Confessions of a Grand Theft Auto Addict


Those of us with evolved thumbs already knew it. But it took a half billion dollar bumper week to convince the rest: even the average console game surpasses what’s on at the local Cineplex for value, pleasure and quality time misuse.

Last week, staple-of-digital-hostility Grand Theft Auto (GTA) unleashed its fourth installment. A record $US500 million turned over as soon as the high speed gore hit shelves. Having played all previous iterations of this immensely gratifying game, I would have been a customer too, were it not for the impediment of having to earn a living. Instead, I’ve consoled myself with browsing news reports of its release.

Terrestrial and traditional media have, it appears, two things to say about the colossal success of GTA. One is: "My goodness, look at all the money those people have made!" The other is: "My goodness, the youth, the youth! What will become of their morals as they fritter needless hours in the company of carrion and animated prostitutes?"

In fact, The Telegraph (eminent UK Tory periodical with proper grammar and grown up sub-editors, not our local) decided to explicitly fuse the release of GTA IV with a violent mugging. As London gamers queued to purchase social disarray in a box, a hooded assailant withdrew a knife and mugged one of his fellows. Presumably to avoid making payment for the game.

Needless to impart, this is an unspeakable story. I’m appalled by violence, hooded assailants and knives – except, it should be noted, when I’m playing GTA.

The story in The Telegraph is not only disingenuous, it’s logically flawed. Clearly, the sadistic little blighter with a knife had yet to place GTA in his console. So, The Telegraph‘s insinuation that this latest – and reportedly quite graphic – rendering of the series made him do it is moot. Further, as the girth of my arse will attest, gamers are disinclined to physical activity beyond the margin of their thumbs.

There is no hard clinical evidence that violent video games produce violence. There is only extravagant and common suggestion. I recall a very unpleasant interlude I spent working within the staid moral confines of community radio. When a co-worker discovered I had been beating up prostitutes on GTA, he said, like a leftist automaton, "These games are training manuals for future misogynists." Naturally in response, I sexually violated him, killed him and took his wallet.

No, actually, I didn’t. I explained that while I took no particular pleasure in the seamier elements of the game such as mugging rent boys and asking Fat Tony for an upgrade to my AK-47, I really didn’t think that it did me any harm – beyond, of course, making me very late for work for an entire month.

GTA just made me chillax, dude. And by no means did it desensitise me to the real. I’m quite aware that I’m manipulating a fiction. The fiction, being rather overtly fictional, has little chance of manipulating me.

(It didn’t, it should be noted, do me any good, either. There are those nonces who’ll argue that gaming is a nonpareil mental exercise, but such study rests on the idea that engaging large parts of your brain simultaneously is somehow desirable. Other theorists say that discrete and focused mental function is better. I’m all for using only small parts of my brain.)

For all the exaggerated media suggestions of street violence, I’d like to propose study of another trend spurned by GTA’s release. How many extra pizzas were delivered following the first sell-out season? How many unhealthy centimetres were added to the thighs of 30-somethings? (Yes, the average age of a gamer is creeping closer to 40 all the time.) And, how many cinemas were agreeably empty this past week?

If you’ve hopes for an unimpeded snog at the cinema, this is your time.

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