Grand Theft Auto has always been 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 PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are eagerly awaiting the most recent instalment in the GTA series later this year, and when the true sequel to GTA III, the amazingly-named GTA IV launches (there have already been several spin-offs since GTA III, such as for example Liberty City Stories, etc). The internet 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 into 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 virtually the whole 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 truly have a go, either. GTA San Andreas Torrent Spotting a way to look good, a spokesman for the mayor had a chance too: “The mayor does not support any video game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers.”
Oddly though, New York City hasn’t seemed to have had a problem with movie companies setting their violent and action thrillers in the city, with roads closed for the Die Hard 3 film, for example. Had RockStar turned up with millions of dollars in order to shoot the city for textures for the games, would there were praise galore for the realism the game offered?
All of this criticism, of course, ignore the entire “it’s fiction” nature of the game leading to the question of whether future novelists, film makers, animators, artists and games companies will soon be asked not to show the city with any violence in it. Because fiction has to reflect reality apparently, somewhat destroying the idea of fiction.
As to the trailer itself, there’s not a hint of violence. It’s undeniable that the game features a fictionalised version of NYC. While 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 talking to ex-cops about simply how much harder organised crime is to have away with these days.
RockStar has repeatedly pushed GTA IV with the tagline “Things will soon be different” a phrase echoed by the main character in the trailer, but it seems that criticism of the franchise is not planning to any different these times, starting before the game has even appeared. It’s unlikely to damage sales. Even in NYC.