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Children playing Grand Theft Auto: a study into violent gaming and child mentality
by Chris Hawke

Jack Thompson's argument has one vital flaw; it's hard to prove that violent video games 'damage' children, because you have to let them grow up. Finding out whether a childhood obsession with Grand Theft Auto leads to the cultivation of a hooker-beating, car-jacking, tracksuit-wearing 20-year-old maniac means that you have to both actively let a child play GTA, and then wait until he's a grown adult. It's time consuming, messy, morally objectionable and a bit weird.

However, there is still a way that we can find out what kids think of this super-violent alternate reality, and what their tiny innocent minds process while brutal imagery flashes through their tiny eyes. Unfortunately, I couldn't steal a child (not after last time, and I'd let a mate borrow the cage), so it was up to one brave writer: Matthew Orona of Bitmob. This is what happens when a kid plays GTA.

You can read Matthew's article on Bitmob.

"I egged him on to take the car in front of him which was waiting at the red light. He quickly looked up at me with disgust and refused, stating that the car was already owned by the person driving it."

First, a general observation: 4-year-olds are right little buggers. They dribble, shout, scream, punch, grab, bite, scratch, and spill everything everywhere. However, their favourite thing by far is to claim that every single object is theirs. See that vase your Mum gave you? Theirs. Your brand new Honda? Theirs. That chocolate bar you're eating? Definitely theirs. So, why is this child so terrified of taking someone's car? Either he's one of the kindest and most empathetic toddlers this side of young Gandhi, or it triggers the divide between action and principle. When in the home, it's easy for a child to say that 'everything belongs to them' in front of a parent, but actually physically taking something off a complete stranger is too much for most. As far as the child is concerned, the game is synonymous to real life, and the morals that they uphold in the real world translate directly to the virtual one. At least, for now...

"At one intersection he attempted to brake, but he was travelling too fast. Instead of ploughing into the rear of the car ahead of him, he swerved to the right and popped up onto to sidewalk. In doing so, he accidently ran over a woman walking towards his oncoming car. He was incredibly ashamed of himself and profusely apologised."

Again, just as a real life tragedy such as this would render a child horrified and ashamed, so does the video game. Children blur the lines between reality and the imaginary far more than most adult gamers, magnifying the whole experience and making it more involving, and either more joyful or terrifying, depending on the circumstances in the game.

"Only seconds later, he witnessed a policeman jump out of his patrol car to pursue a criminal of San Andreas. His eyes lit up as he asked if he could drive the police car. I reminded him that it was only a game, and it was fine to take the car. As he drove the squad car, I pressed L3 to turn on the lights and siren. He asked very excitedly if he could get the bad guys too. With a huge smile I pressed R3 to initiate the Vigilante Missions. It was as if his imagination had come to life. He was taking down delinquents left and right."

Remember that lesson in school where you were told how the police are your friends, and PC Nicey would give a little speech on how they catch the bad people? That was cool. What was even cooler were the cars. "Ha! Look at them lights! Looks at them hats they wear! They get GUNS! Kewl!". Being a policeman or policewoman is the height of awesome for all kids. Grand Theft Auto now becomes their way of living out this fantasy, drifting round corners and stopping the evil-doers in the name of the law. The interesting thing here is that while killing criminals in GTA is very violent, it's violence in a good cause; you're ridding the streets of evil. The child here displays no regrets or apologies, because he knows that the police are the 'good guys'. This is, presumably, before the inevitable time when the kid grows up and gets pulled over for doing 41 on a 40mph road, has to fork out a £300 fine and realises that the police are nothing but corrupt and sadistic creatures of pure evil who thrive off the salty tears of mere mortals by extracting every last penny from their battered wallets.

Because I'm not bitter at all.

"In all his time with Grand Theft Auto he never once encountered any of the controversy surrounding this notorious title. He didn’t beat any hookers with a baseball bat. He didn’t deal drugs. He didn’t go on a murderous rampage. He certainly never once had a cup of hot coffee. He didn't avoid these things because I told him he couldn't try them. It just never occurred to him to commit these acts."

After more ambulance and fire-fighting work, we get to the crux of the matter. The kid has killed a number of people, either by accident or through vigilante missions, but all his actions have been justified morally. He never stole a car from someone, because that's not the right thing to do. Sure, he took the police car and the ambulance, but only because no one was in them and he hasn't quite got the hang of property laws yet. He killed, but only for a good and righteous cause. And he never once did the sort of evil things that plague an adult's playthrough, simply because he never thought of it. Why, in this world, should he beat up a hooker? Yes, all the necessary tools are there - weapons, hookers, dark alleyways - but there's no reason to commit such a grievous act. If anything, Grand Theft Auto has enhanced the child's morality; unlike most players who kill and steal for the hell of it, the kid only does what he thinks it is right to do, even if it provides him with some escapist fun in the form of a police chase. Do you really see this player growing up to kill and drug deal in later life?

Dr. Hawke has reached his conclusion. The 18+ rating is there for a reason; games are much more involving for children than they are for adults and, obviously, that means they're more dangerous: I have no doubt the same experiment with Dead Space 2 would produce endless nightmares. But as for children immediately turning into bloodthirsty murderers: it's doubtful. As a general rule, children shouldn't be allowed to play videogames so violent or repugnant as GTA, but if this toddler is anything to go by, they don't look at games with the same cynical eyes we do. As soon as you booted up GTA IV, you wanted to run someone down, didn't you? But for this child at least, it's just a fun way to become a policeman, and not much else.

Please don't take this as proper medical advice, as my BSc in Medical Sciences is actually written in crayon on the back of some tissue paper, but feel free to have a discussion of the findings below, and follow our Twitter.


Quotes in this article are taken from Matthew Orona's original article on Bitmob.

Use of these quotes is for illustrative purposes only, and the Gamer's Guide to Life Network does not claim to own, in any way, the quotes used here.

Quotes shown here may have been edited or abridged to better fit the context of this article.

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- Chris Hawke

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