Putting Grand Theft Auto IV Into Perspective
I tried as hard as
I could to hold out on writing an article about Grand Theft Auto IV in my
column. My two primary reasons for my reluctance is first, every media outlet
has weighed in on the pros and cons of this game, and second, I really didn't
want to contribute an additional web site to the search keywords this game has
already secured on the Internet.
But, as I continue
reading points of view about violence in video games and how "grand" GTA IV will
be, I must repeat a few things I have said in years past on this topic.
When you have a
product as prominent as this title, it moves far beyond normal consumer logic.
Instead, it becomes a religion. It's what every marketing department dreams of
-- a populous that is so determined to defend and support a product, they begin
evangelizing its features, creating a volunteer sales and promotion force that
no bank account could afford.
Rockstar Games has
achieved gamer deity status, and no matter how hard we try, the GTA franchise
won't go away until the mobs themselves decide to move on to something new. And,
I suspect, the more we push against GTA the more attention the game will get.
It's that maddening "don't push the red button" syndrome. Just tell people
something isn't good for them, and sizable portion of the population won't be
able to stand not discovering it for themselves.
Don't think for a
moment I'm telling you to not teach your children about the pitfalls of spending
dozens of hours picking up prostitutes and shooting up the 'hood. But recognize
this game is going to be the button that your teens are dying to push -- at
least once -- just so they can belong to the popular group that will be driving
the streets of an imaginary New York City this weekend.
That means it's in
your hands to have a valid argument that will hopefully allow your kids to
understand your concerns and help them understand how they are being marketed
Many of the media
who are covering the game are suggesting the evidence validating a direct
relationship between playing violent video games and actually carrying out a
violent act just isn't there. This is a half-truth -- perhaps even better said
as a half-lie.
very solid evidence before they can even suggest a "casual" relationship exists
between two activities. While I'm only moderately able to interpret all of the
information I have read on this topic over the past fifteen years, I do know
there are many studies that have produced conclusions showing possible
relationships between violent media consumption and real life effects. But there
is some evidence there, and a handful has concluded there is a casual link.
A while ago, I
wrote about the spinach scare, where a few people fell ill after eating
contaminated spinach. Immediately all spinach was pulled from store shelves
until the problem was identified and resolved. No one wanted to take the risk,
no matter how remote, that more people would become ill.
As a parent, you
need to determine how great of a risk it is for your teen (or perhaps child) to
immerse him or herself into this virtual world of glorified crime.
Before you believe
the words of the "experts" who say this is a non-issue, look at a paragraph a
writer authored in my local newspaper (The Calgary Herald) yesterday about the
effects of playing violent video games like Grand Theft Auto IV. It's typical of
what I'm seeing in many news sources:
"There's little evidence to back up
those claims [that violent video games cause children to behave violently]. A
U.S. Secret Service study from May 2002 found that only 12 per cent of those
involved in school shootings were attracted to violent video games, while 24 per
cent read violent books and 27 per cent were attracted to violent films. An
Australian study from March 2007 found that only children already predisposed to
violence were affected by violent games."
Now let's look at
these statements -- only 12 percent of those involved in school shootings
were attracted to violent video games. Gosh, if my child had been gunned
down by one of those 12 percent, I would gladly consider that perhaps he
shouldn't have spent so much time playing violent games. That leads to the next
...24 per cent
read violent books and 27 per cent were attracted to violent films...
The video game
industry's favorite inside game is Pass The Buck. They always point out that
other violent media contributes just as much, if not more, to real world violent
acts. I agree with these numbers and have never suggested video games were the
only source of violence that could lead a person to become aggressive.
Yet, is the game
industry's low percentage of responsibility not just simply due to its lesser
share of the recreational media market? The media is full of reports that games
will soon become the new "mainstream" activity. Grand Theft Auto IV is hoping to
make an incredible $400 million this weekend, with some suggesting it will even
dent Hollywood's box office. If and when gaming truly does replace television,
movies and even reading as a predominant recreational pastime, I doubt the
industry will still be able to hide behind these "it's not just us" statistics.
Finally, take note
of the Australian March 2007 study. First, many other studies have also
concluded that children (and even adults) predisposed to committing violent acts
are more likely to be affected by violent games. But lets word this sentence in
a different way: "An Australian study from March 2007 found children who are
already violent, become even more aggressive when playing violent games."
Isn't this a
concern? I'm not surprised a passive teen isn't motivated to go and beat on
someone after playing GTA, but it still seems to be a relevant risk that
aggressive players will become even more prone to act out violent behavior after
spending time with a violent game.
Second, a key fact
was left out of that
Australian study (as is often the case). The
sample of 120 children (a relatively small group) played a violent game for
20 minutes. How many game playing teens do you know that play for only 20
minutes? (One journalist who was "fortunate" enough to get his hands on GTA IV
early said he played it for three straight days.)
Over the upcoming
weeks, there is bound to be more real life violence that will be pegged to Grand
Theft Auto. The game will become the poor, pathetic innocent bystander, held up
as "a convenient enemy for people," quoting Rockstar Games founder Dan Houser.
The zealots who
love this game will continue to defend it, tying it into freedom of speech
debates, while quoting university studies most of them have never read. The rest
of us will likely hope the whole thing will blow over and our kids will want to
spend their hard earned money and precious brain cells on something else.
But before you wave
the white flag in your home, I must hearken back to the very first column I
wrote for the PTC many years ago. It was titled Helping Parents Avoid Heart
Attack and it encouraged parents to follow their hearts. It may sound corny
and shallow, but if you think Grand Theft Auto IV isn't the best thing
your teen can be playing, then let them know that. Tell them why you feel that
way, and don't be ashamed of your opinion. Perhaps you are confident your teen
is okay with the game. That's fine too, but let them know why you feel that way.
amount of time your game-playing youth is likely to invest in this title (and
the many more he or she has already acquired) my heart tells me there will be
some affect on him or her. Don't give up your opportunity to let your kids know
how you feel about these issues. Heaven knows thousands of others will be
happy to tell your kids what to think, so make sure you are in on the
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
Television Council -
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