Grand Theft Auto set for record-breaking launch

Motley crew: GTA’s cast includes gangsters, war criminals and psychopaths © Sony Entertainment

Midnight tonight will see the launch of GTA V, the latest in the hit game series to arrive on shelves with its addictive blend of cars, guns and murder. In the digital world, crime does pay?

The fifth instalment of the Grand Theft Auto series of games arrives tonight. Gamers all over the world are hot with anticipation. This is one of the games industry’s blockbuster ‘triple-A’ titles: with a budget of £170 million – bigger than most Hollywood movies – GTA V is the most expensive game ever produced.

The result is a game of breathtaking scale. Gamers queuing up for their copies this evening will be buying a ticket to a huge digital world, centred around the city of Los Santos – a thinly disguised version of the real Los Angeles. The virtual map is enormous – covering a larger area than some real world cities – but rich in detail.

Pedestrians wander past virtual versions of real Los Angeles landmarks, shouting at careless motorists or queuing at hotdog stands. Police patrol the highways. The Los Santos countryside is full of farms, small towns and wild mountains where a whole ecosystem of digital animals roam free. This is perhaps the fullest and most ambitious game world ever produced.

It is no surprise then that retailers expect the Grand Theft Auto V launch to ‘blow records apart.’ Sales in the first year are expected to reach an incredible £1 billion. But not everyone is excited. Why? Ever since it began, back in 1997, the Grand Theft Auto series has offered up its extraordinary digital worlds as arenas for an unparalleled riot of violence and crime.

Any car on the streets can be hijacked by the player. Any passer-by can be murdered. In later games, players can visit prostitutes, then kill them and get their money back. The games have been described as ‘murder simulators’, and condemned by the Police Federation of England and Wales as ‘sick, deluded and beneath contempt.’

And the series’ ‘heroes’ have always been on the wrong side of the law: a mafia enforcer, a Serbian war criminal, a street gangster. One of GTA V’s characters is reported to be the ‘worst psychopath’ yet.

Fun loving criminals

From tomorrow, millions of young people will be spending hours of their lives in a highly detailed and richly textured world, committing crime. Are critics right to be worried? GTA presents a world where crime has no consequences; where violence leads to riches and the law can be ignored. As virtual worlds become ever more realistic, surely behaviour learnt in one world could easily spill over into the other.

Gamers are not convinced. No one, they say, is likely to get confused between the real world and a few inches of television screen. Games are harmless fantasy – maybe even better than harmless. After all, the more people are inside committing ‘crimes’ on their TVs, the fewer people will be outside doing the real thing.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather play a game as the ‘good guy’ or the ‘bad guy’? Why?
  2. Can a virtual action ever be morally wrong?

Activities

  1. Grand Theft Autois rated 18 in the UK, meaning only those 18 and over can buy it. In groups, draw up your own ratings guidelines for games. What sort of content, if any, would you ban for younger players?
  2. The protagonists ofGTA Vare not heroes but ‘antiheroes’. Write a short story where the main character is a villain.

Some People Say...

“Murdering for fun is sick, even with virtual victims.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This game sounds great! Where do I get my copy?
In the UK and most other countries, you have to be 18 years old to buy the game, so you may have to wait a while.
What? That’s so unfair!
This game has scenes of sex, drug abuse and murder – it is no wonder that parents want to keep it out of their children’s hands.
But games can’t do anyone any real harm can they?
Actually, games have been linked with deaths in young people. One 18-year-old in Taiwan collapsed after playing the gameDiablo III for 40 hours straight. He was so obsessed with the game that he forgot to eat or sleep. Many psychologists say videogame addiction should be classified as a real and potentially life-threatening condition.

Word Watch

Grand Theft Auto
Grand theft auto is a US term for automobile theft, the signature crime of the GTA game series. At the touch of a button, a player in GTA can smash a car window, beat up the helpless occupant and drive away.
Los Santos
Cities in the GTA universe are based on cities in the real world, but to avoid upsetting city officials, the games’ creators traditionally give each city a different name. Los Angeles becomes Los Santos; New York is Liberty City; Miami is Vice City; Las Venturas is Las Vegas, and so on.
Condemned
When the first GTA game was released in 1997, it caused a storm of controversy. What the outraged protesters did not know was that the controversy was being fuelled by publicist Max Clifford, who released deliberately exaggerated reports on the game’s content. As Clifford anticipated, the flood of outraged headlines served only to increase the game’s sales.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.