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Extremely well put, Jane.

You asked "isn't there a place for Vice City?", but I'd like to pose the same question about Rockstar's latest title, Manhunt.

Is it a comment on voyeurism, or merely cynical sensationalism?
Does it provoke useful questions about rating and censorship, or just draw unwanted negative publicity?


YES! Manhunt! I'm currently on a manhunt myself to get that game from Take Two for review purposes. I cannot wait to play it.


I'd ask any person who is offended by the line in GTA to watch a movie like "I Spit on Your Grave" or even "Se7en" and then tell me that, as a whole, the specific quote in GTA is so much worse that it could bring legal action. And I'd like them to then tell me why videogames are the ones being singled out, and if they even begin to say that videogames are for children, I don't think I'd even dignify it with a response other than pointing them to the ESRB website.


What's happening here is that game is engaging in very dark satire of American racism and race politics.

I must disagree.

First, I think racial politics are impossible to satirize.

Second, nothing is being "exposed" here. The makers of GTA3 understand that, bluntly, Evil Is Fun, and they used the game as a forum to showcase criminal, antisocial behavior and every nasty thing they could think of. They're no different than schoolkids giggling over saying the "F Word."

Third, as for the *ahem* Haitian Community, haven't we heard this song before? A group of other-than-white people with hair-trigger Offense-O-Meters uncovers something that rubs them the wrong way. They promptly have a collective hissyfit over this latest example of oppression, racism, etc.

Anxious to avoid being branded with the Scarlet R (acism), those responsible for the offending material run for cover. The skies thicken with rehearsed expressions of outrage, apologies and renewed dedication to multi-diverso-inclusiveness.

Let's face it, if a group composed of the wives and children of murdered police officers had petitioned against GTA3, Rockstar & TakeTwo would have laughed in their faces. But they sat up and took notice of the Haitians' complaint. Why - moral conscience? Remember that this game rewards players for soliciting and killing prostitutes, robbing and murdering innocent people, slaying police officers, etc.

No. This is pure corporate PR ass-covering. And the game itself is just a celebration of moral depravity, violence and ugliness (although exquisitely well-crafted, I must admit).


"I'd like them to then tell me why videogames are the ones being singled out, and if they even begin to say that videogames are for children, I don't think I'd even dignify it with a response other than pointing them to the ESRB website."

Doug Lowenstein at the Entertainment Software Association said basically just that when asked for comment on the term killographic (link via PA).

"Clever phrase," Doug Lowenstein, head of the Entertainment Software Association, which represents computer and video game software publishers, replied when asked about "killographic."

Lowenstein noted that the average age of those who play video games is 28, and said as adults they should be allowed to pick their entertainment.

He also pointed out that the industry rates its games on age appropriateness, and that Walsh's institute found most parents are not aware of a game's content. "The message is that parents in many cases aren't doing their job," Lowenstein said.


The irony, of course, is in Rockstar's wording on removing the content. It will be pulled from "all future versions of the game".

So unless it comes out on Game Cube, the PS2 and Xbox and PC versions remain the same. I'd doubt that they're going to re-master the game again, re-burn hundreds of thousands of copies, and then pull stock from store shelves. It's a tip of the hat, with no real change.


I've seen a few bumperstickers around sporting the phrase "Kill Whitey". I just thought it was funny.

Though it is indeed meant to be satirical, and the phrase is probably being interpreted by those who haven't seen it within the context of the game, I can see how Haitians can be justifiably disturbed by the phrase "Kill all Haitians" appearing as a mission objective. Rockstar probbaly would have been better simply saying, "Kill the Haitian gang members!" or something similar. Consider if it had said, "Kill all lesbians!"

That said, even if the developers were acting on their own dislike of the Haitian community, litigation is not justifiable. There is a disturbing trend of politicians trying to exempt video games from first amendment rights. However, Comic books and Movies have survived similar attacks and misunderstandings in the past.


Brain: "I think racial politics are impossible to satirize."

Everything can be satirized. Everything.

That was very well put indeed, Jane. I'm a little suprised they backed down the way they did. I never thought Vice City was out to make a ton of friends anyway. Pick your battles, I guess. Could be like Bowler said, though. A sly PR stunt seeing as they get alot of flack.

There is definitely a place for the vile and ugly. The enemy of creativity is good taste, afterall.


draigon, i'd go one step further even and say everything must be satirized.

"The enemy of creativity is good taste." i couldn't agree with you more!! that is going to get cross-stitched and hung on my wall!

Justin Mason

Yep, good article.

While playing GTA:VC, I occasionally succumbed to thinking 'this is a bit extreme' -- but then considered what the game uses for source material; Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, The Godfather movies, and Scarface.

Every time, the movies take the biscuit. They're far more violent, bloody, realistic and disturbing.

What games are suffering is a lack of context; put them in the context of film, and they're still quite tame stuff by comparison.

Vern McKinney

I personally wouldn't consider any of the GTA games satire but that's another post. What your seeing here is good ol' NYC politics. And honestly, it seems like a win, win and win situation for everyone involved. Bloomberg showed his support for a large voter block, the Hatian community got it's anti-descrimination message tossed around and Take-Two got some publicity for it's flagship license and enhanced the 'rebel" image of the Rockstar product line.


I'm sorry, I absolutely cannot defend Rockstar. I also fail to see the satire. It's not commenting on how the media glorifies violence, a la Natural Born Killers, nor is it commenting on our obsession with race relations, a la Don't Be a Menace..... It really is just showing drug dealers and gangs being bad, and just how cool that is. Maybe some of us like to play GTA, and I know of policemen who play the game to blow off steam, but that shouldn't cause the knee-jerk reaction to defend Rockstar's first amendment rights. Defending their right to be evil businessmen and sell ultra-violence to kids is not much different than defending a pedophile's "right" to love little boys.


i think as far as evil goes, there's a lot more evil than Rockstar out there.

and i *do* think the games comment on aspects of our society; all media does, and extreme media even more so. just as it's blind to say that the violence in the games has NO impact, it's as blind to pretend they have no message. in fact i'd say the game satirizes American obsession with violence *better* than the heavy-handed travesty that was Oliver Stone's misguided, mishandled opus. the game is far wittier, far more clever, far more stylish, and more wicked.

but then that is a matter of opinion. the point is, we should be *able* as a society to have these mature discussions, and not shut them down from the very beginning with spurious comparisons linking game-makers to pedophiles. i mean really. if that isn't a knee-jerk reaction i don't know what is.


Defending their right to be evil businessmen and sell ultra-violence to kids is not much different than defending a pedophile's "right" to love little boys.

I think this is another discussion altogether, but I wonder why you think that Rockstar markets to kids and why you think that playing these games is as damaging as being sexually abused by a child.

It is clear that children who are abused by pedophiles are damaged physically, mentally, and emotionally for life. There is no such proof in regards to video games and interactive media. In fact, the research that does exist conflicts to such a degree that the results are inconclusive.


Grand Theft Auto is an M-Rated game, just like Natural Born Killers is an R-Rated move. It is intended for adults. While an 8-year old may be able to purchase the game at some retailers, I don't see how preventing that is Rockstar's responsibility. Where did this 8-year old get the $50 to begin with?



Oops, that should be "as a child" instead of "by a child." I don't think there are a great many people who've been sexually abused by children.




Defending their right to be evil businessmen and sell ultra-violence to kids is not much different than defending a pedophile's "right" to love little boys.

Spare me. First off, via the ESRB ratings, their game is specifically not targeted toward children. If your kid is playing it, someone failed in their parenting skills, whether in monitoring them or monitoring their purchases. From the numbers, there are many more adult gamers than any other category. The highest number is 18-26, actually. We can choose to play what we like, thank you very much.

Secondly, comparing it to pedophilia? It's obvious you've never been near anyone who was abused as a child. It's the difference between fantasy (games and pixels) and real life (injuring someone psychologically for the rest of their days). Perhaps you should stop watching "Natural Born Killers" and "Don't be a Menace" for a bit, and try to find the distinction for yourself.


Mike Drucker

I believe the problem isn't that certain (not all) politicians want to prevent video games from having first ammendment rights. That is a tale as old as the hills, with comic books, movies, and everything else coming before video games in that battle.

I think the problem is the fact that people believe that game companies are selling "ultra-violence to kids." Kids aren't the target of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. As much as it would be easy to paint Rockstar and Take Two as evil corporations trying to get kids hooked on those dangerous killing simulators, I doubt that's the exact purpose.

GTA simply does not target children. The story is too complex and full of R-rated movie references. The gameplay is too complex. The difficulty is way too high. Yes, some children will play it, but some children will also see "Scarface" or "Requiem for a Dream" before they should. This doesn't mean that the two movies are evil and thus should not exist.

Furthermore, most stores I go to now actually card for video games. Being the youthful runt that I am, I'm occaisonally asked for my ID when purchasing an M rated game. And this is at 19. I believe that a kid, say, 9, trying to buy this alone wouldn't leave the store with it.

And if the kid's parent is allowing it to buy the game or buying it for them, maybe we have a problem there, too.


I find it difficult to believe that anyone could play Vice City and not think it was satire or, at the very least, hyperbole. Just listen to the radio DJs. They are such over the top caricatures that they're practically dripping with sarcasm. The characters (and NPCs for that matter) in the game play up every stereotype perfectly. The televangelist who's collecting money to build a statue of himself, the liberal-hating conservative politician with a shady past (his name is Alex Shrub...that's not satire?), the beady-eyed, scaredy cat Jewish lawyer who's hooked on coke, the list goes on and on. There's a reason for just about every group in existence to be offended by something in this game, and that's the whole point. These are exaggerated stereotypes.

The entire game is a tribute to the pop culture of the 80's and at the same time, a biting social commentary on the excesses that are so often associated with the decade. Countless winks and nods are given to 80's pop culture. Not-so-subtle references to Scarface and Miami Vice, the licensed 80's music on the radio stations, radio ads for cheesy horror movies and ridiculous Rambo-esque action movies. Cars, money, drugs, ugly suits and shitty pop music. That's what the 80's were about and that's what Vice City is about. Even the gameplay is a parody. Over-the-top, unbelievable, cartoony ultra violence taking place in an era often considered to be the most over-the-top, unbelievable, and cartoony in history.

The quote that's being taken so far out of context would likely be completely innocuous in the context of a film, and any filmmaker worth her salt wouldn't dream of kowtowing to a group of people offended by her art by modifying it. However, the distributor might, and that's Take Two's role. They're the publisher. Rockstar, as the artists, would probably like nothing more than to give Mayor Bloomberg the finger, but Take Two has to use a little more finesse than that.

Avenging Dentist

While I have doubts about Rockstar's original intentions when they created the GTA games, the satire is still there in some sense. As an idea, satire has become ingrained in our culture and just about everyone sees (and uses) it to one degree or another. Even advertising tries to use satire by deriding previous "sincere" styles of advertisements.

I'd suggest that people have seen satire so much in their daily lives that they use it unconsciously, mimicking the form if not the substance. Since I'm not psychic, I can't tell whether Rockstar is being intentionally satirical or just mimicking it. Either way, it's possible for a player to view the games as satirical works.

On a completely unrelated note, I don't really understand people's obsession with analogies (game designers - pedophiles in this case). An analogy may be helpful for people to understand related topics, but people use analogies in almost surreal situations. Usually, the analogy just boils down to, "I, the author, have the same opinion about A and B." If you actually examine the situations in these analogies, there are almost always fundamental differences that invalidate the entire argument. And yet, people use these analogies like they're the verbal equivalent of an atomic bomb.


"...not much different than defending a pedophile's "right" to love little boys."

That makes me cry inside. =/

A lot of people might argue that it's a bad mark against free speech, but I tend to disagree for this situation. If I had made a game that contained a comment which stirred up controversy, in retrospect I might end up feeling guilty about it; if only that it's being interpreted incorrectly. I sense more rationality being used than censorship here, but maybe there's a whole level of politics I'm unaware of.

It's boundry pushing. Right or wrong, it's nice to know they're probably pushing with a conscience because nothing will bring down the hammer of censorship more than a vehicle that appears to be driven by uncaring, irresponsible assholes.


On a related note, I personally welcome this news:

"IMEA Plans Ratings Enforcement
With a number of different groups currently campaigning against violence and racism in games the US retail trade body, the Interactive Entertainment Merchant's Association, has announced plans to prevent sales of 'M' for mature rated gamers to children."



Brain: First, I think racial politics are impossible to satirize.

I think Brain meant that they are inherently self-satirising and any more is redundant...? Brain?

I'm not sure that what GTA does qualifies as satire though. To me, it's parody.

The distinction is that parody is simple mockery through (sometimes excessive or exaggerated) mimicry, and rarely implies a counter-position. Satire is mockery and ridicule intended to expose and discourage flaws in a target's values or character. It implies a starting position from which the object is judged and mocked - i.e. a concept of "the right" which is implicitly being advocated by ridiculing "the wrong" - and a desire to change things, an end to which the satire is means.

(Neither is inherently superior, of course, but I generally find satire much more interesting because satirists are usually more thought-provoking about the moral, as well as the technical or aesthetic, questions: you are being exposed to the interaction of two moral codes rather than the unravelling of one as it reaches the limits of its logic. Also it is much less interesting to watch someone aping someone else and going hee hee hee than to watch them try to engage with another person's point of view - and with yours at the same time - and be humorous and concise while doing so.)

GTA and GTA:VC are having a laugh by pushing the limits out beyond plausibility and logic, not exploring causes, effects and alternatives. Therefore I would class them not as satire but as parody.

And parodying racism or violence by pushing the boundaries of how much people can enjoy experiences of racism and extreme violence is of dubious value at best.

The human capacity to be entertained by the horrific (and entertained by that capacity) is not even that funny a joke, when you know that that's an important part of why so many people have to go through the real thing.

GTA:VC is a fantastic game which demonstrates a real mastery of game design and a witty ability to grasp and manipulate the culture of its setting and period. But it is more than amoral - it has a strong tendency towards a rather evil, selfish morality, since it mainly enacts rewards for sociopathic behaviour. And to say that this is merely art mirroring life is completely false: life is full of rewards for decent behaviour, Rockstar simply haven't chosen to model or code them. (They are in fact harder to model and code, which is perhaps part of the wider problem... but I digress.) If they had, and if the player was mocked for making particular choices, THAT would be satire. As it is, it's beautifully-made exploitation gaming.

The fact that it upsets people so much is not trivial, and for the Haitians to speak out against about being used as targets in a kill-sim (not just one character's line, but the player's stated objective) when they have so much experience of being targets in real life is not only legitimate but right. To suggest that they are wowsers or politically correct is to miss the point that Haitians playing or hearing about these games might genuinely feel threatened, and that in the context of their own lives - a context which Rockstar is taking pains to simulate and therefore should know - they have reason to do so.

jane is right to say that part of the reaction against that mission objective in GTA:VC is because the existence of that racism is an uncomfortable truth which people don't want to acknowledge. But it kinda looks to me like even more of the backlash against the Haitian community's concern is rooted in the same denial. If you DO acknowledge the racism, it's a bit unfair to turn around and say that the Haitians should not complain about it being played for laughs.


"If you DO acknowledge the racism, it's a bit unfair to turn around and say that the Haitians should not complain about it being played for laughs."

Phil: i agree with you absolutely. It distresses me to hear people talk about the "over-sensitivity" of the "politically correct" Haitian community. Of course it makes sense that they are upset. It's a very upsetting thing. And they have a right and a duty to try to educate others. Because they are already under fire (sometimes literally) of course this game which depicts that and allows the player to participate in that is going to be extremely problematic, psychologically as well as socially.

The problem is that in a free society such as ours, both Rockstar and the Haitian community are *right*, in their own contexts. On second thought, that's not a problem at all. It's through these negotiations that we build a better culture. One that Haitian immigrants can feel safe in, and one that parodic games can be made in. It's going to take a long while, I'm afraid.


Maybe it wasn't the best analogy, I apologize. I was simply trying to say that Rockstar was not some innocent victim having their first amendment rights violated. I certainly wasn't comparing GTA to sexual abuse. And I wansn't trying to stifle discourse, I think I did a pretty good job of expanding it, even if it was by accident.

I just found it apalling that people were characterizing the Hatian community as being overly sensitive, or crybabies for not wanting to get killed by wackos like the kids who went on a rampage in CA. That has since resolved itself in this discussion, thankfully.

Younger children, without the clearly defined sense of self that adults have, can easily blur the line between who they are in real life, and who they are when they play a realistic game like GTA. A few studies have looked at this, but you're right, studies have been far from conclusive. There's good reason for the Hatian community to become upset at Rockstar and Take Two because they're selling the terrible idea to thirteen year-olds that Hatians are bad people. They sell it to kids indirectly, looking the other way as most retailers sell it to anyone who wants it. The responsible thing for Take Two, and any other game publisher for that matter, would be to actively ensure that their games do not end up in children's hands. Parents should certainly be doing their job and paying attention to what their kids are playing, but they don't, and so the reality is that GTA is sending some really damaging ideas to kids. Perhaps the game industry could just drill the message into parent's heads that video games aren't toys, they're media, and some media are not for kids, like porn and crime movies. If there were a way to make sure that the majority of kids couldn't play these games, then I would be all for pushing the envelope, as it would then be a discussion amongst adults about adult topics.


Brandy, there's no way to be sure that kids aren't watching Pulp Fiction, or reading Henry Miller stories, or reading porno magazines. Yet we would consider interventions in these media censorship.

At the end of the day, there's a case of a new media being treated differently because it is incorrectly identified as intrinsically a child's media, despite data the demonstrates it isn't, and that its audience is becoming variegated and segmented. But there are enough opinion-makers, legislators, and such who still aren't part of that audience-community, that they can frame videogames as a problem of children's culture. And that frame has to be challenged directly.

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