Game Lobby: August 11th, 2008

One interesting fact about me as a gamer: though I consider open-world action games among my favored game genres, I have never played a Grand Theft Auto game to completion. While this is a distinction that I plan to erase with my new purchase of the series’ fourth iteration, I also know that I have other games in the platform-based, puzzle, role-playing, and retro varieties to keep me busy.

Of course, while it may be easy for me to abstain from Grand Theft Auto 4 sessions in my personal gaming life, in the case of politicians and government officials, the opposite has proven true, as the game remains in these individuals’ crosshairs as the root cause for society’s ills, not only in the United States, but abroad as well.

The root of the controversy can be attributed to an incident in Thailand where a taxi driver was murdered by Polwat Chino, a 19-year-old Thai teenager. Blame for the murder was attributed to the popular video game and the teenager reportedly admitted his addiction to the title in question. Additional information about the event can be found in an article aptly titled Grand Theft Auto blamed for Thai taxi driver murder.”

Since this story has broken, the aftershocks that have occurred have been akin to a child throwing a boulder into a lake and witnessing the resulting ripples that have been created. That child would undoubtedly remark on said ripples’ size and strength. In the same manner, the fallout from this story has caused both national and international stages to erupt with calls to have the game removed from shelves and future violent content to be censored.

Following this story’s release, Grand Theft Auto 4 has had to defend its name in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, listen to calls for its metaphorical head from Spanish taxi drivers, and witness its name be placed on a blacklist along with other games that are deemed ‘violent and detrimental to society.’ As if these distinctions were not enough, Grand Theft Auto 4 can also claim ‘credit’ for teaching children to create Molotov cocktails.

While I originally intended to cordon a list of articles and state my opinions on each of them, this Grand Theft Auto worldwide assault has prompted me to question the motives of a society that deems it easier to blame their problems on video games rather than the real issues centered on the killer’s motives and rationale.

First of all, I have to remind individuals who are not familiar with the gaming sphere that other video game experiences are available for consumption besides the Grand Theft Auto games. Crossword puzzles, typing programs, mathematical training tools, and grammar improvement exercises are some examples of educational alternatives that are available if parents want to expose their children to the wonders of video games without them experiencing the ‘M-rated’ facets that comprise a Grand Theft Auto game. In this regard, Nintendo deserves a great deal of credit, as they have been successful in modifying the definition of what constitutes a video game. Through their release of games such as Crosswords DS, the Brain Training games, My Word Coach, and New York Times Crosswords, Nintendo has managed to allow gamers to expand their repertoire beyond shooting space aliens and committing acts of vandalism in fictional cities. Sony and Microsoft, though they are guilty of possessing the aforementioned GTA4 on their consoles, have games like Scene It! and Echochrome to appeal to gamers who desire more than what is offered.

However, if other game experiences exist besides Grand Theft Auto, what makes it earn so much attention from news sources, both inside and out?

As I have stated before, mainstream media sources have become transfixed to Grand Theft Auto’s random scenes of violence much as they would every other story that involves sex and scandal. However, the admiration that gaming news outlets draw from the Grand Theft Auto series stem from its innovations in three-dimensional action. While Super Mario 64 was the first platform-action game in three-dimensions, Grand Theft Auto 3 was the first to allow players to have a tri-dimensional experience in a living, breathing world, complete with citizens and cars who will act on their own independent of the player. This template has since proven the standard for action games and has found its style implemented in other game genres; games like Jak 2 and Mercenaries would not exist if Grand Theft Auto had not broken the mold.

Of course, all these positive trends are willfully ignored in the wake of GTA’s violent tendencies. I would personally like to meet every individual who deems Grand Theft Auto violent and have them sit through screenings of The Godfather, every single film in succession and without respites in between. I think it would work; after all, the themes that are encompassed in The Godfather share some similarities with the GTA games. My main intent in conducting this experiment would be to prove to them that other forms of media violence existed long before Grand Theft Auto was even invented. In fact, it is also the case that people committing wanton murders on one another occurred long before the words ‘Grand Theft Auto’ even became common lexicon. To say otherwise ignores the countless acts of violence that have occurred throughout history in the name of ‘fear,’ from the Crusades to the Salem Witch Trials.

In fact, that central term, ‘fear,’ is what lies at the heart of these Grand Theft Auto 4 controversies. Fear that Grand Theft Auto (and games of its ilk) will turn the youth of our generation crazy, fear from politicians that if they are unable to tap into the ‘family vote’ that they will not succeed, and finally, fear from supporters of ‘traditional’ media that games will supersede them in both popularity and revenue.

How should gamers handle this fear? The answer is simple: remain active and involved in politics, inside and outside the gaming sphere. Also, learn about the interactions that exist between politics and video games; the best site to accomplish this objective is GamePolitics. Another general method that I would recommend is for gamers as a whole to comport themselves with decency in the midst of their activities: in the case of Xbox Live, a limit on puerile and sophomoric slurs.

I make these points and suggestions because I shudder at the prospect of the possibility that the video game industry can be capitulated by ‘moralists’ and politicians who think that all forms of media are at fault because they fail to ‘consider the children.’ Along with these concerns, I would also like to include some perspective: for gamers who wonder if games are the only form of media that have registered alerts in society’s cross hairs, I would encourage them to read The Ten Cent Plague: the Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America.

That concludes this iteration of the Gaming Lobby; when I open next week, I hope that politicians and moralists grow some balls and realize, to quote from Constantine, that people are evil, not video games.

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