Few games have harnessed controversy like the Grand Theft Auto series. Rockstar's Life of Crime sims have always shipped with little restraint, and made themselves excellent scapegoats for the media's demonisation of Video Games. Things have cooled off since the Playstation 2 days, with open world crime an established genre, and violence more visceral then ever. However, the Grand Theft Auto still carries a lot of traction, and what media outlet could resist exploiting that when reporting on an otherwise sensationless instance of violent crime.
Last night, following a midnight launch for GTA V, a 23 year old man was attacked and stabbed by a group of attackers. They stole his watch, his mobile phone and his game. Had he been carrying anything else of value, no doubt they'd have taken that as well. The statement from the police states all these things but makes no mention of a connection between Grand Theft Auto and the robbery itself. Still, the BBC sees fit to mention that GTAV was at the scene of the crime. Other outlets have followed the same trend:
Things have improved for the Games industry in recent years. Long gone are the days when the media would come right out and blame a game like GTAV for violent crime, but in its place we have a subtle inference of guilt by association. Every day people are victim to violent crime, every day people are injured in muggings and robberies, frequently on the way home from a late night shop. Rarely are the items stolen worthy of a place in the headline, but Grand Theft Auto seems to be a special case. There is still a significant portion of the public that hears Grand Theft Auto and think of the game that teaches children to murder prostitutes. There are still people out there who hear Rockstar and remember Bully, or Manhunt, and the lurid tales the accompanied their release.
We are used to hearing stories about the Games Industry growing up, becoming mainstream. Since the iPhone, we are all Gamers now, or so I hear. And yet, we still live in a world in which many people will never pick up a game like Grand Theft Auto, or even a console in which to play it. The world it comes from is alien to them, and it speaks in a totally different language. Games have become mainstream, but to a lot of people it is a medium that is still viewed with suspicion, and derision. Grand Theft Auto's bad luck with the press might seem silly to those of us who know it, it is old hat by now. On a shelf with God of War, Bioshock or Dead Space, its violence and its fear is almost a parody, and yet it makes an easy target in a hostile world.
When I was a kid I was utterly obsessed with Doom, and I hadn't even played it. It didn't help that we didn't have a PC. My Dad was a computer hobbyist in the early 90s, he filled the house with Acorn computers. They were expensive, slow and the company would not survive the decade. (Their proprietary CPU architecture, ARM, is still popular in mobile devices though.) They didn't have many modern games and the few they had were either 16bit console ports or seriously butchered PC approximations. But there was one game that made the transition from PC relatively intact, and everyone was talking about it.
The Depths of Doom Trilogy looked like no game I have ever seen. I grew up on games like Magic Pockets, Repton and Chuck Rock. But there was Doom, presented to me in a series of full page ads wedged in the centre of Acorn User Magazine. The reviews told me all I needed to know. Doom was the most amazing, successful PC game ever made and it had finally come to Acorn. This was what anyone without a PC had been waiting for, and now the entire trilogy could be yours for the low, low price of £60. I was hypnotised by its artwork, unlike anything else I'd seen at the time. To this day I can picture every detail of the Doom II cover which featured in most of the promo material, because I would stare at it for hours. But my Dad was no help, in all his time with computers, he bought very few pieces of software. He preferred to write his own programs, or dabble with demo discs. We had boxes and boxes of floppy discs full of demos. To him paying £60 for one game was a waste. To make matters worse, Doom came only on CD and would not run on our older Acorn machines.
My Dad was an elderly widower, his wife died suddenly after a lifetime of smoking, the day she died my dad quit. He spent the money he saved on his first computer. A few years later he met my mother; they separated before I was born. By the time I was ten, my Dad had a computer in every room, but it was the RiscPC that helped Doom take over my life.
The Doom Trilogy came to Acorn on three CD-ROMs. This was a brave choice from the publisher, because Acorn computers did not come with built in CD drives. The RiscPC was the machine that changed that. I remember my Dad buying one the day they released, on the way back from the shop he bought a pair of expensive speakers and the only three audio CDs he would ever own. (Kate Bush, Clannad and The Dubliners.) The computer came with a catalogue of Software available on CD-ROM, I flicked through it on the drive home, and there was Doom again.
I resolved that day that I would save my pocket money and buy Doom myself. This was, to me, a significant decision, because I am a terrible saver. I have always been an impulse buyer, and with my very unhelpful weekly allowance of £2.50, I had a long wait ahead. (Twenty Four Weeks, to be precise) But I was determined. I set up a corner of the living room next to the computer. My Dad gave me a drawer to keep my savings in, and together we used some art software to design a calender where I could check off the weeks. I stuck it on the wall next to the glossy Doom ad I'd snagged from the catalogue and my first big save began.
Week by week, I dropped in my £2.50 without fail. I went without sweets and comics, though an Ice Cream van once came dangerously close to ruining the whole affair. When I reached ten weeks, my Dad made me a deal. If I could reach twenty weeks, he would pay the rest. Ten weeks later (Eleven if you count the week I left the gate unlocked and joyriders stole my Dad's car in broad daylight, for which I was docked a week's pay.) And Dad was as good as his word. I gave him my hefty stash of coins, he wrote me a cheque for £60 and we filled in a mail order form for Doom.
I don't know how long it took Doom to arrive, there were times when it felt longer than the 20 weeks of saving, but I expected it every week. Every day I would go to school and think about Doom, I'd draw pictures of the box and how I imagine the levels would be be. (Looking back, I thought it would be like Golden Axe.) Every Friday my Dad would pick me up for the weekend and I'd ask him if it had arrived. He'd never tell me, I had to wait and see. For weeks I spent Friday nights moping, and then one day it was there. Sat underneath my home printed calendar and the Doom advert, still wrapped in a giant Jiffy bag.
I dimmed the lights, I turned on Dad's fancy speakers and took his Clannad CD out of the drive and opened up the box. I didn't bother with manuals, plenty of time for that later. But I loved the discs themselves, the same beautiful logos on each one, and I was so careful with them. I'd spent so long saving, I was terrified I'd snap them before getting them in the drive. Then I booted the game up, the game ran in a low-res window, but that was pretty normal to me. It was the first 3D game I'd ever played, and each push of the mouse sent the camera moving way faster than I expected. The whole thing made me feel dizzy. Then I met my first baddie, I clicked the mouse a few times and the man exploded into a red mush.
My Dad is getting pretty old now. His memory isn't as strong as it used to be, and he has trouble getting through the day without help, but when I ask him if he remembers Doom, he always says "I remember you vomited on my keyboard."