Grand Theft Auto and us

Posted: Aug 05, 2005 12:00 AM

If you don't have children in the house, you may not know about the latest contribution the video gaming industry has made to our society. My 11-year-old son keeps me apprised.

 The best-selling video game in the United States last year (5.2 million copies) was a piece of work called "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." The National Institute on Media and the Family described its content as follows: "Raunchy, violent and portraying just about every deviant act that a criminal could think of in full, living 3D graphics. Grand Theft Auto takes the cake again as one of the year's worst games for kids. The premise -- restore respect to your neighborhood gang as you take on the equally corrupt San Andreas police."

 Well, yes, you wouldn't want your kids to be anywhere near this thing, but frankly, it's disgusting for anyone. Game play in the San Andreas and earlier versions of Grand Theft Auto also features buying and selling drugs, stealing cars, foul language, racial slurs, running down pedestrians, attacking people with chainsaws, sexual jokes, evading and killing police officers, and feeding people into a wood chipper. (No, my son does not own the thing.)

 None of the foregoing was enough to cause a stir. But one day, a Manhattan grandmother bought the game for her 14-year-old grandson and was shocked to discover that a modification of GTA, downloadable from the Internet, permitted him to see graphic sex acts on the game. (In the normal version of the game, sex is offstage.) Initially, GTA's creator, Rockstar, denied responsibility for what hackers would do to its product once it had entered the stream of commerce and took refuge under the mantle of "art." The company was "disappointed by comments that misrepresent Grand Theft Auto, detracting from the innovative and artistic merits of the game. Unfortunately, the recent confusion only serves to suggest that games do not deserve the same treatment as other forms of creative expression." Within a few days, that statement was rendered "inoperative" when it became clear that the modification only unlocked material already lurking in the game itself. Eric Pfeiffer of National Review Online notes that skilled players of the Playstation 2 and Xbox versions of the game could unlock the sexual content without a special download from the Internet.

 Manhattan grandma is suing Rockstar, which has slapped an Adults Only label on the game and apologized, sort of. Acknowledging that they knew the content was there, company spokesman Rodney Walker explained, "We didn't want it in the final version so we followed the industry practice of breaking up the code and hiding it." Oh.

 So, a kindly 85-year-old lady has no qualms about purchasing a gang-glorifying, violence-soaked, sick entertainment for her teenage grandson, but is shocked when it turns out to contain explicit sex? Wasn't the rest enough? Sigh.

 Displaying an eagle-eye for political opportunity, Sen. Hillary Clinton has swooped down on this issue. She fired off a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate the download that unlocked the sexual content of GTA, and promised to propose legislation that would crack down on the sale of violent and sexually explicit games to minors. "We should all be deeply disturbed that a game which now permits the simulation of lewd sexual acts in an interactive format with highly realistic graphics has fallen into the hands of young people across the country."

 Well, yes, we should. But surely we can find a better spokesman than Sen. Clinton. In the first place, we know the Clinton technique quite well by now. Make conservative-sounding noises (remember "End Welfare As We Know It"?) and then hand power to the very liberals who created the mess. Second, the senator's husband is a national dirty joke who did as much to debase the culture as any video game squared. Finally, the problem is not retailers selling directly to children. That rarely happens. In fact, adults are buying these games for kids.

 Bill Bennett and Sen. Joe Lieberman had a better idea a decade ago. Shame them. Shame the manufacturers, the retailers, and yes, the parents who buy the trash. Put their faces on television. Let them feel the wrath of the majority of parents (liberal and conservative) who truly detest what this anything goes culture has wrought.