Why GTA IV won’t turn kids mental

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People say GTA IV is bad for kids. I disagree.

There’s been less of a GTA uproar than I expected this time around, probably because the critical acclaim it’s received puts those who openly slate it in a far less comfortable position than that of the cushy high-horse many have been sitting on for years. Despite this there are still some that feel the content of the game is inappropriate, which seems quite reasonable to an extent even if you’re not a conservative Luddite. But when you boil down to it, what actually makes a game like GTA IV inappropriate?

The game’s protagonist Niko can be a rough character at times, but his actions are driven very much by his personal history and subsequent sense of character. He’s not a bad man, but he’s not a good man either. Some of the things Niko must do throughout the story are unpleasant, but they don’t seem out of context. The violence carried out on others throughout often feels unhinged and unnecessary, but that doesn’t make the sense of causality behind it all feel any less real.

All in all, if you’re playing GTA IV as if you are Niko then there’s no problem. It’s violent and crude at times, but in a considerably more intelligent manner than most action films manage to be. You might do some bad things playing as Niko, but if you’re a level minded individual then you’ll probably feel pretty guilty about it afterwards. In the hands of someone sensible GTA IV is gripping and thought-provoking. And this is where the problems begin…

In the context of the game there’s never any reason to go on a rampage. Sure, you can go cave that hooker’s head in, but what’s the point? You can go around beating up old ladies, but why would you want to? It’s not in Niko’s nature, and it’s not rewarded- so technically it’s really not fair to blame the game for the way that mindless idiots choose to use it. GTA IV gives you a vast amount of personal choice regarding how you behave, but makes it very clear in what context you’re supposed to be playing it. So if it’s not the motivation of the game’s character taking control, then who’s motivation is it? If you’re put within a brilliantly realistic version of New York and your first instinct is to cause harm to civilians… what kind of a person are you?

Just as Niko’s actions are dictated by context, so are ours when playing games. The mainstream media are obsessed with the idea that playing realistic games affects the way we behave in real life. There’s some truth to this, but it’s not a one-way door: The way we behave in real life also affects the way we play games.

The way in which people respond to the situations which GTA IV puts you in will depend on what kind of person you’ve become, a cumulative mish-mash of things you’ve seen, done, and experienced. One person might relish in the power of a brutal execution, another might feel slightly sickened by the situation they’ve been forced into. Very young children aside, I fail to see how age plays a part in this sense of judgment. If by the time you’re 16 you’re still not interested in doing anything other than running people over when playing games then chances are you’re a lost cause… GTA IV in the wrong hands could easily be a playground for murderers to rehearse in, but then again so could kitchens- and I can’t hear anyone talking about banning knives, can you?

Kids need to be exposed to bad things. It’s how you learn, it’s how you grow. Good video games are perfect for learning; they put you in uncomfortable positions and force you to make decisions that you might not be comfortable with. They’ll help them develop their own sense of right and wrong, in a way that linear media like TV or film can’t quite manage. Parents are afraid of children becoming desensitized to violence and because of this avoid exposing their kids to it at all costs. But if you don’t introduce them to it, then who will? Little Jimmy from down the road, that’s who. Do you know what they’ll choose to play? Gears of War. Will they think about morality as they gun down swarms of chunky aliens in a haze of gore? Will they f**k.

GTA IV isn’t bad for kids, it’s bad for stupid people. How the hell are you going to fix that though, eh?