The Grand Theft Auto Controversy

By Gus Bode

Deakhead:Teen car thief blames popular video game.

American teens seem to love the thrill of stealing cars, running over people, fleeing from the cops and picking up prostitutes – all from the comfort of their living rooms.

Or at least they were willing to line up outside of the Carbondale Best Buy waiting for the doors to open so they could be one of the first to own the latest video game, “Grand Theft Auto:Vice City,” when it hit stores earlier this month – a game that features all of these illegal activities and more.


Best Buy is still accepting rain checks from those die-hard video game lovers because there simply aren’t enough games available to fulfill the demand.

But that might be a good thing according to Jessica Free, a freshman at Benton High School.

Free said her little brother, 13, has the game. Though she likes the game, she doesn’t think that her brother or his friends should have it.

A teen-ager in Somers, Wis., told police the game, which is about stealing cars, inspired an auto theft spree involving about 100 vehicles before he and two others were caught.

Free admits “Vice City” could motivate people to steal cars.

“The game makes it so fun,” she said. “If they can go in there and get away with it and have a lot of fun, someone might really try it. But, people need to remember that it is just a game.”

Free does believe that the game should have age requirements.


“I know it is just a game, but if you do those things in real life, they have consequences,” she said.

Still, Free said the game is cool and she believes she is mature enough to play it.

But according to the recommended age for the game, Free is not old enough to buy it in stores.

At least not in Carbondale.

Representatives from both KB Toys and Best Buy, in Carbondale, said they are checking IDs and will not sell the game to people under 17.

But just because you have to be 17 to buy the controversial game at some Carbondale stores doesn’t mean Free, or her little brother, couldn’t purchase it elsewhere.

In fact, a national Best Buy spokeswoman told USA Today that the chain has no rule about checking ages of buyers.

Despite efforts to keep the game out of the hands of minors, KB Toys had large signs in front of its store in the University Mall promoting the new game.

And “Grand Theft Auto:Vice City” isn’t your average “Duck Hunt.”

The game has an interactive environment and a solid story line. It also has a soundtrack that includes music artists from Blondie to Michael Jackson. Additionally, some famous Hollywood names, including Ray Liotta, provided their voices to characters.

“Vice City” carries an M rating, meaning the subject matter is mature, recommended for ages 17 and older. And despite claims that children are being influenced by the game, USA Today said the average age of those owning the latest systems – PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube – is about 23, much higher than the crowd who once loved Mario Bros. and Sonic.

Even with an older crowd, the game is causing controversy and legal problems.

Josh Benson, a student at John A. Logan College, also believes the game promotes violence and criminal behavior.

Though he agrees with the age suggestions, he enjoys the game and said it should not be taken off the market.

“America is about freedom,” Benson said. “But the game is still inappropriate for certain age groups.”

Benson thinks the game is inappropriate for his 12-year-old cousin who plays it regularly. The game was bought for the minor by his mother, who was unaware of the graphic scenes it entails.

“I would never buy this game for my kid,” Benson said. “And it shouldn’t be in front of toy stores that are directed at a younger audience.”

He said the game does not make him want to steal cars, but it might make a younger person want to.

” After all,” Benson said. “It is called “Grand Theft Auto” for a reason.”

Reporter Kristina Herrndobler can be reached at [email protected]