Stop the GTA 4 Hypocrisy

With the release of the videogame "Grand Theft Auto 4" we are starting to see a wave of media and politicians condemning the game as an amoral destroyer of our culture, and in many cases calling for a ban of the game. And aside from their hatred of the game and any game like it, most of these people have another thing in common: They have never played the game and, outside of Solitaire and online Scrabble games, they don't play videogames at all. As a technology enthusiast I am used to people who don't know anything about technology criticizing it and, in the worst cases, trying to pass stupid laws that hinder technological progression. But when it comes to videogames we see more attacks and criticisms by those with no first-hand experience than in any other area of technology. Personally, I love videogames. The main reason I have a powerful cutting-edge system at home is to play the latest and greatest games. In general if the choice is TV or a game I'll almost always choose the game. And, for the record, this 40-year-old male has played and enjoyed the first three GTA games. Now, I think everyone has a right to criticize games they don't like. But when you do this you should have some first-hand experience and you shouldn't be a hypocrite.

GTA IV LogoWith the release of the videogame "Grand Theft Auto 4" we are starting to see a wave of media and politicians condemning the game as an amoral destroyer of our culture, and in many cases calling for a ban of the game. And aside from their hatred of the game and any game like it, most of these people have another thing in common: They have never played the game and, outside of Solitaire and online Scrabble games, they don't play videogames at all. As a technology enthusiast I am used to people who don't know anything about technology criticizing it and, in the worst cases, trying to pass stupid laws that hinder technological progression. But when it comes to videogames we see more attacks and criticisms by those with no first-hand experience than in any other area of technology. Personally, I love videogames. The main reason I have a powerful cutting-edge system at home is to play the latest and greatest games. In general if the choice is TV or a game I'll almost always choose the game. And, for the record, this 40-year-old male has played and enjoyed the first three GTA games. Now, I think everyone has a right to criticize games they don't like. But when you do this you should have some first-hand experience and you shouldn't be a hypocrite. When I looked at the Boston Globe today I saw an editorial calling GTA 4 loathsome and basically lamenting the fact that it probably can't be banned. I found it kind of interesting that the same paper that gave rave reviews to "Pulp Fiction" and "The Departed" would bash a very similar form of media. Both "Pulp Fiction" and "The Departed" are very violent films that in many ways glorified the criminals in them. In fact, in many ways the violence in these films is worse. When I watch "Pulp Fiction" I can't stop Bruce Willis from shooting John Travolta. In the GTA games I can direct the main character not to kill or steal. Some people will say, come on, how can you compare a stupid game to an Oscar-winning work of art like Martin Scorsese's "The Departed"? Of course, we've heard that argument before. People used to say, how can you compare the Beatles to Beethoven, or Alfred Hitchcock to Edgar Allen Poe? These days those comparisons don't seem so idiotic and hopefully it won't be too long before the best games are treated as art on the same level as the best movies. In my own experience, I've only seen a handful of movies in the last 10 years that come close to the complexity of plot and depth of character development that great games like the "System Shock" series had. Of course, the other argument that people with no experience with videogames will trot out is that, sure, movies are violent too but in a game the player is personally doing the killing. That's strange. I could have sworn the main character in GTA 4 is an eastern European guy. I doubt that most players will think of themselves as this character any more than millions of "Tomb Raider" players thought that they were an adventuring British lady. Of course it's possible that there will be a troubled person out there who will overly identify with the character in the game, just as there were troubled souls who disastrously identified with the character Neo from "The Matrix" or with Holden Caulfield from "The Catcher in the Rye." Now, I do feel that people are free to hate these games and what they stand for. There are a lot of things I hate, like the torture-based horror films that have become so popular in recent years. But I would never argue that these films should be banned or that it should be illegal to see them, and for the record I have seen a couple of them. I find it interesting when earnest lawmakers propose laws to make it illegal to provide a violent videogame to minors. So it would be illegal for Bobby's older brother to buy him a copy of GTA but it's perfectly fine for him to take Bobby to see "Sawing at the Hostel 3"? To me these people who attack and want to ban games like GTA 4 without any first-hand experience or understanding are no different from those who picketed Monty Python's "Life of Brian" without seeing the film, or those who attack the Harry Potter books as promoting Satanic witchcraft without having ever read the books. So if you want to attack games, fine, but do so based on some actual experience and knowledge. If you don't want to do that, then it might make sense to follow some wise advice I once heard. If you don't know what you're talking about, it's probably best to say nothing at all.