group leader – if I’m uncomfortable with my teens playing this game, would I want them to see me playing it?

Secondly if I am playing this game, what kind of messages am I telling myself (and others?) about what to spend your money on, and what to fill your mind with?

Other thoughts?

* The game was recently given a 10/10 review and ‘Editor’s Choice’ from Gamespot.com