Update 11/17/14: Last year, Grand Theft Auto V shattered all expectations, becoming the highest-selling video console game of 2013 in North America, Latin America and Europe. The fifth installment of the franchise has sold dozens of millions of copies, totaling billions of dollars in sales. On Tuesday, the game is being re-released on new gaming consoles with a new wrinkle for the game: For the first time, players can play the game from a first-person perspective, taking an already intense, fun gaming experience to a new level.
Join Lori Jane Gliha on Monday at 9 p.m. ET/6 PT for more on the cultural fascination with the Grand Theft Auto series and what the re-release of Grand Theft Auto V means for the future of these games.
Although he is five years from obtaining an official driver’s license, 11-year-old Nico Frank has discovered a way to cruise neighborhood streets in a flashy car while living out his fantasies.
As a player inside the video game Grand Theft Auto V, anything goes.
“I kind of like doing some things that I know I can’t do in real life,” Nico said. “Like, for example, in real life, you can’t kill people. In this game you can.” He said it’s similar to living vicariously through a superhero character.
“You can’t be a superhero in real life, so it’s fun to kind of have the fantasy,” he said.
Nico is among millions who tried the newest installment in the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, during its record-breaking first week on store shelves. The game brought in more than $1 billion during its first three days on the market.
According to the packaging, the game is actually recommended for someone much older than Nico. It’s intended for a kid who is at least 17.
The video game received a “mature” rating due to intense violence, blood and gore, nudity, and mature humor.
There are sexual scenes, in which the male protagonist in the game is able to fondle a woman inside a virtual strip club, and scenes that allow the main player to beat, rob, or shoot and kill other players for no apparent reason.
Nico’s mother said the seventh grader is sophisticated enough to handle the game.
“We spoke with Nico. He explained that he knows that’s fiction – that (he knows) that’s not real life. He thought it was fun,” said Carolina Lopez, Nico’s mom. “Nico is a very well-rounded kid. He does a lot of sports and does great in school and he’s real easy going, so we thought he’s mature enough to know that that’s a game, and he’s not going to apply that in real life.”
“I have a 12-year-old,” said Brian Crecente, a video game journalist and news editor for Polygon, a video game news website.
“There is no way I would let him play this game just like I would never let him watch ‘Scarface,’” he added.
Crecente said the very aspects of the game that make it “genius” are the same components that make the game unsuitable for kids.
“It deals with serious topics, and I think if you look at the satire for instance, that’s the sort of stuff that’s going to go right over a kid’s head,” he said.
“There’s a lot of violence in the game, but there’s also a compelling message that is sort of an undertone to that violence, and I think children would completely miss that.”
The game takes place in a fictional city called Los Santos. Anyone who has ever been to the Santa Monica Pier or the Hollywood Hills can see Los Santos looks a lot like the greater Los Angeles area.
“They’ve created this entire world that is absolutely a satirical look at the United States and at politics and at everything that people are into right now,” said Crecente, describing how most characters in the game have cell phones and the ability to take “selfies.”
In the game, a social-networking site called Lifeinvader mimics Facebook. Players can even invest in the stock market.
Throughout the course of the video game, the player can either choose to participate in a developing plot, by embarking on a slew of violent missions, or the player can explore the virtual city by choosing “free play.”
Conceivably, the player could choose to completely avoid violence, Crecente said.
“You can, for instance, go to the pier and go on a roller coaster ride or go bicycling on the beach or just drive around the town and just kind of cruise,” said Crecente. “The ability to do whatever you want in this game is something people aren’t used to.”
What’s really interesting, he said is that “you can’t deliver an experience to gamers that allows them to decide what they want to do unless you allow them to decide what they want to do. So if they decide they want to be violent, this is a game that – unlike a lot of games – says, ‘Okay. Be violent.’”
More and more violence
“There are two types of violence in the game,” said Crecente. “There’s the narratively driven violence – which I think is dealt with in a smart way – and then there is this violence that is essentially allowed to happen. It’s not prevented, and in my mind, I think that violence – when it occurs – is more a reflection of the player than it is the game.”
In the “free play” segment of the game, players can choose various weapons, including a golf club or a gun, to randomly hurt bystanders in the game. A player’s violent behavior can trigger a response from virtual police officers – including a virtual stand-off that could result in the player’s death.
America Tonight asked Dr. Michael Fraser, a clinical psychologist who specializes in video game addiction, to explain how a child’s interaction with such violence could impact that person’s reality.
“We don’t have any clear-cut research that shows that there is a cause or a causal relationship between violent video games and the actions that people take,” he said. “There are so many factors involved – personality, psychiatric history, parenting style, any potential for a learning disorder – it’s really difficult to do sound research,” he said.
Children who are experiencing stressful situations in their lives, however, could turn to an immersive, engaging video game as an escape from reality, he said. Those actions could lead to video game addiction and other aggressive behaviors.
“There are certain groups of children that are at a higher risk for not being able to manage playing these video games,” he said. Parents should monitor those kids, he advised.
“There are some children who are prone to impulsive behavior, who are prone to more angry outbursts, who are more oppositional and defiant and who have varying degrees of difficulty managing their emotions,” he explained. “Those are the children who are at higher risk.”
Regardless of the type of video game, Fraser said parents should make sure their children are living balanced lives that include activities other than playing video games.
“If everyone in the room can say there’s a balance, I would say there is no problem, and the video game is a healthy part of this person’s life,” he said.