Grand Theft Auto is definitely a franchise that likes to bathe itself in controversy, shower itself off in heated debate and deodorize in wild accusations. Whether it is the intentionally amoral gameplay or the amazingly unsexy “hot coffee” debacle, GTA has proved time and time again that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Gamers on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are eagerly awaiting the most recent instalment in the GTA series later this season, and when the actual sequel to GTA III, the amazingly-named GTA IV launches (there have already been several spin-offs since GTA III, such as for instance Liberty City Stories, etc). The web was alive with downloaders recently when RockStar finally allowed gamers their first peak at the game in the form of an intro trailer.
Within hours though, while gamers dissected the footage, politicians leapt in to criticize. What were they criticizing? The fictional setting, Liberty City, which resembles New York. A lot. City politicians were aghast at the notion of a piece of fiction portraying violence on the streets on New York, apparently being ignorant of pretty much the entire work of Martin Scorsese.
“Setting Grand Theft Auto in the safest big city in America could be like setting Halo in Disneyland,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone, chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee to The New York Daily News. He’s not the only person to really have a go, either. GTA San Andreas Torrent Spotting a chance to look great, a spokesman for the mayor had a chance too: “The mayor does not support any game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers.”
Oddly though, New York City hasn’t seemed to own had a problem with movie companies setting their violent and action thrillers in the town, with roads closed for the Die Hard 3 film, for example. Had RockStar turned up with millions of dollars in order to shoot the town for textures for the games, would there have been praise galore for the realism the game offered?
All of this criticism, obviously, ignore the whole “it’s fiction” nature of the game which leads to the question of whether future novelists, film makers, animators, artists and games companies is likely to be asked not to show the town with any violence in it. Because fiction must reflect reality apparently, somewhat destroying the point of fiction.
As to the trailer itself, there’s not a hint of violence. It’s undeniable that the game includes a fictionalised version of NYC. Because the GTA IV preview in P3Zine, the free PlayStation 3 magazine shows, but already game commentators are theorizing that GTA IV will feature more realism and less violence without repercussions, as RockStar has supposedly been speaking with ex-cops about how much harder organised crime is to have away with these days.
RockStar has repeatedly pushed GTA IV with the tagline “Things is likely to be different” an expression echoed by the key character in the trailer, but it appears that criticism of the franchise is not likely to any different now, starting before the game has even appeared. It’s unlikely to damage sales. Even yet in NYC.