Grand Theft of their innocence

Young teens will use 'pester power' to get games like GTA for Christmas, but do parents realise what's involved?

LOS Santos and Blaine County might draw a blank for you.

You may have never heard of Franklin, Michael, or Trevor. But chances are if you have teenagers who have an Xbox or PS3 then they will instantly recognise that ‘sun soaked metropolis’ and the career criminals that feature in the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series.

GTA V was released in September to hype normally associated with a Hollywood blockbuster. The statistics are truly staggering: it became the fastest-selling game of all time and took just three days to reach global retail sales of over $1bn.

Despite it having an 18s cert there’s nothing stopping minors from playing it.

In fact, most parents of teens will probably be plagued by requests to buy it for Christmas, along with the ‘pester power’ comments that “all my friends have it”.

But most parents, not gamers themselves, will be totally oblivious to the violent, and highly sexualised content of GTA. The latest instalment is certainly thrilling and absorbing, but there are some very disturbing aspects to this hugely popular and highly addictive pastime.

The player does a series of missions and receives a score for how well they are undertaken — in the persona of any of the three main characters.

You can, for example, visit a lapdancing club where you can opt for an erotic dance from a scantily dressed woman. With today’s hi-tech imagery, this is almost as sharp as any TV movie.

You can pay a prostitute for sex and have the option of killing her to get your money back.

The themes are crude and misogynistic, and the sex element of the game gives the player an ‘excitement’ rating and an ability to use controls to ‘thrust’ in and out.

The torture scenes are also very disturbing: pulling out teeth with a pliers; using a waterboarding torture technique by pouring a flammable liquid over a victim tied to a chair; smashing kneecaps with a monkey wrench; giving electric shocks using spark plugs.

These games have been proven to have addictive qualities for teens, and the graphic nature of ‘acting out’ sexual and violent scenes, albeit on screen, could have damaging effects on young or vulnerable minds which are still developing.

Sentencing Ryan Chinnery, then 19, for a series of horrific sexual assaults on women in England in 2008, Judge Statman blamed the violent series of GTA and said the game showed “a scant respect for women”.

Cork mum ‘Maria’ allows her 14-year-old son to play the game, but she has also played it, so she is well aware of the contents. “While I think it’s a fantastic game, I do feel that GTA V is slightly inappropriate for a teenager.

“I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable with the fact that they can go into a lapdancing club, and the language is fairly crude also, and while I’m fairly open-minded, I did cringe at some of the things that were said.”

It’s the lack of playable female characters in the game that Doreen Manning from Cork would have an issue with. A regular gamer herself, she believes the game is rated 18 for a reason.

Grand Theft of their innocence

“Most of the women featured in the game are very sexualised and they are either lapdancers or prostitutes. The minor women characters who are prominent in the game would tend to be annoying or very shallow. The game could do with a strong lead female character.

“Some of the sex scenes are graphic, too, but I wouldn’t say there is sexual violence against women in the game. Players have a choice in how they play the game.”

Colman Flynn from Cork, a devout GTA fan, thinks parents should play the game before their children, and decide whether it’s suitable or not.

“They need to know what their children are actually playing. The torture scene would be one example of unsuitability. I wouldn’t say it’s a game that takes advantage of women, but the female characters are indeed secondary. The point of the game is that you can do as much violence as you want, or none.”

Paul Gilligan of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services believes there is a definite link between sexually violent video games and behaviour.

“While research on the impact of sexual or violent content in video games on teenagers is limited, it does indicate that the impact is significant because the games are highly engaging and interactive, people are rewarded for violent and sexualised acts, and repeat the violent behaviour continuously. “These three components are known to be effective learning mechanisms for behaviour. The research also indicates that teenagers exposed to sexualised video games would likely report more sexualised thoughts feelings and behaviours.

“If the messages being reinforced in GTA are sexually inappropriate there is a real danger that this will have a negative impact on teenagers who are still only developing their understanding of their sexuality and of what is healthy sexual behaviour.”


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