Manjoo on “Grand Theft Auto 4″ hysteria

by on April 25, 2008 · 35 comments

GTA4Salon’s technology writer Farhad Manjoo has some sensible comments about the hullabaloo we’re already hearing about the forthcoming “Grand Theft Auto 4″:

When I watched the game, I caught one sequence that would seem sure to prompt outrage — your character gets falling-down drunk and can, if he wants, steal and then drive a car. The scene is undeniably fun and funny. Admittedly, the humor is low-brow, more in the tradition of “Jackass” than of Oscar Wilde, but it’s still fun; like much else in the game, it’s the thrill of discovery, the sense of, “Whoa, I can’t believe I can do that!” Of course, that’ll be exactly the sentiment of the game’s detractors: Can you believe they’re letting children do that?! This has to be illegal!

Well, actually, nobody is letting kids play this game. It’s rated M, which means it’s for sale to people 17 or older. Kids will still get it, of course, just like they also get hold of R-rated movies and all kinds of perversities on the Web. But nobody — at least nobody sane — calls for movie houses to refuse to play R-rated movies just because kids might sneak in. It’s hard to see why the policy should be any different with video games.

That’s exactly right. Moreover, as I have pointed out countless times before, parents have more and better tools to control video game consumption by their children than any other form of media. And that’s especially the case considering the cost of video games! When a game costs $60 bucks a pop, you gotta wonder how the kids are getting their hands on it. Are the parents just stuffing their kids’ pants full of cash and saying “OK, Johnny, you go buy whatever you want now.” If so, they have only themselves to blame for failing to effectively use the ‘power of the purse‘ to their advantage.

Finally, let’s not forget that gritty, M-rated games like “Grand Theft Auto” are the exception to the rule, as I have proven here.

  • Matt

    We all know how these kids are getting these games, their parents are buying it for them. According to a 2006 study by the ESA, 86% of children under the age of 18 get their parents permission to buy games and 91% say their parents are present at the time of purchase.

  • Adam Thierer

    Matt… Indeed, many of the kids commenting on this MTV Multiplayer post about how they got past installments of GTA seem to confirm that. Again, this is decision that each family will have to make for themselves. All I am saying is that parents DO have the information and tools at their disposal to make and enforce these decisions in their homes.

  • Ryan Radia

    The reluctance of game stores to sell GTAIV really sucks for 15-16 year olds who have the cash and whose parents don’t really care what they buy. Younger kids lack the cash and transportation to buy a game plus parental controls on consoles are very robust as you’ve documented.

    I usually don’t get carded when buying booze even though I’m only 21, but whenever I buy an M-rated game at Gamestop they card me without fail–and the minimum age for games is 17, not 21! Funny how voluntary age verification can be so much stricter than coerced age verification. I suspect the Gamestops and Best Buys of the world are so strict about carding to preempt constitutionally questionable legislation that would make voluntary schemes mandatory.

    I can’t deny all that GTAIII I played at age 15 warped my fragile little mind. But now that my constitution is hardened since coming of age, though, I’m pumped about taking over Liberty City next week.

  • Matt

    We all know how these kids are getting these games, their parents are buying it for them. According to a 2006 study by the ESA, 86% of children under the age of 18 get their parents permission to buy games and 91% say their parents are present at the time of purchase.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Matt… Indeed, many of the kids commenting on this MTV Multiplayer post about how they got past installments of GTA seem to confirm that. Again, this is decision that each family will have to make for themselves. All I am saying is that parents DO have the information and tools at their disposal to make and enforce these decisions in their homes.

  • Ryan Radia

    The reluctance of game stores to sell GTAIV really sucks for 15-16 year olds who have the cash and whose parents don’t really care what they buy. Younger kids lack the cash and transportation to buy a game plus parental controls on consoles are very robust as you’ve documented.

    I usually don’t get carded when buying booze even though I’m only 21, but whenever I buy an M-rated game at Gamestop they card me without fail–and the minimum age for games is 17, not 21! Funny how voluntary age verification can be so much stricter than coerced age verification. I suspect the Gamestops and Best Buys of the world are so strict about carding to preempt constitutionally questionable legislation that would make voluntary schemes mandatory.

    I can’t deny all that GTAIII I played at age 15 warped my fragile little mind. But now that my constitution is hardened since coming of age, though, I’m pumped about taking over Liberty City next week.

  • Piers Shaw

    The game has scenes in it that in any other media would be automatically restricted to over 18 or 21 (depending on the country) buyers.

    If this rule is true for movies and animation, then it should be even more so for games that allow the player to become directly involved in the action.

    The only people actively against strong controls over such games are teenagers and the software companies making money off of them.

  • Piers Shaw

    The game has scenes in it that in any other media would be automatically restricted to over 18 or 21 (depending on the country) buyers.

    If this rule is true for movies and animation, then it should be even more so for games that allow the player to become directly involved in the action.

    The only people actively against strong controls over such games are teenagers and the software companies making money off of them.

  • Adam Thierer

    Over at eWeek, Jim Raposa has penned a column entitled “Stop the GTA 4 Hypocrisy” that points out critics shouldn’t rush to judgment about this or other games without ever having given them a shot.. or even watched a minute of them.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Over at eWeek, Jim Raposa has penned a column entitled “Stop the GTA 4 Hypocrisy” that points out critics shouldn’t rush to judgment about this or other games without ever having given them a shot.. or even watched a minute of them.

  • Elizabeth

    My younger brother bought this the other day and I sat there and watched him play it.
    I have played some of the older versions years ago but this one by far has the worst language I have ever heard. The f-bomb is used more in 10 minutes than by most people in their lifetimes. Also, on the talk radio stations the C word is used constantly when referring to women.
    On one of the missions when the main character is considering doing a ‘job’, the guy he’s dealing with is snorting cocaine.
    I am 30 years old and it wasn’t that long ago that I was 17. There is no way that my parents would have allowed this anywhere near myself or my brother no matter how ‘mature’ they thought us to be.
    Do we really want kids even if thy’re considered ‘mature’ to walk around calling women the C-word and dropping the F-bomb every 5 seconds??
    If you don’t believe me-rent it and see for yourself.

  • Elizabeth

    My younger brother bought this the other day and I sat there and watched him play it.
    I have played some of the older versions years ago but this one by far has the worst language I have ever heard. The f-bomb is used more in 10 minutes than by most people in their lifetimes. Also, on the talk radio stations the C word is used constantly when referring to women.
    On one of the missions when the main character is considering doing a ‘job’, the guy he’s dealing with is snorting cocaine.
    I am 30 years old and it wasn’t that long ago that I was 17. There is no way that my parents would have allowed this anywhere near myself or my brother no matter how ‘mature’ they thought us to be.
    Do we really want kids even if thy’re considered ‘mature’ to walk around calling women the C-word and dropping the F-bomb every 5 seconds??
    If you don’t believe me-rent it and see for yourself.

  • Mike

    I actually bought my Xbox 360 specifically to get GTA IV, and I’m glad I did since it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. In Australian dollars, it cost me $500 for the Xbox, $800 for the surround sound system, $500 for the television, and $100 for the game itself. I also wanted to buy a stockpile of weapons and develop a raging coke habit, but I ran out of money!

    But seriously, by the time people are 17 or 18 they should know that video games and real life are not the same thing. If they don’t, then it’s the fault of the education system, not game developers.

  • Mike

    I actually bought my Xbox 360 specifically to get GTA IV, and I’m glad I did since it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. In Australian dollars, it cost me $500 for the Xbox, $800 for the surround sound system, $500 for the television, and $100 for the game itself. I also wanted to buy a stockpile of weapons and develop a raging coke habit, but I ran out of money!

    But seriously, by the time people are 17 or 18 they should know that video games and real life are not the same thing. If they don’t, then it’s the fault of the education system, not game developers.

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