I’m not sure if I’m a typical guy, or if I’m infantile, of if I’m just a geek of some sort. Perhaps I am completely insane. But I’ll tell you this; there was always this part of me that really wanted to be a criminal. I mean, not a serial killer or a petty thief… not a “criminal” in every sense of the word. I wanted to be something along the lines of the mafia: hitman, capo, wheelman, something like that.
Actually, I don’t think I’m insane at all. I know for a fact I’m not the only one with flights of the imagination along such illegal lines. This is demonstrated by the considerable success of television shows like The Sopranos, and movies like Goodfellas and The Godfather. Although most of Hollywood’s examples of the mafia are entirely fictional, or at least overly dramatized, their depictions of the mafia are certainly used by males and females alike to vicariously experience an imagined lifestyle that they will likely never know. At minimum, they serve to maintain a public awareness of the presence of such criminal lifestyles as they exist, or at least as they existed at one time.
Certainly, the mafia at its most glamorous is a thing of the past. RICO legislation and other changes in federal law allow the U.S. government to more easily disrupt the activities identified as racketeering, the signature line of work that allows the Mafioso lifestyle to exist. I won’t delve into my personal opinion on these laws. I will say that it isn’t wholly favorable; but in actuality, I can’t say that I’m not pleased with these laws because I am not positive that the government hasn’t created a legal definition of racketeering that is as applicable to criminal activity as it is to good capitalistic entrepreneurship which is then prosecuted discriminatorily against certain ethnic groups, or because they serve to extinguish most chances of me being able to ever obtain the fictitious criminal lifestyle I always dreamed of.
O.K., maybe I am insane. [Author’s note: I do not want the discussion portion of this article to at any time drift into speculation as to my sanity… or lack thereof.] But I digress…
Thank God, (or at least a bunch of Microsoft-esque geeks), for bringing me the interactive technology known as video games. More specifically, I’d like to thank Rockstar Games for bringing me Grand Theft Auto III.
For those of you who believe that playing video games is a waste of time, or who are ethically opposed to criminal activity and/or gore, or who simply have never had the fortune to experience this game, let me tell you some of the highlights:
The introductory sequence has a bank robbery in progress which ends with your girlfriend shooting you prior to the getaway just after telling you she’s leaving you, adding insult to injury by stating, “you’re just small time.” She leaves you for dead, only you don’t die and instead are arrested and unanimously convicted of armed robbery. However, you are busted out of custody, incidentally, when a local criminal gang busts one of their members out of a prison transport vehicle that you are also riding in.
From there, you re-immerse yourself into the criminal world, networking through several crime families in a fiery trail of stolen vehicles, shootouts, assassinations, backstabbing, drugs, and utter mayhem. Along the way, you can feel free to steal most any vehicle around you, get in shootouts with the police, indiscriminately murder civilians, or even employ the services of a call girl.
Ok, certainly not a game what you’d call family entertainment. This was a discussion one of my roommates and I had as we passed the PlayStation 2 controller between ourselves for an entire day. He said to me, “I don’t know if I’d let my kids play this game.” And I agreed. I agreed not because I have any kids, nor am I sure I want any, and not that I’d argue that I’d make the best father should I become a parent at some point either knowingly or involuntarily. And I certainly did not agree because I feel that exposure to such a game would make a person more likely to engage in criminal activity. Simply put, I just think that the interactive capability to bash a computerized image of an elderly woman with a bat after ripping her from her vehicle may be a bit graphic for younger children who are more likely to experience nightmares as a result of seeing such images.
But let me back up a bit. I quickly stated that I don’t think exposure to such games would make someone more likely to act out criminal activity. This is in reference to a sociological theory used in countless studies, debates, as well as a platform behind which many purportedly family based political organizations work to keep violence, sex, or anything immoral off of our television, movies, and videogames. As evidenced by my article from February entitled “The Facts on Social Science”, I am not the biggest supporter of sociology on the whole. I don’t think it’s useless, but some of the correlations drawn about a particular group of people tend to ignore the substantial impact of individual free will. More than that, and especially in this particular example of criminal images tending to influence criminal behavior; I don’t believe that adults operate strictly under a “monkey-see, monkey do” mentality. Moreover, I don’t believe that immoral images are the catalyst required to form criminal intent.
Say, for example, I’m driving down the interstate, and someone traveling at a much slower rate of speed than I am decides to merge over into the fast lane and stay there a while for no obvious reason. Now suppose I turn my lights on and off quickly to indicate that I am a faster vehicle, to which you should yield the right of way. Now suppose that signal is ignored, or even worse, ignored and responded to using a wholly different type of gesture indicating what he thought of me. Now I’m keyed up, and I want to do something to this guy. At minimum, I wish I could somehow force him out of my way. It could be a statement on the rate at which I tend to drive, but this is a predicament I have found myself in many times. Also, I’ve taken the time to consider multiple possibilities on how to accomplish such a task, many of which would fall far outside the realm of “legal.” But I don’t do them. And I was not more likely to do them before playingGrand Theft Auto III. In actuality, playing that game added negative reinforcement to any plan I may have had to actually try to do something to the supposed guy driving too slow in front of me. I mean, I could run him off the road, or off him in some other way, but someone would likely take offense and call the authorities.
However, in Grand Theft Auto III, about half of your clearly deviant behavior is never even reported to the police. I was able to steal cars, either unoccupied or by ripping the driver out at an intersection, pick off numerous pedestrians with a rifle as they walk down the street, or even lob a few grenades at the local hospital. I know for a fact that cops would be looking for me as soon as I yanked the driver out of their car, and that’s even assuming that I could accomplish that without a hitch. And in the game, even if the cops are called, you can shake them simply by pulling into a paint shop and changing the color of your car, which takes only a couple of seconds.
When someone plays a violent video game, or watches a violent movie, or sees something violent or criminal in nature at all, there are also usually several reasons as to why they should never really do such a thing. In the same studies on violent media, it is also admitted that the police prevail more than 70% of the time. In the instances where they don’t, it’s usually because of some plan formed out by the cunning criminal that can only be believable after several strong drinks, and a disbelief of reality altogether.
Yet people would have you believe that criminal behavior in media and video games might lead to increased crime in real life. The motivations for crime are infinite: People need money, people want power, or possessions, revenge feels good, and infamy may be all the fame available to some people. No one needs a movie, television, or game to come up with a reason to do wrong. All it takes is something as simple as someone traveling too slow for your liking in the car in front of you. It’s only a person’s ability to distinguish between real life and their fantasy criminal life that keeps them from going too far. Perhaps, rather than trying to shield small children from things like this, we should order all children to play this game so that they would see that bad behavior usually results in either arrest or death. Maybe then the ability to distinguish between right and wrong may seem a lot easier.
A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.26.01 @ 12:22a
After hearing you say that you'd bite the neck of your opponent just to get a chunk of his flesh, I believe you'd be a Tasmanian devil of a criminal, and I'm scared. Yet you're cuddly, so I'm confused.
Unfortunately, I disagree slightly with your argument. If children are not taught the proper balance of right and wrong, good and evil, actions and consequences, and are fed violence in entertainment form, it will desensitize children to the effects of violence. They won't need a particular motivation to commit crime or inflict harm: they'll just emulate what they've seen.
12.26.01 @ 1:12p
I don't recal having the desire to drop an anvil on the head of my enemy while I was growing up, despite a steady stream of Roadrunner cartoons.
12.26.01 @ 5:00p
Well then, we can all thank your parents for being responsible role models.
12.27.01 @ 12:24p
I think one thing is that there is no real balance of right vs. wrong. If a child or adult had thoughts or issues of criminal and / or violent behavior, the response is merely, "That is bad. Don't do it." I think that games of this nature could actually provide an outlet for those devient feelings, rather than suppressing them. However, I don't think most people would see it that way. Rather than seeing a video game of questionable content, they try to suppress these as well. Some parents don't even allow thier children to play with toy guns. What do you think happens to a child who is constantly told, "don't play with that" and then at some point has the chance to play with a real one? In my opinion, the parent yelling "no" is doing their child a huge disservice, as opposed to one who provides some exposure, thereby letting the child understand both sides of the coin so that they can make a fully educated decision... hopely for the best. The child who has no idea, I think, is more likely to experiment when the parent isn't looking.
12.27.01 @ 12:53p
Jeff, did you actually just say that we should let children make "a fully educated decision"? That's like saying we should let kids eat whatever they want because they'll understand vegetables are healthy and they'll choose to eat broccoli over Burger King.
Kids usually don't have the experience to make a fully educated decision. That's what parents are for. And just like with anything in this world, there are some people who can handle games like these and some people who can't. It's the parent's job to look at their child and say either "Yes, I think you're mature enough to deal with this," or "No you're not."
12.27.01 @ 3:43p
I can agree with that, up to a point. But at some age, their ability to rationalize does begin. I'm not saying a three year old should be given total free-will to do as they think best. However, children can only be protected for so long. If the parent offers no choices long after that ability to discriminate begins, kids will ignore the ultimatum. This is where, "teenage rebellion" begins. And who needs that?
12.31.01 @ 7:38a
Well, one member o Megadeth suggested that fans simply go on outside and kill the first person they see. Perhaps cyber-fun is safer!
12.31.01 @ 9:00a
I don't think kids are equipped to make their own choices, at least not to a certain age, and that age is indefinable, really, it depends on the person. But blaming their transgressions on entertainment or the media or whatever, though those things doubtlessly do share some of the blame, is not entirely valid. Parents need to equip their kids with enough of a basis for judgment that they can at least feel confident that their kid knows the difference between wrong and right. Whether or not they choose wrong or right depends on the person, and I think we learn every day that the capacity for choosing wrong over right has little to do with age. I've been out of this discussion for a while, is this even relevamt.
12.31.01 @ 11:32a
As witnessed with the 12 (14?)year old kid in Florida who body-slammed a 5-year-old girl. He was allowed to watch WWF all the time, and was never taught that 1) that it is staged entertainment and 2) done improperly, it could hurt someone. The little bastard just kept trouncing the girl until she died. Until she died. Only then did he stop. I think the parent in this case should have received sentencing along with the child.
1.2.02 @ 12:26a
I must respond to Jeff's comments, because I am one of those parents who will not allow my child to play with toy guns. Nope, not even squirt guns. The reason is that I want my child to be frightened of guns, so that if and when she sees one, she gets away fast. This is how I teach her. I have heard the argument that forbidding something makes it more attractive to the child. To which I respond, hey, let's give your kid a couple slugs of vodka and the keys to the car, so he can PLAY drunk driver now and "get it out of his system".
1.2.02 @ 1:59p
Sorry, Jeff, I love you a bunch, but you're suffering from Notyetaparentitis. It's pretty common and you'll get over it when the time is right. In the meantime, let's just say that as children grow older, the choices they're offered DO increase. Oh, and you can't extinguish "teenage rebellion" because it's a normal and healthy part of growing up, even though it's a pain to live with. By the way, those silly video games are made just for guys like you. I promise, when you ARE someone's daddy, you'll look at that game and smile wistfully, but you won't let Zachary anywhere near it.
1.2.02 @ 2:45p
Either that or Jeff will be the cool uncle who buys them that stuff despite the parents' objections.
1.2.02 @ 4:51p
I already AM an uncle, and biting my lip to keep from letting all the secrets out to my nephew.
I suppose I am one of those cases where I was going to try it regardless of what my family said because I learn things the hard way. I suppose that, given my personality, when I tried some of the things and saw that the way my parents described them weren't exactly accurate, I felt cheated.
I suppose in that case, just pray your kids aren't like me
9.7.03 @ 10:12a
Bump: Grand Theft Auto Makers Sued because of teens shooting at cars on highway (who already plead guilty to their crime).
When will people learn that these suits don't work? I hope someone shoots whomever filed these suits. I'll be happy to help.
9.7.03 @ 2:48p
I saw that the attorney who filed that lawsuit is none other than Jack Thompson. Mr. Thompson is the Florida attorney who instigated the case against 2 Live Crew in the 1990s. He has also gone after South Florida talk show host Neil Rogers because Mr. Rogers is Gay and not ashamed to admit it. In fact, he pushed the Neil Rogers thing to such an extent that Neil wound up getting a restraining order filed. According to the order, Thompson can't even say the words "Neil Rogers" in a place where they can be heard.