Rockstar Games has undergone a vast amount of criticism, lawsuits, and overall backlash from the games they have released. Since their 1997 series starter of Grand Theft Auto to the announcement of their 2013 release Grand Theft Auto V, there have been countless articles, speeches, lawsuits, and bans fighting back against the company as well as their publishers. The argument is always the same.
Rockstar is corrupting innocent minors.
The fact of the matter is, Rockstar is – if anything – helping people. Not just minors, but every gamer who partakes in an hour or two of slaughtering police forces and abducting hookers.
As What Culture’s Stuart Bedfort points out in his article about 10 features of Grand Theft Auto that caused major controversy, Grand Theft Auto is, has been, and always will be rated for a mature clientele. They make this clear not only by labeling the game cases, but even their game-specific websites require visitors to enter a birthdate to confirm their legal age. Not that this prevents visitors from lying about their real age, but it shows that Rockstar does all that they can to make it very obvious that they are not designing games for the young ones of our society.
That being said, Rockstar cannot be held responsible for the ‘corruption’ of minors.
What all of these MADD-like organizations and even political figures seem to completely miss is that Rockstar is not promoting criminality. In fact, they’re attempting to prevent it. There is only so much a videogame company can do to prevent their product from winding up in the wrong hands. Once the game leaves their studios and enters the consumer’s availability, whoever plays said game is beyond the developer’s control.
The reason I focus on Rockstar is because they seem to be the biggest target of criticism from parents and politicians when it comes to having a negative influence on younger folks. The reality is that level-minded people do not blame violent videogames for any crime they may commit. In fact, statistics have suggested that the increase in video game sales have directly influenced the decrease in crime over the last twenty years. Why? The answer is a lot simpler than people care to believe.
Video games serve as an outlet for emotional distress. When an individual – any age – is upset or angry, they can pick up a controller and take their anger out by butchering a mass amount of animated, imaginative civilians. This allows them to get their anger out in a safe way, without putting the lives of real human beings at risk.
As a nineteen year old, I have been playing video games practically since the day I was born. I have grown up in the technological era and have seen the development of some of the greatest products, from the Sega Genesis to the Playstation 3, and from the original Nokia to the iPhone 5. I have been a part of this; it has enveloped my life, and I consider myself an eligible candidate to defend technology and blame society.
I have played virtually every Rockstar game known to man, and they have all helped me – not harmed me. My mother has always been skeptical of their affects on me, however it is clear that any of my negative behaviour has been based on hormones and my depression – not what I learned from Grand Theft Auto.
The overall stigma directed at Rockstar has perhaps helped the company churn out better, more realistic games solely to fight back against the criticism. From their original 2D universe of birds-eye-view GTA games to their 3D universe of III, Vice City, and San Andreas, and finally to their High Definition Universe of IV and the upcoming V, Rockstar has continuously squashed their competition and essentially monopolized the genre of open-world, free-roam video games – next in line being Saint’s Row.
Whether you are embracing the realistic, money-focused GTA series from Rockstar or the farfetched, ridiculously designed Saint’s Row series from THQ, you will no doubt be experiencing animated violence and a flood of profanities and slurs. However, as pointed out several times, these games are designed and advertised for mature audiences.
This is where the responsibility of the industry ends, and the responsibility of the parents or guardians begins.
If a parent tells their child they are going to buy them Grand Theft Auto, said parent should know exactly what they are purchasing. The second the cashier says “Are you aware that this game is rated Mature?”, the parent should understand the situation they are getting themselves – and moreover, their child – into.
But alas, these parents purchase a notoriously violent videogame for their child. They come into the playroom just as the child is killing a hooker, and the parent rips the remote from the child and shuts off the console. Next thing you know, Rockstar has an angry letter in their mailbox scolding them for promoting such vile behaviour.
Who is to blame in this situation? Is it Rockstar’s responsibility to make a less-violent, sexually-driven videogame? Or is it the parent’s responsibility to do their homework and understand what they are putting in front of their child?
At a grocery store, a parent will not buy their child a candy bar if they don’t want them to have sugar. If they buy the child the candy bar, and the child gets hyper, are they going to sue Hershey’s for distributing that candy to the store?
No. The parent is going to stop buying candy for their child.
Why does this change when the product is different, though? If a parent does not want their child to be playing a violent video game, but they buy them a violent video game, why is it now the developer’s fault?
As Stuart Bedford mentioned in his aforementioned article, parents love a scapegoat. Rather than take the blame for their own decisions, they find another possible cause and place the blame on it.
The overall point I am trying to make is that a video game company can do anything they want. They can create a child-focused game like Spyro and market it as E (ESRB; PEGI 3+) or they can make an adult-themed game like Dead Space and market it as M (ESRB; PEGI 18). The rating [should] determine the audience.
However, the developers, publishers, etc. do not have a say in who actually purchases their games. If an adult buys the game for their child, responsibility falls on the parent – not the developer of the game.
So these organizations – whether they be Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Mothers Against Videogame Addiction and Violence (MAVAV), Jack Thompson and his supporters, etc. – are barking up the wrong tree. Rather than sitting in their thrones and trying to cast shadows on the video game industry for corrupting their children, I believe they need to step down off of their high chair and reflect inward.
It’s not the industry.
It’s the parents.
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This article was first posted on November 13, 2012