One of the largest sparks of controversy has been the recent “Hot Coffee” modification for “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (GTA:SA)”. This involved unlocking a sexually oriented mini-game that had been removed from the game before release, although evidently not from the source code. The creators of the game, Rockstar Entertainment, obviously realised that this particular part of the game was not appropriate for the video gaming public and removed access to it. An enterprising fan of the game found out and modified the original code to give access to the content once again. Lawsuits were brought against Rockstar for including such content in their game, although the validity of the lawsuit has to be questioned. If the game is simply purchased and played as intended by the developers, this admittedly tasteless and inappropriate mini game would never be encountered. It is not until the user-made modification is downloaded and installed that the player is able to access the content.
Regardless of who’s to blame, “GTA: SA” was re-rated in America and banned from sale in Australia. Oddly enough the gratuitous and encouraged violence in the game went largely unnoticed in the wake of the “scandalous” sex scenes involving clothed, cartoonesque people. When examined objectively almost all games contain a certain amount of violent content. The kid-friendly bright and colourful “Mario” games by Nintendo feature a character stomping on animated creature’s heads. In fact the majority of games, even children’s games, involve the protagonist crusading against an enemy horde of some sort and generally “disposing” of them in some manner, whether it be striking them with a weapon or body part (feet, hands, possibly a tail depending on the nature of the character). The only real stand out difference is that in a children’s game the ‘bad’ characters will generally bounce backwards in a cute manner and explode with a humorous puff sound (or simply disappear) whereas in a game oriented towards older mature players, the characters are more likely to be (somewhat) realistic, spraying a gusher of red upon their demise.
Whenever some young person somewhere commits a violent crime these days it seems to get blamed on a video game, from “Duke Nukem” and “Quake” being accused for the Columbine High massacre, to a more recent incident involving a group of minors attributing their violent actions to the “Mortal Kombat” video games. Without any solid evidence either way it’s hard to say whether or not video game violence actually has much of an influence on players. To really be sure you’d probably have to have a control group of isolated children that have never seen a violent movie or played a bloodthirsty video game. History does however show that brutal crimes were committed long before video games or even movies came into existence.
Children are quite easily influenced by something that they’re excited about and I’ve seen this happen a lot. Playing a wrestling video game with a group of eight year olds often leads to the eight year olds screaming raucously and trying to pin each other down on the ground. Pre-teens will often punch and kick their way out of a cinema in terrible combat stances after having viewed a martial arts movie. The current content rating system in place is not geared towards consumer restriction; it is largely aimed at simply informing the public about what they are going to experience. Legal restrictions are not actually put in place until the higher, more severe ratings like in x-rated films. Parents, guardians, and society in general need to start taking an interest in who is viewing certain types of content. Instead of complaining about the entertainment a child is enjoying, the parent could be there at the beginning looking at the rating that is printed clearly on the packaging of all entertainment. A simple “I don’t think that’s suitable, how about this game? It has a lizard!” distracts the child a surprising number of times. In my experience, children genuinely just want people to take an interest in what they’re interested in, not just murmuring indistinctly, “Yes dear, that’s nice.” as the child installs the newest violent game.