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.