Turning a Blind Eye to Video Game Violence

Take-Two Interactive, the U.S. company that lied about secret animated sex scenes stashed in one of its brutally sadistic “Grand Theft Auto” Rockstar video games, is counting on Bill and the Boyz, a.k.a., Microsoft, for a little extra lift.

Next month, Take-Two plans to set an all-in-one, M for Mature “GTA III,” “GTA Vice City,” and “GTA San Andreas” loose for Microsoft’s Xbox.

A Dutch hacker created a mod which allowed access to “Hot Coffee” sex scenes that weren’t meant to be part of the San Andreas experience, according to Rockstar, which was never able to explain what they were meant for.

Stirring It Up

Hilary Clinton correctly figured GTA would generate a headline or 10 and jumped all over the industry’s Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), which very reluctantly raised “San Andreas” from M for Mature (which had allowed people aged 17 to buy it) to AO for Adults Only — which resulted in “Grand Sex Auto” being taken off store shelves altogether.

New Zealand and Australia banned the “GTA” game completely, and an 85-year-old American grandmother sued Rockstar Games and Take-Two, “on behalf of herself and all consumers nationwide.”

Haitian civil rights workers sued Take-Two because, they said, “Vice City” instructed players to “kill the Haitians” and awarded points for each kill.

Lawyers partly blamed killings in a murder case on the hours their defendant had spent playing “Grand Theft Auto” video games. And wasn’t this the first time “GTA” had been mentioned in a “real” murder case. “Grand Theft Auto III” was said to have been behind two other murders in California.

Blind Eye

The SEC ( Securities and Exchange Commission) filed a fraudulent accounting practices claim against Take-Two Interactive Software, the company’s former chairman and CEO, Ryan Brant, its former executive VP and COO Larry Muller, its former CFO, James David, Jr., and current VP of sales Robert Blau.

Nonetheless the U.S., where the games originate, allows Take-Two to flourish.

“Rockstar has yet to announce a retail price for the [Xbox] package but they have stated that it will be available on October 18th of this year,” says IGN Games.

And, next month, according to the Gamespot column on CNET, “Rockstar is taking the controversial franchise portable with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for the PSP.” The PSP and Xbox games are reportedly set for release on Oct. 8.

The same report states that, “In addition to losing the AO for Adults Only rating, the game will feature The Introduction, a featurette documenting events before the onset of ‘GTA: San Andreas.’ The series of intertwining stories are told from the point of view of several of the game’s characters, leading up to a drive-by shooting of Grove Street gang members.

It continues: “Also on the Special Edition will be Sunday Driver, Rockstar’s debut documentary film. The movie follows a low rider car club in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton. The movie was directed by Carol Strong, and it brings viewers into the world of The Majestics, a group that customizes cars in South Central. The film will also be released on UMD format for the PSP.”

Taking Part

OK, so what’s the difference between sadistic, brutal and blood-washed Hollywood movies and Take-Two’s GTA games?

Not much.

But you only watch the movies. With the games, you’re part of the action and get to actually take part and kill and brutalize, over and over and over again.

You can argue that it’s all just fine for adults (is it really?) but unfortunately, largely thanks to parents who couldn’t care less, loaners, and second-hand stores that don’t have any restrictions on what’s sold or to whom, kids — really young and impressionable kids — also end up having “fun” by killing and brutalizing, over and over and over again.

It’s not just parents’ fault. Take-Two gave the exclusive UK magazine cover rights for “San Andreas” to GamesMaster, aimed at mid-teens, compelling Britain’s ELSPA (the Entertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association), a trade group similar to the music industry’s RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), to state:

“There should be a cautious attitude targeting non-adults with adult content. It is up to the publishers what they do, but we would hope they would be careful and target the right audience. We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot again. What we don’t want is a situation where the indefensible becomes indefensible. We don’t want an Achilles’ heel like this …”

Fat chance.

Jon Newton, a TechNewsWorld columnist, founded and runs p2pnet.net, based in Canada, a daily peer-to-peer and digital media news site focused on issues surrounding file sharing, the entertainment industry and distributed computing.

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