Have a seedy game Christmas

Posted: Dec 13, 2002 12:00 AM
'Tis the season of comfort and joy, family warmth and religious rebirth. What better way to celebrate than buying your precious young son a video game that lets him imagine himself as a murderous, whoring cocaine dealer? The game is "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," and it's a sales smash: Four million people had already ordered it before it was even released. For boffo box office, just consider that "Jackass: The Movie" grossed a newsworthy $22.8 million in its opening weekend. "Vice City" rang up $160 million in sales before it even hit stores. The cost? $49.99. The lack of socially redeeming value? Priceless. Remember when young boys used to imagine themselves as comic book superheroes emulating the noble behavior of Superman, Batman and the like? No more. Boys saturated in video-game action today are encouraged to do the opposite: Root for the evildoers against the cops; to kill the good guys; and, for kicks, kill just about everyone else who walks by. This latest "Grand Theft Auto" game follows Tommy Vercetti (voiced by actor Ray Liotta of "Goodfellas" fame) as he travels to Vice City (obviously 1980s Miami) for a cocaine deal. The deal goes south when both the drugs and the money are stolen in an ambush. The rest of the game is the player's quest for revenge, coupled with occasional side missions that include gunning down gang members with an Uzi; intimidating jurors by beating them with a hammer (of course, you're supposed to scare them, not kill them); and trying to kill a pizza delivery boy. But wait, there's more! You can have just as much "fun" beating up people --and letting them live! Why? You can use a baseball bat, a screwdriver, a machete or even a chainsaw to attack pedestrians for a little armed robbery. As you attack and beat innocents, blood sprays the concrete. If you wound your victim and he tries to run, you can chase him by following the blood trail. You can also get quick money by hitting people with your car. The game's violence just isn't enough for the manufacturers, however. The game is saturated with obscene language and simulated sex, and includes some of the side missions of its best-selling predecessor, "Grand Theft Auto III," such as the player's ability to pick up prostitutes off the street and drive to a secluded location to have sex. After you drive to a safe place, and as the car rocks back and forth, dialogue between the prostitute and the character can be heard ("Oh, yeah, baby," "Make yourself at home," and "You in me yet?") When it's over, you can then beat the prostitute and steal back what you paid her. Who is making a mint by turning the moral universe upside down? Rockstar Games, which is a reprehensible business enterprise made all the more noxious by its sanctimonious pretensions to social responsibility. "Rockstar Games is a leading publisher of interactive entertainment geared towards mature audiences," it claims, "and makes every effort to market its games responsibly, targeting advertising and marketing only to adult consumers over the age of 17." Baloney. The hype is everywhere for anyone of virtually any age to see. It's the 10-page cover story of the December issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly. One of the magazine's reviewers loved the new take on "Miami Vice," where people get to play the drug-dealing killers: "Vice City isn't just the ultimate flashback. It's the ultimate payback." Shame, too, on any parent who knowingly buys this garbage for his (or her) child. One customer reviewer on Amazon.com raved: "My 7-year-old plays it. Forget those dumb ratings, and get this game!" No one should be surprised when that 7-year-old learns it's funny to terrorize other kids. Cultural pollution -- be it in video games, movies, TV shows, music, whatever -- isn't contained in the home. It has a way of leaking out into public schools and playgrounds, courtesy of corporations that produce it and parents who enable it, and both of whom will predictably be so very shocked when 12-year-olds open fire on their schoolmates on that playground.