Friday, May 9, 2008

Bonus Points

Posted by Josh in , , ,

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two weeks (a rock that is also in a cave on Mars), you know that Rockstar Game’s Grand Theft Auto IV dropped and has had the largest media launch in history.

A major pet peeve of mine is whenever there is a release of a major video game like GTA, dozens of parental groups and concerned citizen associations jump on it as a chance to grind whatever their axe is (and to send out breathless fund raising letters to their members). The media reports on these accusations, giving face time to the associations (Look ma, I’m on the teevee) and giving credence to their inane calls to ban the game or give it a rating that would all but ban it. It also gives the media a chance to take a break from Britney Spears news play the moral leader card. Lawmakers, desperate to take a hard line on something that doesn’t require real political courage, pass ineffective laws condemning this or fining that. It is one big side show that does nothing but make everyone involved look foolish.

Obviously, GTA IV is an incredibly violent game, but it is also an incredibly good game. Kids shouldn’t play it, or if they do it should be with their parents as part of a discussion about violence and ethics. But it is an unconscionable  waste of our time, money and attention to get get into a national outrage over it when we are at war, in a recession and facing a host of domestic problems.

That goes double when it is clear most of the game’s critics haven’t actually played the damn thing.

This was all inspired by the sheer delight I felt when, in a recent interview, a journalist refused to drink the “think of the children” kool-aid. In an interview with Dan Islett, Director of Public Policy for the Parents Television Council, Phil Villarreal, a movie reviewer for the Tuscon Daily Star and hereafter referred to as “Captain Awesome”, held Islett’s feet to the fire about claims he was making about drunken driving in the game.

Have you played the game?

“I’ve actually played ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,’ and it’s right in keeping with previous versions. The series continues to lower the bar and this is the first game that has an alcohol content warning. You get points for driving drunk in this game.”

You know that’s not true, right? The game doesn’t have points.

“If nothing else, it’s a rewarded activity. Necessary for advancement.”

I don’t think so.

“But there’s an alcohol content warning and a scene of drunk driving, correct?”

Yes. Did you play that part?

“No, no. I didn’t get that far.”

I can deal with the fact that people might legitimately be opposed to the violence in the game, though they ought then to be opposed to violence in movies, TV and that the see on the evening news, but if you are going to take a stand on something you should know what the hell you are talking about.

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