Sunday, May 4, 2008

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pans Grand Theft Auto IV, Claiming It Glamorizes Drunk Driving. Fact Or Hype?

While I generally look upon Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as a bunch of dried-up old battleaxes who want to make life miserable for all of us, this time they may have gotten it right. Along with a number of other activist groups, as well as police, assorted politicians, and surviving victims, MADD has also raised their voice against the new Grand Theft Auto IV video game which has taken America by storm. Full report posted on the Rense website.

Gamers were lined up outside outlets at midnight on the day GTA IV was released. In just four days, GTA IV has quickly become one of the highest rated games of all time, fueling its commercial success to rival that of Halo 3, which currently holds the highest single day sales of any video game. And this is probably a good thing for the company, because Rockstar reportedly shelled out an astronomical and unprecedented US$100 million to develop GTA IV, enough to surpass Shenmue's $70 million as the most expensive game ever made. Those who want even more information and feedback about GTA IV can visit this Stormfront discussion thread.

However, one of the most controversial features of GTA IV gives players the option to drive drunk after consuming digital alcohol, although the game "suggests" taking a cab after drinking with in-game buddies. And it's this feature which triggered MADD's ire. They promptly lashed out, saying, "drunk driving is a choice, a violent crime... [it] is not a game, and it is not a joke." MADD has also called upon the Entertainment Software Ratings Board to reclassify Grand Theft Auto IV as an Adults Only game. Unfortunately, the downside of this measure is that it might effectively ban the game from sale in the U.S. since neither Sony nor Microsoft allow the sale of AO games on their respective consoles in America. But MADD also reminds people that nearly 13,500 people die in drunk driving crashes each year, with another half million injured in alcohol-related crashes.

Read MADD's full statement HERE.

Another prominent critic is NYPD association president Pat Lynch, who told the New York Daily News on Wednesday April 30th that, "being involved in a shootout in a video game has no consequences and that is the wrong message to send to young people."

This criticism is not exactly headline news to Rockstar, nor have they historically displayed any concern for the social consequences of their products. Before launching the game, developer Rockstar said it fully expected the mainstream backlash, saying that video games will continue to bear the blame of societal challenges, including crime, acts of violence, and degenerate youth.

There's a diversity of official opinion on this subject. On the one hand, a Michigan State University researcher reported in October 2005 that playing violent video games leads to brain activity pattern that may be characteristic for aggressive thoughts. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, 13 male research participants were observed playing a latest-generation violent video game. Each participant’s game play was recorded and content analyzed on a frame-by-frame basis. And a causal link between playing the first-person shooting game in our experiment and brain-activity pattern that are considered as characteristic for aggressive cognitions and affects was identified. Apparently, there is a both a neurological link and a short-term causal relationship.

In addition, Jack Anderson, in an article published in Meridian Magazine in May 2001, lists ten reasons for youth violence, and characterizes media influence as the number one reason. Within the media category, he includes violent video games, although he considers movies, television, and aggressive music such as rap and metal to have greater deleterious influence.

On the other hand, other venues such as PBS, the APA, have found no link between violent video games and youth violence, citing the fact that reported youth violence actually subsided during the first part of the 2000 decade. However, youth violence is on the upswing again, with the greatest increases in violence among black, Latino, and Pacific Islander youth.

The bottom line - parents must become and remain involved with their kids, and be ready to overrule their kids' choices if they feel they can't handle them properly. MADD is right to raise a hue and cry over this issue, but I'm not sure a more stringent and complex rating system is the answer. Do we need a professional video game police to do the job of parents?

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