GamerParenting: Grand Theft Auto IV
For even more Grand Theft Auto IV, go to Liberty City Central.
What? Grand Theft Auto IV is out?
No! I told you that already. Stop asking. You can't, you just can't. You're too young. I know, I know, I sometimes let you watch rated-R movies. It's not the same thing. No, it's not. Call of what? Yeah, I let you play M-rated games like Call of Duty 4 and Resident of Evil Creek [sic] but come on! No, it's not going to happen. What? Johnny's parents bought it for him? Look kid, I'm not Johnny's dad, I'm your dad and I don't want you playing . . . No, I don't care. I have a right to be unfair. You are 13 years old! You can't play Grand Theft Auto IV. Why? Because I said so!
GTA IV got lots of press this past week. Breaking records, angering pundits, giving Katie Couric something to smugly sneer about. Newspapers covered it from ever angle -- everything from "GTA IV causes violence" to "GTA IV makes kids kill" -- we're talking "fair and balanced" here. But unreported in newspapers, on radio, TV, or even at gaming Web sites is the above conversation. I'd wager it was one of the most common conversations/confrontations of the past week. Yep, Grand Theft Auto IV is here -- it's fantastic -- and it's causing a lot of grief, frustration and stress at the homes of teenage gamers. How do I know? Because I'm the GamerDad and I watched my usual batch of questions from parents become dominated this past week by plaintive and mostly well-constructed emails and pleas from 13-year old boys.
"My mom won't let me get GTA IV!"
"My dad lets me play Game X, but not GTA IV! Can you help convince him?"
"What's so bad about GTA IV? I played the first three!"
"Dude! Help me with my mom, dude! Tell her GTA IV is okay for a 14-year old!"
No! No! I won't do that! There's nothing you can write or say to make me do that. Really. I don't care if you get to watch "Hostel" and "Saw" day and night. I don't care that you can quote all one million F-words in the movie "Scarface," man. I don't care that you watch Skinemax nightly or even that your parents let you play Manhunt 2. I will not, will not, will not recommend Grand Theft Auto IV for you. I won't try to convince your parents.
I'm sorry. But I won't do it.
No, seriously, because Grand Theft Auto IV isn't like other offensive M-rated games. Manhunt offers bad language and brutal violence. Condemned encourages what amounts to digitized Bum Fights. Postal is a waste of code. But GTA IV is a mature tour de force, a work of art, and a poster boy for everything that's wonderful, possible and "morally" wrong with videogames.
Niko Bellic isn't your typical hero. He's a three-dimensional human being. Deeply flawed, bitter, trained to kill by a horrific war and looking for a fresh start. Early on he dates a normal, sweet girl named Michelle, and the way he treats her is respectful, even when he convinces her to take him up stairs for some hot coffee (satire abounds in this game). His cousin is a fat fool, always on about "titties" -- in fact the game itself opens with a cinematic of a fat guy in his undies getting whipped by a dominatrix. The opening conversation is mostly about big American titties. The strip club pushes the envelope.
Then there's the violence. You can take out entire packs of pedestrians and then stop to admire the bloodstains on your car. Make mayhem, kill cops, and take on the army if you like. The game's missions revolve around drug sales, assassinations and beating people up with baseball bats. It's brutal.
The writing is incredibly high-quality and the HD graphics take the Grand Theft Auto violence to the next level and beyond -- making for the most beautiful carnage and violence ever made interactive. Drugs figure into the game -- buying selling and using. There's very little in the game that promotes goodness, kindness or lawfulness. You really can't choose to be good. It's a sandbox, but a bloody one.
The subject matter is undeniably mature, and that's why I will not encourage parents to bend the rules, end the argument, and let their kids have GTA IV. The game is mature, the satire is out of a teen's reach, and because of that, all that remains is interactive killing, maiming and destruction. GTA IV is a masterpiece, but without the adult context, it's just a series of ugly interactions that celebrates lawlessness. No, it won't turn kids into monsters -- it may not even give them nightmares -- but responsible parenting means protecting your teens as long as you can.
There's nothing wrong with GTA IV, but it shouldn't be played by kids under 17. There are plenty of T-rated games and a few mild M-rated games from which to choose. Save GTA IV for them. Save it in the same place you keep "Pulp Fiction," "Scarface" and "Bad Lieutenant."
And if they play the game at a friend's house?
Well, you'd better just expect that to happen. Just don't blame me. I wouldn't help them out.
No matter how many times they asked me.