Despite the commercial and critical success of the franchise, the Grand Theft Auto series has also generated heavy controversies, mainly for its violence, immorality, racial profiling/stereotyping, and several other reasons.
- 1 Games
- 1.1 Grand Theft Auto
- 1.2 Grand Theft Auto III
- 1.3 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- 1.4 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- 1.5 Grand Theft Auto IV
- 1.6 The Lost and Damned
- 1.7 Grand Theft Auto V
- 2 Use of Gore in Grand Theft Auto series
- 3 Links to Crime
- 4 References
Grand Theft Auto was released in the United Kingdom in 1997, with publicist Max Clifford planting numerous facts about the violence in the game. Interestingly, some children guardians started a campaign against the game, which made the game even more known directly opposed to the intended effects.
Grand Theft Auto III was the beginning of the series increasing popularity. The game also proved controversial, with many in the media citing the ability to carjack vehicles, having implied sex with prostitutes and the ability to kill them to steal their money. Whilst the player has the option to do these acts, there is no mandatory requirement to do so in the game.
The game was banned in Australia shortly after its release, with a censored version released later on. One of the key reasons for the games ban was that Rockstar Games failed to submit the game to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). The highest rating for the OFLC was MA15+, leading to the game being refused classification, before the censored version of the game was released. The censored version had the gore (except for the Gore cheat) and the ability to pick up prostitutes immediately removed.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was, like GTA III, criticised for its violence and labeled sexually explicit. The Australian version of the game was also censored, with the ability to pick-up prostitutes disabled. In November 2003 Cuban and Haitian groups in Florida accused the game of inviting people to harm immigrants from the two nations. Rockstar Games responded by removing several lines of dialogue from the game. This seemed to have largely satisfied the groups who raised the complaints, although the case was then referred to a state court, downgraded from the initial decision to refer the case to a federal court. In 2004, a new version of the game was released, removing and changing those lines of dialogue.
In mid-June 2005, a software patch for the game dubbed the "Hot Coffee Mod" was released by Patrick Wildenborg (under the Internet alias "PatrickW"), a 38-year old modder from the Netherlands. The name "Hot Coffee" refers to the way the released game alludes to the unseen sex scenes. In the unmodified game, the player takes his girlfriend to her front door and she asks him if he would like to come in for "some coffee". He agrees, and the camera stays outside, swaying back and forth a bit, while moaning sounds are heard. After installing the patch, users can enter the main character's girlfriends' houses and engage in a crudely rendered, fully clothed sexual intercourse mini-game. An "Action Replay Power Save", released by console 'hacker' Jay "FNG", allowed the Hot Coffee Mod to take place on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of the game.
On July 20, 2005, production of GTA San Andreas was suspended and the game received a revised ESRB Rating of Adults Only. Rockstar Games. Many retailers pulled the game off their shelves in compliance with their own store regulations that kept them from selling AO games. Rockstar North released a "Cold Coffee" patch for the PC version and re-released the game with an M rating. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions have also been re-released in a pack called Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy for PC, Macintosh, Xbox and PlayStation 2, as well as a Special Edition for PlayStation 2 that includes the documentary film Sunday Driver.
On November 8th, 2007, Take-Two announced a proposed settlement to the class action litigation that had been brought against them following the Hot Coffee controversy. Under the proposed settlement, consumers would be able to swap their AO-rated copies of the game for M-rated versions and may also qualify for a $35 cash payment upon signing a sworn statement. A report in The New York Times on June 25th, 2008 revealed that a total of 2,676 claims for the compensation package had been filed.
In 2007, Jack Thompson stated that he would take various measures to prevent the sale of the game by Rockstar to minors. On March 14th, 2007, Take-Two, filed a lawsuit against Thompson in Florida in an attempt to pre-emptively block him from trying to declare its games a public nuisance. It would be a crime to sell games declared to be a public nuisance, effectively banning such games, which they believe would be a violation of First Amendment rights. Thompson responded by filing a countersuit, accusing Take-Two of violating federal RICO statutes (the charge was later dropped), committing perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiring against him with third parties to deprive him of his civil rights.
Both parties reached a settlement on April 20th, 2007, and agreed to drop their respective lawsuits. Under the terms of the settlement Thompson is barred from suing to block the sale or distribution of any future games published by Take-Two or any of its subsidiaries. He will be restricted to communicating through Take-Two's attorneys on any future matters. Thompson will still be able to maintain his outspoken stance against the publisher's titles, as well as still being allowed to act as counsel in lawsuits brought against Take-Two by other parties. For their part, Take-Two agreed to drop its contempt of court lawsuit against Thompson regarding alleged improper conduct during the Bully court hearings in Florida, which, if found to be in contempt, could have resulted in Thompson seeing jail time.
Thompson filed a document with a federal court in Florida on September 18th, 2007, that claims that the assassination target of a mission in GTA IV is a lawyer character based upon himself. When the main protagonist enters his office and pulls a gun on him, the lawyer says "Guns don't kill people! Video games do!" Thompson has threatened that unless the similarities to himself are removed from the game he will "take necessary and proper means to stop release of the game". Despite this, both the mission and the character still remain in the game.
On April 25th, 2008, it was reported in Metro that Jack Thompson had written a letter to the mother of Strauss Zelnick, Director of Take-Two Interactive. In the letter, which strongly criticised the game, Zelnick, and his mother, Thompson called Grand Theft Auto a "murder simulator". He went on to say that "The pornography and violence that your son trafficks in is the kind of stuff that most mothers would be ashamed to see their son putting into the hands of other mothers' children". Thompson then questions Strauss Zelnick's upbringing and says that his mother should be ashamed of herself, and that she "...spared the rod and spoiled the child. That would explain why he has brought you, by the way he presently acts, to shame." He finishes by saying "Happy Mothers' Day, Mrs Zelnick, which this year is May 11, two weeks after your son unleashes porn and violence upon other mothers' boys. I'm sure you're very proud." Neither Take-Two nor Rockstar Games have made any comment regarding the matter. Thompson subsequently claimed he sent the letter to Zelnick's lawyer, not his mother, and that the letter was formulated as a parody intended to induce feelings of "shame" in Zelnick.
On his program, Glenn Beck, a conservative American talk-radio host, used GTA IV as an example to make wider claims about the use of violent video games by the US military, repeating claims made by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman that the US military uses first person shooting games to de-sensitise soldiers to killing.
In the second segment of the show, Beck spoke to Jack Thompson and Gavin McKiernan, national grassroots director for the Parents Television Council. Thompson called the game "a murder simulator." and went on to make unsubstantiated claims about actions that the player could perform in the game. McKiernan added "This is really an adult product we're talking about" and went on to claim that research into media violence had shown the potential effect violent media could have on children. He went on to claim that there was a definite difference between violence in movies and violence in video games.
Thompson said the game should be rated Adults Only, saying "the sex in the game was taken out so it could even be sold to adults in Australia." Thompson claimed that the ESRB rating for the game was "phoney", to apease large stores that refuse to sell adult rated games.
New York City officials
After the release of the first trailer for the game, New York City officials were appalled with the choice of their city as the inspiration for the setting of GTA IV, and said that a game like GTA does not represent the city's crime levels accurately. A spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "The mayor does not support any video game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers," although no points are awarded for killing or injuring police officers in the game. As a response, Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, accused New York City officials of double standards, for criticising video games but not other forms of entertainment, such as books, films and television shows, which use New York City as the setting.
Despite confirmation from Rockstar in February 2008 that the Australian version of GTA IV would not be edited in any way, Rockstar later told Sydney Morning Herald journalist Jason Hill that the Australian version would be edited. GTA IV was awarded an MA15+ rating on December 11, 2007. In a post on his blog, Jason Hill stated that a Rockstar spokesperson confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald video game section, Screenplay, that the company had produced a special version of GTA IV to comply with the Australian classification system. The spokesperson would not comment on what has been cut from the game.
It was announced on April 15th, 2008, and subsequently reported across the Internet, that the New Zealand release would be receiving the edited Australian version with Take-Two Interactive Support Team citing "time scales and logistical reasons" as the reason. Later, on May 5th 2008, it was confirmed the original version of the game had been submitted to the OFLC. On May 21, 2008, the original and uncut game was now officially classified by the New Zealand OFLC thus legal to sell in the country.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
The organisation Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) sharply criticized an in-game option that allows players to drive while intoxicated and called for a stricter rating on the game that would effectively ban its sale in the United States. "Drunk driving is not a game and it is not a joke," MADD said. "Drunk driving is a choice, a violent crime, and it is also 100 percent preventable." MADD is asking the ESRB to bump GTA IV's rating up to AO for Adults Only from M for Mature and calling for Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games to consider stopping distribution out of a sense of social responsibility, or out of respect for those who've been hurt or killed by drunk drivers. The ESRB describes that the game includes "Use of drugs and Alcohol" Rockstar issued a statement to the Associated Press. "We have a great deal of respect for MADD's mission, but we believe the mature audience for GTA IV is more than sophisticated enough to understand the game's content." When attempting to enter a car while drunk in the game, the main character, Niko Bellic, will remark that he shouldn't drive drunk, and the player is encouraged to call a taxi instead. In addition to being extremely difficult to drive a car while intoxicated, in-game police will pursue the player if they are seen driving while intoxicated.
Chicago Transit Authority lawsuit
Take-Two has filed a lawsuit in response to the Chicago Transit Authority pulling ads promoting GTA IV from their property, violating a contract for the ads to go until June 2008. A CTA representative said that the ads were removed due to complaints in 2004 surrounding the ad campaign for GTA San Andreas. Miami-Dade Transit might also be facing a similar lawsuit due to similar circumstances.
Little Lacy Surprise Pageant
On June 16th, 2008, British newspaper The Sun reported the presence of an in-game internet resource called "Little Lacy Surprise Pageant" available on the in-game internet. The fake site – www.littlelacysurprisepageant.com – displays a message from virtual authorities saying it has been closed down. It warns that anyone caught looking at it will be investigated and features the warning: “We see it all, we know it all," which is similar to the quote "Don't think you can't get caught. You are not anonymous." found at Grokster.com. The player's Wanted level immediately jumps to 5 stars, resulting in both police and FIB (Federal Investigation Bureau) involvement in their arrest. The domain name address is just one of dozens of fake sites in GTA IV. Typing it into a real internet browser redirects users to the official website for the game. No missions in the game allow players to act out the role of a pedophile, and neither Rockstar Games nor Take-Two Interactive have issued a statement regarding the inclusion of this content in the title.
The game was condemned by parents group Common Sense Media who issued a public warning against the expansion pack due to a full-frontal nudity scene during one of the cut scenes of the mission Politics. They claimed that the game was "more controversial than its predecessors" because it featured "full frontal male nudity". However, it has been argued that the scene was for "comedic effect" and that it was non-sexual.
Use of Torture
In the mission By The Book the player must torture a target, and the most controversial scene is Trevor pulling out the tortured man's tooth with pliers, which has been constantly dubbed, the most controversial scene in the entire series.
Accusations of Sexism
Some reviewers concluded that the game's depiction of women is misogynistic. Gamespot reviewer, Carolyn Petit, noted that women in the game were mostly treated and/or played as "strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humourless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists", and felt that the satirical representation of misogyny legitimises it.  Dave Cook of VG247 reinforced the sentiment that the female characters were constructed on stereotypes in an editorial: "They're either there to be rescued, shouted at, fucked, to be seen fucking, put up with, killed, heard prattling away like dullards on their mobile phones or shopping".  Responding to backlash about the critical views of women in the game, wider discussions opened up about the role of women in GTA V and the community defensiveness towards the criticism. However, other reviewers cited as the treatment of women as "stereotypical". Sam Houser, Rockstar Games co-founder, felt that the development team sometimes overlooked their portrayal of women in Grand Theft Auto games, but that the weight towards male characters "fit with the story we wanted to tell".
In December 2014, GTA V was removed from the shelves of Target in Australia due to a petition accusing the game of glamorising violence against women.
Music Copyright Infringment
In October 2013, the rapper Daz Dillinger filed a cease and desist letter against Take-Two and Rockstar Games, claiming that two of his songs have been used in the game without his permission. He requested to have all unsold GTA V copies to be recalled and destroyed.
In December 2013, the actress Lindsay Lohan claimed that Rockstar had used her likeness to create the girl in the artwork, Beach Weather. In July 2014, she finally sued Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive, claiming that the character Lacey Jonas was an "unequivocal" reference to Lohan.
In February 2014, former Mob Wives star Karen Gravano sued Rockstar Games for $40 million dollars, claiming that her image and life story was added to the game without permission. The character said to portray Gravano is Antonia Bottino. Antonia Bottino does not appear as a main character and only appears in a single Random Event. Rockstar filed to dismiss Gravano's lawsuit in April, and stated that the allegations are foreclosed by the First Amendment.
Use of Gore in Grand Theft Auto series
Grand Theft Auto is also one of the videogame franchises that implements the element of gore inside it, in relation to the violence implemented in the game. Gore is a graphic violence which depicts serious physical injuries involving blood, flesh, bone, and internal organs. The usage of gore has been implemented since the franchise's first released game, the GTA, and has been used through the rest of the series in many forms of gore.
Toasted is another form of "Wasted". Although the term "Toasted" was first introduced in GTA 2 when Claude Speed died after getting hit with a Flamethrower (or possibly an ElectroGun), Toasted was actually first implemented in GTA when a character or an NPC there toasted themselves after walking on an electrified subway track for several seconds.
If a character gets toasted, their skin will be burnt into ashes, only to reveal their skeletons lying dead on the ground. Toasted can be caused from either getting electrocuted from walking into a hazardous area (e.g. subway tracks in GTA) or getting hit by some specific weapons (e.g. Flamethrower or ElectroGun in GTA 2). Toasted marks the first gore to be ever implemented in the GTA history.
Decapitation was first implemented in GTA III, followed by GTA Vice City, GTA San Andreas and GTA Liberty City Stories, until it lasted in GTA Vice City Stories, which also marks the end of usage of decapitation in the 3D Universe and in the GTA series.
GTA Vice City marks the first introduction of the Katana, which allows players to behead their enemies in close quarter combat. Decapitation can also be performed through the use of firearms. Performing headshots on NPCs through the use of weapons with stronger caliber (e.g. shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and machine guns) will surely decapitate them, although the use of smaller caliber (e.g. handguns and sub-machine guns) is also possible but somewhat rarely. Doing a drive-by on some pedestrians will sometimes decapitate a few of them. Occasionally, sometimes pedestrians will also be decapitated when they got hit by an explosion.
In GTA San Andreas, decapitating NPCs with smaller calibers is definitely impossible to be done, even when using drive-by. Only some small cutscenes that allow this to happen (e.g. in the mission "A Home in the Hills", one Vagos member can be seen decapitating a Triad with an MP5 after CJ and his Triad allies entered the Madd Dogg's Mansion to retake it back from Big Poppa).
Decapitation is no longer implemented in the HD Universe, possibly to avoid controversy due to the improved graphic used in later games which is close to reality. However, there's a mission in The Ballad of Gay Tony where a decapitation can be found and marked as the only decapitation to be seen in the HD Universe.
The game continues to implement gore in another new form, which is in a form of dismemberment of body parts (and possibly some internal organs).
Dismemberment marks its first appearance in GTA III. It is also seen in GTA Vice City, specifically in the mission Boomshine Saigon where Phil lost one of his arms after accidentally blowing himself with his own explosives. Dismemberment also returns in GTA San Andreas, as it can be seen in some missions (e.g. Reuniting the Families, where a police officer got accidentally ripped to shreds after getting hit by a helicopter's rotor, and Body Harvest). Players can also perform dismemberment outside of missions as well by using a Combine Harvester, which is capable of dismembering pedestrians when they got run over with this vehicle and shredded body parts are seen dropping from the vehicle's discharge tube, accompanied by a gruesome shredding sound in the process. Another form of dismemberment also appears in GTA Liberty City Stories. During the mission Dead Meat, Toni mutilates Casa for not paying his protection money before sending his mutilated body back to Giovanni's Deli for a "newly fresh meatstock".
Dismemberment is also implemented in the HD Universe. However unlike in GTA San Andreas, this cannot be performed by the players. Dismemberment can only be seen in specific missions, as one can be seen in Legal Trouble in GTA V.
In the website www.accept-the-chaos.com, in the scenario 1 of "Want to play god?", one can see a family with two kids, a dog and a Regina. If the player presses the "Click to play god" button, the Regina is crashed through a barrier into a tree and one of the tires has caught fire. The entire family is killed including depictions of graphic dismemberment.
Links to Crime
The Grand Theft Auto series has been linked to numerous crimes, in particular a number of murders. However, there has yet to be a case successfully linked to the series.
William and Josh Buckner
On June 25, 2003, Aaron Hamel, 45, and Kimberly Bede, 19, were murdered by William and Josh Buckner, who claimed their actions were inspired by GTA III. On October 20, 2003 the families of Hamel and Bede filed a US$246 million lawsuit against publishers Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive, retailer Wal-Mart and PlayStation 2 manufacturer Sony Computer Entertainment America. Rockstar Games and its parent company, Take-Two Interactive, filed for dismissal of the lawsuit, stating in U.S. District Court on October 29, 2003 that the "ideas and concepts as well as the 'purported psychological effects' on the Buckners are protected by the First Amendment's free-speech clause." The lawyer of the victims, Jack Thompson, denied that and is attempting to move the lawsuit into a state court and under Tennessee's consumer protection act.
On June 7, 2003, eighteen year old Devin Moore (born Devin Darnell Thompson on May 15, 1985) killed police officers Arnold Strickland and James Crump, and dispatcher Leslie Mealer. Moore had been brought to a Fayette police station for questioning in regards to a stolen vehicle. Moore grabbed the pistol of one of the officers and killed him, before killing a second police officer and a dispatcher before fleeing in a police car. He was arrested several hours later in Mississippi. According to the Associated Press, after his recapture he said, "Life is a video game. Everybody's got to die sometime." Once in custody, Moore quickly confessed. He told detectives that he shot the men because he didn't want to go to jail. Moore faced trial in 2005 and pleaded not guilty. The trial judge barred the defense from introducing evidence to the jury that Grand Theft Auto incited Moore's shooting spree. Moore's attorney, Jim Standridge, contended that Moore was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the time of the crimes. Standridge argued that Moore had been emotionally and physically abused by his father as a child. In August 2005, Moore was convicted as charged and on October 9, 2005 he was sentenced to death by lethal injection. Jim Standridge appealed the case.
On July 5, 2004, Cody Posey (born on October 9, 1989 in New Mexico) killed his father, Delbert Paul Posey, his stepmother, Tyrone Schmid, and stepsister, Marelia Schmid. He first killed his stepmother, before killing his father and stepsister. Cody dragged the bodies out of the house and loaded them in the bucket of a John-Deere backhoe. Cody admitted he attempted to bury them in a nearby plot of land, but after not being able to break the hard ground, opted to bury them in a shallow grave in a manure pile. After the murders, Cody changed clothes and drove his father's truck to the store for a can of Sprite. He then drove to a friend's house staying there until his arrest. After his arrest, Cody Posey confessed to the murders and the bodies were recovered. The trial began on January 16, 2006. Cody's defense attorney, Gary Mitchell, never denied that Cody murdered the family - instead he suggested the murder happened as a result of years of abuse and dissociation. On February 7, 2006, Posey was convicted of first degree murder in the death of his stepsister, second degree murder in the death of his stepmother, and voluntary manslaughter in the death of his father.
On February 23, 2006, Cody was sentenced by Judge Counts as a juvenile and is to remain in the custody of juvenile authorities until he reaches the age of 21. On September 25, 2006, Cody was named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by attorney Jack Thompson on behalf of the surviving Posey relatives. Also named were Grand Theft Auto creator Rockstar Games, publisher Take-Two Interactive and PlayStation 2 manufacturer Sony. The lawsuit alleged Posey was trained by the video game GTA Vice City to be more aggressive, and a more effective killer. On December 19, 2007, Jack Thompson’s lawsuit against Sony and Take-Two was thrown out by New Mexico judge. The judge dismissed Jack Thompson’s wrongful death suit since neither Sony or Take-Two have offices in New Mexico.
Ryan Chinnery, aged nineteen upon his arrest in 2008, was a criminal based in the United Kingdom convicted on November 7, 2008 on charges of attempted rape and grievous bodily harm. He was sentenced to eight years, with a minimum of four years recommended. He had began his crimes in 2007, when aged seventeen. The Grand Theft Auto series of games was said to have influenced his actions, with Judge Philip Statman stating that the video games "cannot have helped him in all the circumstances of this case".
However it should be noted that the entire Grand Theft Auto series had no events (story and non-story related) that included sexual assault, except for brief mentions (for instance, it is claimed in Riot that one of the charges against Officers Frank Tenpenny and Eddie Pulaski is sexual assault).
New York Criminals
In June 2008, a gang in New York were involved in a two-hour crime spree, involving robbery, brutality, attempted carjackings, muggings, several breakings and assault (knocking one man's teeth out) in Long Island. The group involved Brandon Cruz (15), Samuel Philip (16), Gurnoor Singh (14) and Jaspreet Singh (17), no relation. The group were also joined by Stephen Attard (18) and Dylan Laird (17). The crimes were said to have been influenced by Grand Theft Auto IV. However, some of them had a history of drug use and before the crime spree, they were drunk.
In 2008, an eighteen-year-old, named Polwat Chino, was arrested in Thailand for stabbing a 54-year-old taxi driver named Kuan Pohkang to death. He confessed to stealing the taxi and killing the driver after he fought back. The teenager said he was trying to copy a scene in Grand Theft Auto IV. The incident led to the game being banned and the teenager currently faces the death penalty if convicted.
8 Year Old Louisiana Boy
On August 25th 2013, A 8 year old boy Intentionally shot and killed his 87 year old grandmother Marie Smothers. According to the time, The 8 year old was playing Grand Theft Auto IV shortly before the fatal shooting. Smothers was looking after the boy. The boy claimed that he accidentally shot her while playing with a 38. caliber firearm while she was watching television. Authorities believe it was intentional but didn't reveal a motive. Smothers and the 8 year old had a normal, loving, relationship and even shared the same bedroom.
Under Louisiana law, children younger than 10 cannot receive criminal behavior charges. It is currently unknown if he has been been handed in by authority's or is still under parental guidance.
4 days after the release of Grand Theft Auto V on September 21, 2013, a young man named Zachary Burgess was arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for motor vehicle theft, simple kidnapping, and 9 counts of hit and run. He confessed to the crimes because of reenacting the things done in GTA V. He stole an unattended truck with a female passenger in the vehicle. There were 9 vehicles blocking his way as he tried to flee & he rammed into the parked vehicles before escaping. It should be noted that GTA V never forces the player to kidnap any civilian woman then intentionally ram unattended vehicles, nor does it provide players any incentive to do so.
Eldon G. Samuel III
In March 2014, 14 year old Eldon G. Samuel III killed his father and brother in cold blood in their home in Coeur d'Alene, Tennessee. Samuel shot his father in the head with a .45 caliber pistol while he killed his brother with a shotgun and then proceeded on stabbing him and hacking him with a machete. He called the police, saying that he had murdered his father and brother. When the police arrived and entered the home, they saw Samuel still on the phone, covered in blood. According to police after they arrested him, Samuel told them that he was inspired by the Grand Theft Auto V character, Trevor Philips, saying that he was "kinda cool". A day after the incident, his psychiatrist stated that he had a past history of mental illness, abuse by his father and occasionally torturing and killing small animals. Soon before he made his court appearance, he then told investigators that he plotted to kill his father and brother about seven months prior because they "annoyed me (him), especially my (his) little brother." 
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