"GTA" outrage: MADD confuses virtual/real drunk driving

Apparently under the impression that the game actually gets you drunk, the group calls for "Grand Theft Auto IV" to be pulled from the market.

By Farhad Manjoo
May 2, 2008 12:38AM (UTC)
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Mothers Against Drunk Driving has put out a statement calling on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, the industry group that rates video games, to re-rate "Grand Theft Auto IV" as "Adults Only," which would effectively pull it from store shelves across the nation.

"GTA" is rated "Mature," which means it is sold only to people 17 and older -- a rating roughly equivalent to an R for movies. MADD wants the new rating -- something closer to an NC-17 or an X -- because the game allows your character to drive while intoxicated (see a demo in the video above).


In its statement, MADD says, "Drunk driving is not a game and it is not a joke. Drunk driving is a choice, a violent crime and it is also 100 percent preventable."

The organization also asks for Rockstar Games to cease selling "GTA IV," "if not out of responsibility to society then out of respect for the millions of victims/survivors of drunk driving."

Oh, where to begin? Yes, drunk driving is not a game; it is a serious offense. But "Grand Theft Auto" is a game. The difference turns out to be of some importance. What one does in a game, see, occurs almost entirely inside one's head, where the action cannot harm another soul. There is no evidence that doing something in a game is predictive of future such real-life action, or even suggestive of a desire to commit such action.


If that were the case, a majority of Americans would spend their days crawling through sewers in search of magic mushrooms, or else hunting ducks and trading real estate.

One might even venture that part of the reason people play games is to do things they'd never consider doing in their lives. They do it in a game because they'd never do it otherwise.

"Grand Theft Auto" is full of such experiences, by the way. As in many, many games, "GTA" allows you to kill (virtual) people. You can visit (virtual) prostitutes, whom you can watch perform (fake) sex. You can also rob anyone (but, right, only on the screen). You can go to strip clubs (again, not really -- it's animation). You can drive criminally recklessly (once more, not really for real).


Note, too, that while you are allowed to do any of this, you are not required to do much of it -- news reports sometimes suggest that "GTA" forces you to drive drunk and kill whores in order to win. That's not true; in some cases, committing such acts penalize your player. Still, you may find yourself doing these things anyway -- because, in truth, there's an escapist thrill to it.

Of course, you may disagree. You may say, "That strikes me as low humor, graceless entertainment. I find it disgusting, outrageous, plainly terrible that you would play a game like that. You, sir, are a lunatic."


And it is perfectly fine for you to react that way. I thought "Life is Beautiful," that Roberto Benigni Holocaust comedy that everybody loved, was offensive. I found "Crash" intolerable. And Buzz Bissinger is a moron.

These are all, obviously, matters of taste, and MADD and I clearly do not share a taste in video games.

But the group's "out of respect for victims" argument endangers all art. Should we pull "Lolita" from the shelves out of respect for victims of child abuse? How about "The Sopranos," out of respect for victims of gangland violence? Or ban Snoop Dogg, out of respect for floating beds in space?


Art is offensive; if it doesn't offend you, it probably offends someone else. Censoring entertainment that many love because a few find it disrespectful -- now that's mad.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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