In 1993, “Mortal Kombat” shocked the nation with its
violent, bloody gameplay and gory, graphic presentation. Parents
and media analysts saw the intense realism as a cause of aggression
in youth. Few games since then have inspired such a public
controversy. The “Grand Theft Auto” series has been one
of those select few.
The concept was astonishing — a baseball bat to the
kneecaps of traditional videogaming. The ironclad linearity that
was so popular in the side-scrolling video games of the pre-3-D
world was dissolved. No longer was there a “Level 1,”
and the main character could take any criminal job that was
available to him — playing various gangs against one another
until they took control of the city. More wistful players could
simply explore the city at will, stealing cars and maiming
pedestrians with no impossible final score or contrived boss level
to seek. Rockstar Games, the publisher of the hard-hitting series,
knew they had something with the series.
Previously, Rockstar had been known for their monster truck
games on the Nintendo 64 platform — not exactly a medium
where intense creativity could thrive. As such, the company’s
name was always a bit ironic — it was no more a rock star of
the videogame world than Dale Ernhardt Jr. is considered an expert
on proper etiquette. But with “GTA III,” Rockstar
finally got its chance to realize the dream of a game that felt
more like living a movie than pushing around pixelated dots with a
But not all was right with the world. Former presidential
candidate Joe Lieberman called the series horrendous during a
January 2000 speech at Dartmouth College in the primary state of
New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, Lieberman failed to gather the New
Hampshire youth vote.
In 2002, children, apparently inspired by “GTA III,”
killed two drivers with a sniper rifle in the Great Smoky
Mountains. In a desperate search for someone to blame, several
lawsuits were filed against Rockstar, their parent company,
Take-Two Interactive and the superdistributor Wal-Mart for
indirectly causing the homicides.
Mature adults worry about how these games lure and transform
their children, while many children worry about getting their hands
on the game without alerting their parents. After all, this sort of
bad publicity can only serve to pique public interest in the game.
Because of the game’s mature themes, minors cannot purchase
it without adult permission — a fact that has played largely
into Rockstar’s defense.
Few videogames have this kind of sordid and storied history, but
this is but one of the ways that GTA has proven to be
extraordinary. “San Andreas” continues this legacy with
raw, violent content, pushing the envelope on all levels.