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‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ has lots of critics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–If the name “Grand Theft Auto IV” doesn’t give away the violent and explicit content of the latest teenage video game craze, then the multiple warnings on the packaging do.

“GTA IV,” as it is called,” carries a “Mature” rating for “blood,” “intense violence,” “partial nudity,” “strong language,” “strong sexual content” and the “use of drugs and alcohol.”

Available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has become perhaps the most popular series of games for young teenage boys, despite the fact stores are not supposed to sell it to anyone under 17. The latest release, in fact, could become the top-selling video game of all time. It went on sale April 29 and already is the top-selling video game on Amazon.com.

The game revolves around “Niko Bellic,” an immigrant from Eastern Europe who lives in “Liberty City” –- essentially a faux name for New York City. The video gamer, playing the role of Niko, steals cars, kills cops and gang members, runs over pedestrians on the sidewalk, gets drunk, visits strip clubs and has sex with prostitutes. The game has multiple critics, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which is upset that players can get drunk and then drive.

The Parents Television Council is criticizing Toys R Us –- generally viewed as a place for children — for selling it. PTC also is calling on stores to check IDs and not allow children to purchase it. A 2007 survey by the National Institute on Media and the Family found that half the time, teens under 17 were able to purchase video games with a “mature” rating.

“Legally, stores cannot sell children pornographic magazines or handguns –- but they can legally sell video games to children that contain pornographic content or that teach children how to kill,” PTC’s Tim Winter said in a statement. “This is wrong, and retailers should ensure that unaccompanied minors are prevented from purchasing Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City.”

At least one survey showed Grand Theft Auto to be the most popular game among boys ages 12-14. One of the game’s writers, Lazlow Jones, said on a Washington, D.C., radio station that the game is “too intense” for children.

“If you let your child play this game, you’re a bad parent,” he said, according to The Washington Post.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his blog that the game “is a signal of where the culture is headed.”

“There is a moral minefield at every turn and no sector of the entertainment industry is safe — and certainly not the world of video games,” he said.

Grand Theft Auto IV essentially is an R-rated movie in video game form — a fact not lost on gamers.

“I really think this is the first game that makes you feel that you are in a movie,” one reviewer on Amazon.com wrote. “The graphics draw you in. The voices are amazingly well done and varied. The plot draws you in, having you wonder who to trust, having you wonder what is going on with the characters.”

One website for parents, WhatTheyPlay.com, said of the game’s aforementioned six content descriptors, strong language “is probably the most prevalent,” as the citizens of Liberty City “are prone to express themselves loudly when anything upsets them.” The “f-word” is common.

Of course -– as the game’s title suggests –- “Grand Theft Auto IV” has plenty of violence, and it’s graphic. When Niko attacks someone, the parental website said, blood “will spray in different ways.” During close-quarters fighting, the blood will spray “in such a way that it looks like it’s splattering against the TV screen.”

“The cinematic scenes in the game feature some of the most graphic depictions of blood, with executions presented much as you would see in a TV show such as The Sopranos,” the WhatTheyPlay.com review said.

Chris Baker of Slate.com put it another way.

“The violence is no longer cartoonish,” he wrote. “Shoot an innocent bystander, and you see his face contort in agony. He’ll clutch at the wound and begin to stagger away, desperately seeking safety.”

Mohler said players “are filling their minds” with explicit images and “feeling the competitive exhilaration of engaging in immoral acts.”

“This is dangerous stuff for the soul,” he wrote. “… Parents have to make hard calls on entertainment options and they have to make their decisions stick. Christian young adults are negotiating a world of seemingly infinite choices — and every choice is laden with moral significance. The release of Grand Theft Auto IV presents parents with a great teaching opportunity and young adults with a moral choice.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.

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