The Grand Theft Auto series has generated a great deal of controversy since the series first game, Grand Theft Auto 1, was released in 1997.



Grand Theft Auto 1 was released in the United Kingdom in 1997, with publicist Max Clifford planting numerous sensational stories in tabloid newspapers in order to help boost sales of the game.[1]


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 a prostitute and the ability to kill prostitutes to steal her money.[2] Whilst the player has the option to do these acts, there is no requirement to do so in the game.

The game was banned in Australia shortly after its release, with a censored version released later on.[3] 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.

GTA Vice City

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has been, 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.[4] Rockstar Games responded by removing several lines of dialogue from the game.[5] This seems 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.[6] In 2004, a new version of the game was released, removing and changing those lines of dialogue.[5]

GTA San Andreas

Main Article: Hot Coffee Mod
File:Hot Coffee Mod 01.png

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[7] for the PC version and re-released GTA San Andreas with an M rating. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions have also been re-released in a "GTA Trilogy Pack"[8] for Xbox and PlayStation 2, as well as a Special Edition for PlayStation 2 that includes the documentary film Sunday Driver.

On 8 November 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.[9] A report in The New York Times on 25 June 2008 revealed that a total of 2,676 claims for the compensation package had been filed.[10]


Jack Thompson

In 2007, Jack Thompson stated he would take various measures to prevent the sale of the game by Rockstar to minors.[11] On 14 March 2007, Rockstar's parent company, Take-Two Interactive, filed a lawsuit[12] 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.[13] Thompson responded by filing a countersuit,[14] 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.[15][16]

Both parties reached a settlement on 20 April 2007,[17] 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,[18][19] which, if found to be in contempt, could have resulted in Thompson seeing jail time.[20][21][22]

Thompson filed a document with a federal court in Florida on 18 September 2007,[23] 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 yells "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".[24] Despite this, both the mission and the character still remain in the game.

On 25 April 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 interactive nor Rockstar Games have made any comment regarding the matter.[25] 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.[26]

Glenn Beck

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.[27]

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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]


Despite confirmation from Rockstar in February 2008 that the Australian version of GTA IV would not be edited in any way,[32] Rockstar later told Sydney Morning Herald journalist Jason Hill that the Australian version would be edited.[33] GTA IV was awarded an MA15+ rating on 11 December 2007. In a post on his blog, Jason Hill stated that a Rockstar spokesperson confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald's 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.[33]

New Zealand

It was announced on 15 April 2008, and subsequently reported across the Internet, that the New Zealand release would be receiving the edited Australian version[34] with Take-Two Interactive Support Team citing "time scales and logistical reasons" as the reason[35]. Later, on 5 May 2008, it was confirmed the original version of the game had been submitted to the OFLC[36]. On 21 May 2008, the original and uncut game was now officially classified by the New Zealand OFLC thus legal to sell in the country.[37]

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"[38] 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.[39] A CTA representative said that the ads were removed due to complaints in 2004 surrounding the ad campaign for GTA San Andreas.[40] Miami-Dade Transit might also be facing a similar lawsuit due to similar circumstances.

Little Lacy Surprise Pageant

LCPD Website Warning

The website

On 16 June 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.[41] The fake site – – 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 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 paedophile, and neither Rockstar Games nor Take-Two Interactive have issued a statement regarding the inclusion of this content in the title.

The Lost and Damned

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 the game was "more controversial than its predecessors" because it featured "full frontal male nudity".[42]

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

William and Josh Buckner

William (third row left) and Josh Buckner (second row left)

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.[43][44] 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.[45]

Devin Moore

Devin Moore

Devin Moore (center)

On June 7, 2003, seventeen 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.[46][47] 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.[48] Moore faced trial in 2005 and pleaded not guilty.[49] 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.[50] 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.

Cody Posey

Cody Posey

Cody Posey

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.[51] 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

Ryan Chinnery - Sun

Ryan Chinnery

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.[52] He had began his crimes in 2007, when aged seventeen.[53] 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".[54]

New York Criminals


Stephen Attard, Samuel Philip, Dylan Laird and Jaspreet Singh (left to right)

In June 2008, a gang in New York were involved in a two-hour crime spree, involving robbery, brutality, attemped carjackings, muggings, several breakings and assault (knocking one mans 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.[55]

Thailand Teenager

In 2008 an eighteen year old was arrested in Thailand was arrested for stabbing a taxi driver 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.[56] As a result of this incident, the game was subsequently banned in Thailand.[57]


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  2. Brett's Footnotes - Comparative Media: Prostitution. Brett Douville.
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  4. Haitian-Americans protest Vice City. Thorsen, Tor and GameSpot.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Take-Two self-censoring Vice City. Thorsen, Tor and GameSpot.
  6. Vice City lawsuit switcheroo. Thorsen, Tor and GameSpot.
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  8. Tim Surette, GTA gets trilogized, San Andreas special edition, GameSpot, September 23, 2005
  9. Androvich, Mark. Take-Two settles "Hot Coffee" lawsuits (HTML).
  10. NY Times Advertisement
  11. Graft, Kris. Thompson Rallies Against GTA IV. Future US.
  12. Case 07-80238 (PDF).
  13. Game Politics Staff BREAKING: Take-Two Sues Jack Thompson over Manhunt 2, GTA4,
  14. CASE NO. 07-20693-CIV-ALTONAGA (PDF).
  15. Game Politics Staff In Countersuit, Thompson Claims Take-Two at Center of Vast RICO Conspiracy,
  16. Sinclair, Brendan Thompson Countersues Take-Two,
  17. Case No. 07-20693-CIV-Altonaga/Turnoff (PDF).
  18. Game Politics Staff (23 October, 2006) Could Jack Thompson Be Jailed Over "Bully" Case?,
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  21. Seff, Micah Jack Thompson and Take-Two Bury the Hatchet,
  22. Xbox Users Group GTA Publisher, Jack Thompson Settle Lawsuit,
  23. Thompson, Jack Case 1:07-cv-21256-AJ Document 12-2 (PDF),
  24. Jack Thompson Says GTA 4 Mission Target is Him; Threatens to Block Release.
  25. Jack Thompson hounds Rockstar boss'... MOTHER.
  26. Jack Thompson's Open Letter to Take-Two CEO's Mother.
  27. CNN Headline News - Grand Theft Morality Pt.1. YouTube. Retrieved 2008-05-07
  28. CNN Headline News - Grand Theft Morality Pt.2 YouTube. Retrieved 2008-05-07
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  30. Gendar, Alison; Pereira, Ivan; Saul, Michael. Pols rage as vid game takes shot at city.
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  33. 33.0 33.1 Hill, Jason. GTA IV edited for Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald.
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  36. “Uncut” GTA IV Submitted to OFLC for New Zealand Classification.
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  41. Weinberg, Jonathan. Video game has spoof perv site. The Sun.
  42. "Parents Group Warns Against Lost And Damned Nudity",, February 21, 2009
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  46. Suit: Video Game Sparked Police Shootings. ABC News.
  47. Grand Theft Auto sparks another lawsuit. GameSpot.
  48. Dwyer, K. and Fiorillo, J., 2007. True Stories of Law & Order: SVU. Berkley/Penguin, page 139. (ISBN-10: 0425217353)
  49. The Register - "'Grand Theft Auto' cop killer found guilty. The Register.
  50. Dwyer, K. and Fiorillo, J., 2007. True Stories of Law & Order: SVU. Berkley/Penguin, page 139. (ISBN-10: 0425217353)
  51. Antigame Crusader in ABQ. Daniels, Bruce and Albuquerque Journal.
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