I’m hearing rumblings of anti-video game sentiment after this latest tragedy in Washington. Of course a sound political platform wouldn’t need to exploit big, splashy, deadly, tragedies; but the anti-video game "family" groups would rather strike while the emotion is hot rather than let logical cooler heads make decisions. And although the pro-gun lobby has sound Constitutional ground to stand on voices within the NRA and other gun lobby groups would rather engage in scape-goating, lest someone blame guns instead. Since there doesn’t seem to be an obvious video game link in this instance, the accusers (specifically this time a couple of Fox talking heads) have used coincidence. The shootings happened in the same week as the release of “Grand Theft Auto V.”
GTA is one of the most picked-on video game franchises. The games are far from the most violent or realistic, and yet ask one of the “footloose town,” book-burning, “won’t someone think of the children,” types about video games and that’s the one most mentioned. But rather than just point out how pathetic and uneducated those voices are, I’m instead going to do something that they CAN’T.
I’m going to tell you what Grand Theft Auto IS. They can’t because they have never experienced it. They don’t play video games. They condemn based on a title and cherry picked scenes from gameplay. They speak from a position of ignorance. I on the other hand have played nearly every Grand Theft Auto game, starting with the very first one. You may be surprised by this story, unless you to have played GTA: San Andreas.
The in-game character the player controls is Carl Johnson, also called C.J. Carl is from a poor, inner-city household. Carl, his brother (called Sweet,) and sister Kendell were raised by their mother in this “bad” part of the city of Los Santos (the game world’s version of L.A.) When the game begins Carl is returning home after spending several years living in Liberty City (the game world’s version of New York.) Sweet had been tired of the police not taking care of the drug and gang problem in his (and his mom’s) neighborhood. To keep the pushers and gang members out, he started his own gang of neighborhood youngsters policing his own “turf.” To kickstart the game, C.J. is returning because someone had murdered his (and Sweet’s) mom. Unfortunately before he can even leave the airport, C.J. is confronted by a very crooked pair of police officers who lean on C.J. to do jobs for them. Not like a legitimate police C.I. (informant) but instead as a clean-up man covering for the officers’ illegal activities.
There’s a very rich and detailed story of loyalty, betrayal, redemption, and vengeance in this “homecoming of age” story. There’s no doubt it is a brutally violent story and setting. But the major themes of GTA:SA…
Nothing is more important than FAMILY.
Drugs are BAD, they hurt the user and everyone around them.
That’s what everyone is railing against, screaming in all their ignorance that the pro-family and anti-drug message is wrong. I find that funny. But it’s not the message they hate, it’s the framework that message is presented in.
And you know what? They have a valid point. GTA games (all of them so far) are brutally violent. I really do think it might send a mixed message at the player unless that player has the experience to put the game in the proper frame of reference. A player needs to be old enough to understand the context of the violence in order to properly interpret the message and separate it from the violent gameplay. And the ESA has addressed this issue as all GTA games have been rated M for Mature. Placing blame for any underage kid getting his hands on the game squarely on the shoulders of the offending retailer or (far more likely by all studies) the parent who doesn’t care enough to monitor what their kids are playing.
Still, GTA games are a framework for those stories. You don’t have to constantly work on progressing the story. I freely admit that I’ll sometimes kick on GTA just to virtually break some law in front of a cop and start an exciting and fun police pursuit, placing myself in a fleeing vehicle vs. the fictional SAPD. By the end of the chase (win or lose) along the way I may have wrecked and stolen a dozen or more cars and even possibly hijacked an airplane or two. And other players do much worse; it’s easily possible to go on brutal, rampaging, killing sprees in GTA games. Making the anti-game violence crowd roar in protest, mainly because that’s all they ever see of the game.
But they (like children themselves) don’t put the violence in the right context. It’s a virtual, cartoony, unrealistic kind of violence that physically injures no one since the actions portrayed are not happening in real life. Engaging in virtual violent behavior can be cathartic. Just knowing I can go home, pop on GTA, and go on one of my epic police chases seriously decreases the chances that I will instead follow the car that just cut me off and take a shovel to it and its driver as soon as it stops.
Now one of the problems I’ve heard discussed about the latest (and billion dollar selling) GTA game just hitting stores is that It’s 3 main playable characters aren’t as sympathetic as say C.J. from San Andreas. But even if that is true, the real solution of the “problem” of violent videogames is pretty easy.
Parents or Guardians… DO NOT BUY A GAME FOR A KID THAT EXCEEDS THE RECOMMENDED AGE RATING FOR THE PLAYER. There… problem solved. Now just take all that excess ire and get riled up about something the other political party is doing. After all, the only way to prove that they’re wrong is to yell talking points louder than they do. It requires just as little thought as condemning an entire entertainment medium that they know nothing about, should be right up their alley.