GTA IV: A Kinder, Gentler Game?


Posted May 1, 2008 - By Stephen Johnson

Like every gamer in the country, I've been spending a lot of time over the last few days playing Grand Theft Auto IV. But I've also been paying attention to the negative response the game has been getting. Whether it's MADD calling for the game to be re-rated "Adults Only," or crimes committed to get the game, or a NYPD widow and the mayor mentioning violent videogames as causes of real life violence, a lot of people have issues with the game's violence.

But, having spent some time in Liberty City, we've been finding it a much less violent place than the fake metropolises of earlier Grand Theft Autos. Sure, spreading mayhem randomly is still pretty fun (maybe even more fun than in past games because of the better physics), but after racking up stars during police chases a few times, I've become a relatively law-abiding citizen.

I'm no hippy, but the storyline and characters in GTA IV are engrossing enough that I've been playing it a little like an RPG, dealing violence and death when I absolutely have to, but actually considering the consequences when I do. I'm about 12 hours into the game, and most of the people I've killed have been low-level criminals, drug dealers, hustlers, and assorted low-lifes. Maybe they don't  deserve to die, but they probably don't deserve to live either.

When I'm driving through town, going about my business, I keep a relatively low profile most of the time. I avoid hitting pedestrians (usually) and I understand the police have a job to do, so I don't draw attention. I have a job to do too, even if it's just taking Roman to a magic show.

Without moralizing or setting up fake limits like some games do, Rockstar has presented the consequences of random mayhem to players, and because the game is so damn good, I take it seriously. Where nihilistic, cartoonish CJ Johnson from San Andreas bombed across town gleefully cutting corners, killing pedestrians and otherwise thugging-it-up. Niko Bellic, tries to keep his nose clean. But he never can. With his troubled past and his yearning for a piece of the American Dream, Niko is forced into violence constantly and seems at once troubled and drawn to it. 

It's a complicated game, and a complex statement RockStar is making here, and players ambivalent attitudes toward the violence at the center of the game may be the greatest innovation of this latest Grand Theft Auto.

But I will bust a cap in a strangers' ass in multiplayer, and won't think twice...

How about you? How do you play? Am I a total wuss?

GTA IV: A Kinder, Gentler Game?


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