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The most intellectual GTA review on the Web

by Michael Mendelsohn

They gave me a white gown. I can't move much yet. The nurses are friendly, but that doesn't mean much. Theirs is professional friendlyness, a courtesy extended to anyone.

Well, we all know GTA is stirring up public controversy in some countries. But why is that so, when other bloodthirsty games get by without much notice? My thesis is that GTA appeals to some unconscious knowledge we'd rather not have in the open, and therefore people reject GTA as it forces them to confront that. Of course,some of us like to play with our inner taboos, and that is why GTA appeals so strongly to many people.

Will they let me live now that I survived the crash? How fitting, how ironic it should have been, for me, the uncomfortable critic, the public nuisance, to be killed in an accident - if one can call that accidental.

What would it matter? Anyone can see the truth. The data are puiblic. Me dying wouldn't change a thing. Yet, why am I the only one speaking up?

The unconscious knowledge, the fact that we won't have anybody know, is that cars are death. Can you name any enjoyable experience you had while travelling in a car? If there is any joy in driving, it's derived from the thrill of speed, of danger. You always feel as if you're the master of some evil power; you know there are thousands killed on the road each year, but you haven't been, yet. You know deep down that your car is a weapon. Kids are not allowed to handle it. Any car you meet on the road can bring about your death. Car driving increases you stress level, your heart rate and adrenaline rises. Cars emit noxious fumes which pollute the air, destroy our forests and make us sick, and their noise has destroyed the streetlife in our cities and villages alike.

This knowledge is hidden in everyday life - you see sleek machines, carefully painted, most of them washed every weekend to look like something to be desired. Car advertisements often connect these vehicles with adventure (something inherently dangerous), but depict that as glamorous. James Bond is a car fetishist. Car Racing is seen as a sport, again, deriving glamour from death that is never far away. Anyone who drives a car wields potential death, but he dares not know it, lest he be unable to even start his car. Society has become dependent on the automobile; it would break apart if it were treated as the danger it really is. Of course, this applies for many technological changes; most of them have their deadly side better concealed than the car.

Britain is considering slapping warnings on car race computer games, telling motorists to calm down when they get behind the wheel in real life. Proposals are being considered as a controversial game featuring car-hijacks hits the market.

I am waiting for one of them to appear - to warn me off, to make me stop saying the truth, keep quiet about it. Someone from the motor industry perhaps, or a politician, demanding ever more roads for ever more cars. Maybe even someone I know.

Public outrage balks at the explicit violence in GTA - having the player pose as a Mafia member seems morally wrong. People feel disturbed when they see GTA. However, the source of this feeling lies deeper. While playing GTA, a typical player will rack up the accident rate of a good-sized town without doing anything more morally subversive than "accidentally" hitting a few pedestrians. Looking at those numbers, the persons he kills with his gun almost don't count. The player knows this; he conscientiously uses his car as weapon - he has to if wants to win. Now this were not irritating if the game's cities weren't real in our mind's eye. We have seen NYC, Miami and San Francisco on TV so often they've become second home towns to us. GTA reflects this mental picture to a degree that makes identification possible, and it is in that realistic setting that violence takes place.

    Grand Theft Auto [...] has attracted criticism for its violent content but after several months of delay it has been officially classified as suitable for 18-year-olds and over.

In the UK, both the last BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) head and Channel 4's director have been labelled as peddling violence and pornography.

Playing GTA symbolises killing people with cars in your home town.

You were lucky, he'll say. Next time around your fate could be worse. And then he'll smile. If it's a woman, she'll smile - hard, tightly. She knows how to talk about death. She faces death every day on the road, and she has made it her job. She doesn't think about it any more, much less feel it.

The taboo, the inner paradox of society lies in the fact that this is perfectly acceptable socially. The law talks of an risk inherent in operating a vehicle; every time you use your car, you willfully take the risk that you might hit someone (or get hit) in today's traffic conditions - and society will classify the results of that kind of reckless behaviour as "accidents" because it depends on people behaving that way.

To make a game of this is to make it visible that this decision is under our control; that by deciding to drive a car we accept thousands of deaths on the road just as surely as if we decided to wage a war. Indeed there are statistics comparing the number of deaths due to traffic unfavourably with number of military casualties in major wars, making traffic a greater threat to the US populace than any wars the US have been involved in have ever been. It is now a greater threat to the health of children than any disease.

However, under proposals being considered by the Home Office, all car racing games would have to include a safety warning on the screen at the start. The idea came from a member of the public who wrote a letter which was passed to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw. It said video games encouraged dangerous driving and that a warning might be a deterrent. 

She won't want me to tell her that. In fact, she won't want me to tell anyone. That's why she'll be here, to make sure I won't.

Maybe it's a man. I won't tell him that he won't stop me. He'll see it as a challenge. It's not a challenge. It's not even a game. I wish it was.

Making a game about that seemed like a good idea. Associating cars and kills. Make it realistic. Make it fun. Make it obvious people care more about death in a game than death on the street.

People die out there. Everytime anyone gets into a car, they kill someone just a little bit - statistically. People fade away because other people drive around. It's not a game. It happens, and everyone knows it. It's no game. It's not even funny.

Computer games are a form of artistic expression, the latest genre after song, literature, and film. As such, computer games can make artistic statements, appeal to our subconscious, and be reviewed and reflected upon. GTA makes a statement that in today's society is inopportune, taboo, banished; therefore attempts are made to censor GTA with as much force as possible in today's libertarian society, using arguments that dare not uncover why these censors are so deeply shocked. They do not know it themselves; they attribute the feeling of uneasiness to the plot because they can't make themselves see what their unconscious wants to hide from themselves.

Think back to DMA Design's last great success: "Lemmings". Now you know that Lemmings are supposed to wander now and then in masses to some cliff and drown themselves. The plot of lemmings is exactly this; the player has to further that massacre by leading the lemmings to surmount the obstacles that would prevent them reaching the end of their sojourn. Disgusting, isn't it? Hardly a game you'd give your children, is it? No one tried to censor that one, instead it got recommendations all over. Why? Because the plot really doesn't matter. The artistic statement that "Lemmings" embodies is that by clear thinking and teamwork you can surmount any obstacle on your way, and that is indeed a commendable wisdom to teach our children.

GTA would tell our children that driving cars means death, and we don't want them to know that, do we? So we better see to it they can't play GTA until they're old enough not to recognise that any more because they've become car drivers themselves, hooked on an unhealthy practice constitutive of our present society, protecting itself against change as we humans are wont to do.

The GTA demo alone has the quality to make that above statement, but it is uncanny how the CDROM audio soundtrack enforces that message as well. Seemingly an assortment of music styles resembling concurrent airwave wares, sounding very realistic, the lyrics are as explicitly violent as the driver who has turned on his car radio will be once he is involved in an "accident". (I won't talk about the lyric's allusions to drug dealing here, nor about the social practice of splitting drugs in bad and good - alcohol in conjunction with cars [sic!] kills more people than heroin...)

The games industry opposes the plan saying there is no evidence games encourage dangerous driving.  But some pressure groups believe a warning is not enough.

Southern USAmerica had some problems with Lemmings, refer to: David Jones from: "Edge: Given the air of moral righteousness .."

Jonathan Bartley, from the Movement for Christian Democracy, said: "We're in the very early stages of development of video games and we will have to see the effects fully assessed.

The nurse arrives and I put the laptop away. She'll tell me to sleep and forget about the crash.

I won't. Ever.

It is safe to say that GTA is an affront to present society - as avant garde art has to be - , and society deals with it as it always does with avant garde art, ignoring the message and, if it openly condemns it, for all the wrong reasons. As usual, the avant garde is most easily taken up by the younger generations, and to those playing GTA I say: open your eyes and change the world you live in! Rev up the engine, leave those behind that would blind you! Playing GTA is not wrong, condemning GTA is! Understand why you're really using your car!

"But every indication is that violence needs to be controlled and we need to have restrictions and guidelines for parents and those using the games."

"Grand Theft Auto" is a game by DMA Design, published by BMG/Take2 and ASC Games.
The Author publishes a GTA web site at .
I heartily thank Klamy for his textual suggestions, visual selections and overall support.
The passage in grey was excerpted from a BBC news article on the web.
The GTA lyrics are available at .

Don't take this review too seriously. Don't take it too lightly, either. Think.

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Created by Michael Mendelsohn 12. Sep 98