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Grand Theft Auto 4
2008’s Biggest Video Game Is Already Disturbing the Peace
An article from David R. Smith at

“Remember kids – it’s only illegal if you get caught!”

You can thank the Grand Theft Auto 4 website for that little piece of advice to our children. And this Tuesday, April 29th, when this new game is released worldwide, kids will be able to vicariously drive drunk, get lap dances, and maliciously attack unsuspecting crowds with various weapons. GTA4 definitely earns its “M for Mature” rating.

Besides Our Morality – What’s For Sale?
For a mere $89.99, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 gamers will be able to pick up a Special Edition of Rockstar Games’ latest thriller, Grand Theft Auto 4. GTA4 puts players in the shoes of “Niko Bellic, an immigrant from Eastern Europe with an ominous past.” Wanting to offer Niko a fresh start and a better life, his cousin Roman invites him to Liberty City, USA. But soon after his relocation, Niko realizes that Liberty City’s severe corruption has turned the American Dream into a nightmare.

In the game, Niko constantly faces the resurrection of his former, bloody life while working for a crime boss who assigns him the ruthless task of jacking cars, running drugs, and knocking off the competition. It’s Niko’s occupation that gives the game its laundry list of content warnings, including, “Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Use of Drugs and Alcohol, Strong Language, and Strong Sexual Content.” This makes GTA4’s game rating consistent with the previous eight titles released over the past 10 years.

Players who want to extract all the “entertainment” from the game will run across plenty of shady characters and can witness and participate in execution-style murders, torture, high speed car chases, shootouts with cops, and strip clubs offering everything from drinks to pole dancing. GTA4 encompasses all the lawlessness that 150 of the world’s best video game programmers could jam into one title.

Just Another Video Game?
GTA4 will be a standout game for several reasons. First, it will use the latest generation of their R.A.G.E. graphics engine “allowing for an unprecedented level of realism and interactivity.” Now, the characters will react in a much more life-like way when hit with cars, fists, or gunfire. (Hey, we want our gore to be life-like.) The game will also boast a beefed-up storyline that will be far less linear than those of the past. This will allow the developers to intentionally blur the on-mission vs. off-mission play. GTA4 also gives Niko a cell phone that accesses cool multiplayer options. Plus, this game has all the weapons and cars that made the original (in)famous back in 1997.

For the reasons listed above, GTA4 will be a smash hit with gamers, many of which are teenagers. Experts predict that the game will reach $400 million in sales…in the first week! And, since it can only be played on two consoles (PS3 and Xbox 360), retailers are anticipating selling between two and three million of them in the next couple of months. Sleaze-for-sale is big business….

A Troubled History
GTA4 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors in many ways besides its popularity. Because of its graphic violence and questionable content, the series has its fair share of “hit men” groups trying to send it to an early, but deserved, grave. Certain teachers, politicians, and policemen have asked for a ban on earlier versions of the game, with The Parents Television Council leading the attack. Even 60 Minutes and Fox News have raised questions about the game’s appropriateness.

So, why are watchdog groups focused on the Grand Theft Auto series? In short, because it affects kids. Reports indicate that teenagers, contrary to their own view of self, are in fact, vulnerable to the content of their media choices. Typically, teens who listen to sex-laden lyrics start having sex sooner. In earlier GTA games, players could solicit prostitutes for sex, which replenished their “health,” but cost them money. (Ohhhh…so that’s what’s making the car bounce up and down on the screen like that...) And don’t forget the infamous Hot Coffee Scandal that allowed players to have virtual sex, with certain controller buttons dictating player’s sexual positions. Likewise, students who play violent video games have a measureable increase in “aggressive and delinquent behavior.”

Sex and violence. The Grand Theft Auto series has always had both.

Let’s be honest. Some kids like to imitate what they see. Those in doubt of media’s power over teens will have a hard time explaining the new teen-produced videos already circulating the Internet of kids imitating Koby jumping over a car, and copycatting the central Florida high school cheerleader beat down. Smart or not, kids tend to do what they see.

Can’t We Go Back To The Days Of Donkey Kong?
Nope. The overgrown, kidnapping ape just doesn’t generate the profit margins that the Grand Theft Auto series does. So, besides not buying it, what should we do?

  1. Systematically educate parents as to the content of gaming choices and their potential affect on kids. Continually put helpful and current information like these articles or Jonathan’s blog in the hands of mom and dad. Once per year is not good enough! Parents will appreciate your help, even if they do not always agree with your recommendations.

  2. Provide practical help to families who are forced to make black-and-white decisions in a gray world. In addition to providing mom and dad with current information, give them tools for having difficult conversations with their teens. One of youth leaders’ biggest jobs is to pull alongside of mom and dad in the parenting process. (NOTE: I didn’t say replace mom and dad!)

  3. Encourage godly decisions in the lives of your students. It is in kids’ nature to blur the lines between godliness and ungodliness, and to justify the latter. Remind them that saying “yes” to God often demands that we say “no” to the world. Make sure to correctly walk the fine line between “telling them what to do” and guiding them as “they discover the right answer” for themselves. wants nothing more than to help youth workers reach kids. You have our permission to forward this article (and any other Youth Culture Window articles) to the parents/leaders in your church. Also, refer the parents in your church to our Parent’s Resources page where they can get further insights into navigating their family through the barrage of media, both good and bad.

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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Comments on this post

   Ray Lee         11/2/2010 10:52:56 AM

I read this when this first came out and it was awesome then ... and still hits the mark!


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