Upcoming popular video game release revives controversial debate


CHICAGO (MCT) – From the rocket-propelled grenade that shoots down a police helicopter to the punch in the face delivered to a former friend, the depictions of realistic violence in the newest “Grand Theft Auto” video game are raising fresh concerns.

And gamers can’t wait to play.

The release of “Grand Theft Auto IV” is such a big deal that, as with the Harry Potter books, retailers will hold midnight release parties Monday to mark the title’s arrival.

But the firestorm of controversy surrounding the phenomenally successful game series already has struck.

The tussle over “Grand Theft Auto” is partly a debate over its value and partly a discussion about how to keep children away from a title that everyone agrees contains subject matter they should not see.

“People think video games equal kids, and that if it’s just a game, it should be fine,” said Robin Burke, a game-development professor at DePaul University. “But the idea that a game is made for a mature audience, we (as a society) don’t have our arms around that yet.”

Indeed, even though games have clear ratings, like movies, they often are ignored by parents and sometimes by retailers. A study last year from MediaWise and Harris Interactive found that 72 percent of parents don’t understand game ratings. Worse, 37 percent of parents said they rarely used those ratings when buying a game.

Some critics want to ban stores from selling games like “Grand Theft Auto” to minors, though that approach was found unconstitutional. Others wonder what possible redeeming value there is for anyone to play a game in which a joystick is used to simulate murder.

Rockstar Games, the maker of “Grand Theft Auto” has provided only minimal details of “Grand Theft Auto IV,” but here’s the story line, according to an early review by the Times of London online: Gamers play the role of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant lured to Liberty City (New York in disguise), who must “climb the greasy pole of the underworld.” Players will face choices, experience seaminess and have access to 15 different weapons, from a simple brick to a military-grade rocket.

The debate about violent video games reappears with each new generation of video players, because each edition is that much more realistic.

Jonathan Timm, a 19-year old student, is a big fan of “Grand Theft Auto” and is anxious to get his hands on the new game. He started playing when he was 15.

“It’s pretty easy for kids to get it,” he said. “I didn’t have any stumbling blocks when I wanted to play the game. My parents trusted me.”

Avid gamer Dan Rubin, 22, said the violence in “Grand Theft Auto” is over the top, but dosen’t blame kids for wanting to play.

“People buy what the salespeople say is good,” Rubin said. “If someone

tells you a game is amazing, you’re going to buy it. And if they tell you it’s too violent and not for your kids, people won’t buy it. That’s the responsibility of the salesman.”

The 2007 study from MediaWise found that one in three retailers fail to educate customers about ratings on video games.

The report stated, “It’s hard to completely blame parents for not understanding the rating system when retailers come up short on their commitment to educate the public.”