Why Was An 8-Year-Old Playing GTA IV?
August 28, 2013

Why Was An 8-Year-Old Playing GTA IV?

On Monday, the New York Daily News reported that an 8-year-old shot and killed his 90-year old caregiver after playing Grand Theft Auto IV. He reportedly will not be charged in a crime because under Louisiana law — the state in which he lives — children under ten years of age cannot be charged for such crimes.

He was reportedly motivated to commit the violent act after playing the game, but it is unclear whether he was just imitating what he had seen on the screen?

There are several questions that need to be asked, including how he was able to get access to the caregiver’s gun, and moreover why did a 90-year old need a .38 handgun? The bigger question — the one many in the video game industry won’t ask — is why was an 8-year-old playing Grand Theft Auto IV?

The video game industry will likely go into the usual “panic mode” and note the studies that say that games don’t cause aggression or that there is no tie that games cause children to act out.

As a veteran reporter who has covered the video game industry for years, I don’t think the industry should get a pass on this one. The game industry’s ratings failed this child and in some ways are culpable for the woman’s death. The child likely imitated what he saw on the screen, and while again we should ask why he was able to gain access to the firearm, the question still comes back to why was he playing the game?

The industry will respond that it is parental responsibility to monitor what children are playing — and sorry, but I’m going to call BS on that one.

The 90-year-old woman was around three years old when KDKA Radio was still just one of a handful or radio stations in the country. She would have been in her 30’s when she likely first had a TV in her living room, she could have been in her 60’s when the Nintendo Entertainment System came out in 1985. She was born in a time when films were silent, before movies even had ratings.

Should we really have expected her to know what is an appropriate video game for children, or moreover have her understand the ratings? We don’t know if she bought the game for the child, if it was given to the child by an older friend or sibling, or how he was able to get it.

However, this is just another case where the ratings don’t work and the content creators will try to pass the buck on responsibility. Yes, in the end parents and caregivers should monitor what children are playing.

And as much as I loathe the way our country continues to be a nanny state, why don’t we have warning labels on violent video games?

Game ratings use the word, “Mature” for titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV. But the same rating applies to games such as Dungeon Siege, where the player leads a group of “heroes” in a fantasy setting that is straight out of Tolkien. Because there is “blood” or at least red graphics that represent blood the game earned the mature rating.

Step up to Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. There is some swearing and modern depictions of combat – and those games are mature. Not hard to see that these ratings might be appropriate, where the aforementioned fantasy games seem mild by comparison.

But step up again to Saints Row, GTA or even games like Scarface; these open world crime empire games where characters play as criminals – not cops, not the FBI, but criminals – and these games are still just rated mature. These games include depiction of drugs, crime lords and background characters like prostitutes and yet somehow these games have the same ratings as a fantasy adventure game.

Am I the only one seeing a problem here?

The industry sees no problem. The game studios don’t want a harsher rating, even if the AO one exists. It is for “Adults Only,” but is rarely used. A game that gets this rating is contested, appealed and content is softened to get that mature rating.

So, what is the difference between M and AO?

To hear the game industry tell the story, an M game can be bought by a 17-year old, while you need to be 18 to buy an AO. Numerous game publishers and developers have told me over the years, “So it is a year’s difference.”

No, it isn’t.

An R-rated movie can be rented by an 18-year old but so can an X-rated film. I think we’d all agree there is a difference between American Pie and hardcore pornography. The 18-year old (or parent) could rent the former and show it a home to his younger siblings. That is normal.

It is actually against the law to show a hardcore porn film to someone under 18. And this gets me to my point. This is the dirty little secret in the video game industry that no one wants to talk about, because it would be bad for business.

Maybe these very violent games could get the AO rating, as they aren’t meant for kids – even the developers will say these games aren’t meant for kids. But that AO rating would mean WalMart, Target and other retailers wouldn’t carry it.

That is the crux of it. It is about showing up on the store shelves.

There are countless stories that the game developers, even game press will say on how they “heard” a clerk at GameStop or Best Buy warn a parent, “That game GTA is rated M and isn’t appropriate for children.”

The parent in these stories always says, “I’ll decide what my kid can play.”

Yeah, but when do we hear the story where the parent says, “Oh, I didn’t realize. These darn ratings are so confusing.”

Probably because these comments are rarely heard. Parents are busy today, many work long hours, many work two jobs. Maybe many do monitor what their kids watch.

The truth is that most kids probably won’t be affected by violent games, but that doesn’t bring the 90-year-old woman in Louisiana back to life, and it doesn’t undo what happened to that 8-year-old boy.

So I’m asking, is it really censorship — especially again given all the nanny state stuff we deal with — for a game like GTA IV to have in BIG LETTERS on the box say, “THIS GAME IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.”

Would that really be the ruin of the industry? Ask a game producer and they’ll surely respond that the sky is falling. That’s in their DNA.

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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