Grand Theft Auto IV causes a 'virtual' crime spree
Some 48 hours have now elapsed since Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV was released. Every breathing person who owns an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 console knows the significance of this, and many of them who have purchased a copy have probably barely left their console alone. The ultra-realistic and violent videogame has been hailed as a revolution, hyped and speculated on for months in the gaming community.
Yet, mention the GTA series to non-gamers and it will likely be met with a look of shock and horror. For in most of the newsprint press, the tile equates immediately with a rampage of virtual drunken driving, prostitute slaying, police murdering, pro-criminal hedonism, that will, if the reporting is to be believed, propel the gamer on a deterministic route toward their local HM Prison establishment.
The tabloid press, in particular, relishes the opportunity to present the typical player as a pre 16 year old boy just one all-night session away from becoming a one child 'crime spree'. The morning of release, newspaper such as the Daily Mail took glee in reporting the fact that a man queuing for the game in Gamestation store in Croydon, South London. I can only assume that this was what will be one of the first reports in what will likely be a protracted GTA bashing session and MP's such as Keith Vaz are wading into the fray.
But GTA is, if my students are to be believed, is so much more than the tabloid caricatures would suggest, and it is definitely not intended for a young audience. Like the entire GTA series, yesterdays release is a game for 'grown-ups', those who are over 18 and have the 45 pounds they will have to hand over, along with their proof of age that is in most cases required to buy a copy.
Of course, it would be naÃÂ¯ve not to mention at this point that the fact young people shouldn't have it only makes it all the more appealing to the fifteen year old male. The best way to raise the profile of something is to attach to it the allure of the illicit, and after the parental advisory explicit lyrics symbol which adorns CD's, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) 18 certificate emblem is probably one of the most appealing symbols that young people see.
Tabloid hysteria is a vital part of the sales strategy, and will no doubt assist the game shift millions of units. There is a strange paradox that the tabloids are rounding condemnation upon GTA are also selling it. The press criticism is the best advertising that the producers Rockstar games could have ever wanted, far better than the large adverts that they have paid to have on pages adjourning press criticism of the game. It will sell, and no doubt it will sell to a diverse audience which will include the under 18 male cohort who have too much testosterone, and have reached the age where they want to spend a great deal of their time unsupervised in their bedrooms.
Interestingly, the GTA hysteria follows only a few weeks after famed child psychologist Dr.Tanya Byron produced a 224-page report investigating the risks children face growing up in the digital age. One of her reports core recommendations was extending the BBFC classification system to all video games. The problem with her recommendation is that not only does an 18 certificate immediately make games more appealing to the under 18 male audience, it neglects the practicalities of supply. For teenagers will almost inevitably find a way to eventually get hold of the title.
Of course, more responsible debate might include whether games such as GTA contribute to an increasing backdrop of 'violence as entertainment' that underpins our contemporary cultural condition. On this argument I am yet to be wholly convinced. Once in this country there were legal dog and cock fights, bare knuckle boxing, legitimised wife beating and the scalds bridal. We would hang people in public as a means of entertaining the massess. So might I boldly suggest that if GTA IV does create a social problem, it is not violence.
I already know of 7 students who stayed up all night yesterday playing the game. The cost to the nation's economy in sick leave involving Grand Theft Auto IV owners might be another. But I suppose at least when young men are in there homes, playing violent games they are not out getting drunk, having fights, driving dangerously or committing a whole array of other activities that are socially damaging. Now there is a novel idea, GTA IV fulfilling a crime control function, not a line you are likely to see in the newspapers.