A column about Grand Theft Auto

A few weeks ago, the Office of Film and Literature Classification took the extreme step of refusing the classification of a videogame, forcing it to be withdrawn from sale. And not just any videogame – they banned Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a best-seller which is widely viewed as the greatest game ever made, with the possible exception of Hungry Hungry Hippos.

The reason was a hidden ‘feature’ nicknamed ‘Hot Coffee’ which allows players to simulate sex with a naked woman. The usually progressive Hillary Clinton was the first to jump on the bandwagon, presumably to redefine herself as family-friendly ahead of a possible tilt at the White House. She was soon joined by virtually every politician in the US, spawning an inquiry in the Federal Trade Commission. As a result, publisher Rockstar Games has seen its share price plummet. In Australia, Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock went after it with the fervour he usually reserves for malnourished asylum seekers. All in all, the world hasn’t suffered such a scurrilous attack on its very moral foundations since it briefly glimpsed Janet Jackson’s nipple.

I downloaded a video of this outrageousness – purely in the interests of warning The Glebe’s readership about this threat to their families, of course. And I’ve got to say, of all the raunchy videos circulating on the internet, this must be just about the tamest – the main character doesn’t even take his clothes off. I’ve seen more graphic action on Big Brother Uncut.

That said, children definitely shouldn’t be playing this game. But that’s not because of the poorly-animated woman with whom you can have consensual relations if you – ahem – push the right buttons, so much as everything else in Grand Theft Auto. If the wowsers want to fuss about inappropriate content, why not the scenes where the game gets you to commit drive-by shootings, blow up FBI agents, and even start a massive gang war? I’ve been playing GTA for a few months, and while it’s incredibly entertaining, the criminal action makes Scarface and Goodfellas look restrained, sometimes shocking even my thoroughly corrupted mind. But for our moral guardians, the one thing that crosses the line is clumsily-simulated sex? Now that’s twisted.

The GTA fuss highlights the massive double standard between the censors’ treatment of sex and violence. You’ll never see anything close to full-frontal nudity in a Hollywood film, but there’s no end of bodies being full-frontally riddled with bullets. And even the slightest hint of sexuality is enough to restrict films to ‘mature’ audiences. So when a film is given an ‘R’ rating, 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t allowed to watch on the screen acts they can legally perform in private.

The selective censorship of GTA teaches young people that it’s fine to go on a virtual killing spree for their own entertainment, but the moment you spend a little quality time with your digital girlfriend, there’s trouble. Shouldn’t we be encouraging young men who are interested in guns and violence to instead develop healthy relationships with the opposite sex?

But no. In the Bush era of abstinence education, the US Government will happily interfere with the moral choices made by near-adults, but refuses on principle to interfere with anyone who wants to own a gun. It seems to me far more appropriate for governments to direct their efforts away from forcing moral judgements onto teenagers, and onto interfering pretty darn extensively with anyone who wants to own a gun. After all, becoming sexually active is a normal part of growing up – whereas very few people go through the rite of passage of spraying innocent bystanders with bullets.

I’m not going to defend ‘Hot Coffee’. The whole idea of a simulated sex game is pathetically frat-boyish, really, and it was irresponsible of the game’s developers to include it as a hidden feature, rather than allowing parents to make their own decision. But I simply cannot understand why the OFLC views a bit of simulated slap and tickle as so appalling an evil that it won’t risk the game being sold to anyone, even adults. (And you know something’s really immoral when the politicians won’t even let you buy it in the ACT.) The fuss over ‘Hot Coffee’ is just a storm in a teacup.

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