Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hey, 'Grand Theft Auto IV' is out

And I did a story on it:

Don’t make any plans to contact Issac Nixon, 19, on Tuesday.

The Shippensburg University freshman plans on spending most of the day camped in front of his PlayStation 3, playing “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

The video game, which debuts in stores Tuesday, is the latest sequel in a series that, since its inception, has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. Pundits even expect a number of people to call in sick tomorrow so as to immerse themselves in the game as soon as possible.

That success has come with a big price tag — namely the storm of controversy and criticism that has surrounded the content of the games since the release of “GTA III” in 2001.

Though the story lines vary, the basic concept behind the series is similar: You play as an ambitious criminal who moves his way up the chain of command from lowly thug to big boss.

The game has won accolades for its emphasis on exploration and open-ended game play, but often success in the games mean engaging in a number of unsavory activities, including murder, assault, gambling and even prostitution.

In 2005, when hackers discovered an abandoned sex game buried in the code of “San Andreas,” an immediate firestorm ensued. Politicians, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, called for legislative action.

With Clinton gunning for the White House this year, many expect the new game to draw sharp reproach as well.

“Most video-game critics are lying in wait for this one to hit the stores,” said Dennis McCauley, who runs the Web site “It’s the poster child for game violence. It’s raised the bar for political involvement with video games.”

Jeremy Dunham, games editorial manager at, has played “GTA IV” and says it’s “no more violent than a movie with similar themes.”

“People should consume these things in the same way they do movies and music,” he said. “There’s really no difference.”

Marolyn Morford, a State College psychologist who has dealt with video game addiction and testified in 2006 before the state House about the effects of video-game violence, would strongly disagree with that statement.

The difference, Morford says, lies in the interaction.

“As electronic games become more immersible and more realistic in visual presentation, it can be more difficult for people who are vulnerable to this to be capable of distinguishing reality from the fantasy,” she said.

While Morford is quick to state that playing violent video games won’t ipso facto lead people to commit violent acts, she does argue that for children and adults who have difficulty with impulsivity and self-regulation, the game can encourage them to become more aggressive, making you snap at the police officer when you’re pulled over for speeding, for example.

“I do not believe that video games create sociopaths,” she said, “but they can encourage growth in that direction.”

And don’t kid yourself, Morford adds, in thinking that children won’t be able to get their hands on the game.

“As soon is something is out and available for kids in college, the 10-11 year olds are going to want it and they’re going to get it. They’re going to have access to it,” she said.

For their part, fans of the game seem well aware of the controversy but ultimately feel the game’s high level of craftsmanship and artistry mitigate some of the criticisms.

“While I believe much discretion should be used by those who purchase and play the game, especially parents of young children, I think informed consumers should act accordingly in order to enjoy their purchase,” said Rob Bender, 21, a Shippensburg student.

“I do believe it is a very controversial game series, but I look at it like a movie,” Nixon said. “Movies do the same thing, except video games put the player in control of everything.”

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008

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