Sunday :: Nov 14, 2004

Playing Murder, Inc.

by pessimist

Many people, especially those from the wrong-wing who hearken back to the days of Andy Griffith's Mayberry, wonder what has happened to our kids. Civility seems to be a thing of the past, as is respect for anyone or anything. Graffitti, once the street 'art' of the inner city, now blooms with regularity in the finest neighborhoods. Street racing, once confined to the sticks where there was less chance of anyone not involved getting hurt or killed now happens with frightening regularity anywhere the street is straight for a sufficient distance. We even see the effects of this decline in civility in the way US troops treat captives in Iraq and Afghanistan - and maybe even Guantanamo, but the media doesn't have enough free access to check out the rumors.

Violence is now an entertainment in itself - and those who commit such acts feel no remorse, even when the victim is serously injured:

Student left blinded in attack

A UNIVERSITY graduate was left blind and bedridden after a gang of laughing schoolboys beat him repeatedly with a road sweeper’s broom, a court was told yesterday. Yasir Abdelmouttalib, 22, was attacked on his way to afternoon prayers. Mr Abdelmouttalib had recently arrived in London to add a PhD to his Edinburgh University engineering degree. He remains in hospital with brain damage nearly five months after the assault. Doctors fear that he will never recover.

It was claimed that trouble flared after three 14-year-old boys spotted him wearing traditional Muslim clothes at a bus stop in Willesden High Road, North London. Steven Perian, for the prosecution, told Harrow Crown Court that after a 'barrage of spitting' they threw a street bin at him and snatched up a broom. "It was used by at least one person . . . to hit him on the head, with one witness describing it as if it was a croquet mallet hitting a ball."

Mr Perian said that even as Mr Abdelmouttalib slumped to the ground, it was 'not good enough' for the defendants. "More hits with the broomstick followed . . . A police officer saw the group running away without a care in the world. And they were laughing." The defendants, all from North London, deny causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

Shall we talk about moral values now? Shall we also ask if the parents of these hoodlums bought them violent games to play when they were younger?

While this particular violent incident happened in Great Britain, this isn't merely a British concern. It goes on everywhere. It has gotten so bad in Canada, for example, that questions are being asked:

GAME UNDER FIRE ... is it really just a game?
Attacking police officers, racial slurs, bloody beatings of innocent bystanders

In four and a half minutes, 14-year-old Ryan Mason ran over a police officer, stole his gun and shot and killed three innocent bystanders. He also shot two more cops, beat a woman to death and carjacked a cab driver backed by a soundtrack of racial slurs and hardcore gangster rap.

He was playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the hot video game released two weeks ago. Grand Theft Auto is rated mature, meaning the minimum age recommendation is 17. "It's a good game. You get to do things you would never do unless you wanted to go to jail for a few years," said Ryan, A Stouffville resident who reviews video games for the York Region Newspaper Group. "It's just a little too violent. I can see it's just a game, but younger people may think this is what life is really like."

It's no wonder police, university professors and child psychologists agree, in the wrong hands, games like this can be dangerous.

The fact gamers are engaged in criminal activity in games such as Grand Theft Auto certainly has York Regional Police concerned. "It has a very realistic feel and it's totally participatory," crime prevention Const. Monica Lees said. "I can see how this kind of behaviour could escalate. Parents just need to keep an eye on what is going on with their kids."

Ryan, a student at Brother Andre Catholic High School in Markham, says there are already a number of students at school who emulate the gangster behaviour they see in music videos, films and now video games. "There are kids at school that might take it a bit too seriously," he said. "You'd think they would know better."

One of Const. Lees' biggest fears is games will teach young people a lack of respect for the badge. "Looking at games like this I just have to ask, as a society, where are we going? It just puts a knot in my belly," she said.

Const. Lees said the game's disregard for humanity makes her nervous. "As a police officer, it scares me to think of the possibilities. I would hate to see a police officer lose their life in the line of duty for the glorification of a game like this."

Let's look at a situation where this really happened to a cop:

Call to arms

Moments after testifying in five traffic cases, five-year California Highway Patrol Veteran Thomas Steiner was gunned down April 21 outside Pomona Superior Court, allegedly by 16-year-old Valentino Mitchell Arenas. Arenas, police say, was attempting to impress Pomona 12th Street, the city's oldest and largest gang, which he wanted to join. Arrested less than 12 hours after the shooting, Arenas has been charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office with murder, as well as special circumstance allegations of murdering a peace officer, lying in wait and murder during a drive-by shooting that make him eligible for life in prison without parole if convicted.

The shooting came amid already heightened tensions between Pomona police and the 12th Street gang, which claims the courthouse as part of its territory. Officers reported seeing graffiti in the 12th Street turf critical of police after those incidents, and the confrontations may have set the stage for Steiner's murder, according to the affidavit. The gang came to believe police had a vendetta against it after the Jan. 24 shooting of Javier Beas, who was killed by Pomona police after allegedly pulling a gun on them. Police also believe the gang was angry over the conviction of Tony Manuel Barron, a friend of Beas and fellow gang member who received a life prison term April 2 for the murders of two black men.

Steiner, who worked out of the CHP's Santa Fe Springs division, was in full uniform at the time of the shooting, carrying both gun and badge. The Long Beach resident left behind his parents, wife, a 3-year-old son and a 13-year-old stepson.

What are we going to hear next? "Games don't kill people - people kill people?"

GAME UNDER FIRE ... is it really just a game?

Glenn DiPasquale, the York Region District School Board's chief psychologist, suggests all media, including TV, films and video games, have a "tremendous influence" on adults and children. "Some people will argue playing this game doesn't prove a cause and effect," Dr. DiPasquale said.

"However, we went through this argument in terms of violent media and eventually research and the weight of evidence does conclude that violent media does encourage violent and aggressive behaviour."

"It's OK - It's just a game"

To the casual observer, the anti-establishment, antisocial themes of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are abhorrent. But some experts, such as York University professor Jennifer Jenson, disagree, as long as those playing the game are adults applying a mature perspective. "These games actually aren't antisocial at all," said Prof. Jenson, a pioneering authority on technology in education. "People play them, read about them, talk about them and play them together. The game is mostly targeted at people already playing games."

Let The Tame Legal Beagles Bark!

A statement from Rockstar Games said it is clearly a fictional piece of interactive entertainment made for adults. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is rated M, for Mature. This means all marketing and packaging prominently reflects that this game is for adults, 17 and older, and is not appropriate for children. The adult consumers who play this game fully understand that it is cutting-edge, fictional, interactive entertainment -- nothing more," the statement reads.

Follow The Money

But one look at sales figures and its clear adult games such as Grand Theft Auto are getting into kids' hands in record numbers. The video game industry is a global phenomenon. Bigger than Hollywood, video game hardware, software and related accessory sales in the United States accounted for $10 billion US in 2003, exceeding the $9.5 billion in movie box office revenue. Market research estimates there are 430 million gamers worldwide and game consoles are in more than 40 per cent of North American homes. Grand Theft Auto's precursor, Vice City, sold 12 million copies. In Canada, video games and peripherals generated $390 million since the new year, a 6.3-per-cent increase over the same period in 2003. Industry observers predict video game sales will grow by 20 per cent a year over the next four years.

As the profits grow, so will the problems.

The problem, according to Dr. DiPasquale, is children learn through imitation. "It could only prove that kids who are naturally aggressive or belligerent are attracted to those games," he said. "There's no question, pop media affects the behaviour of kids and adults."

Dr. DiPasquale cited a classic school yard example by way of the once popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. "Principals were dealing with kids kicking and judo chopping each other and they had to ban play fighting. Kids were getting hurt," he said. "People who defend the media and say there is no effect on behaviour know it just isn't the case anymore."

More proof as to why these games are dangerous to a civil society:

IU researchers target video game violence
Group at medical school tries to learn what triggers aggression in some players.

Jon Steinberg, 18, takes careful aim and shoots. Red spray fills the air, and the target falls dead, as Steinberg laughs lightly and says, "There's the blood." Gore, carnage and destruction do not faze the North Central High School senior when he encounters them in a video game. "You don't feel like you're doing anything violent," says Steinberg, playing "Counter-Strike" one Friday at Net Heads in Broad Ripple. "You feel like you're playing a game. It's just sport."

Some scientific experts fear his comments miss the mark. Citing a body of psychological research, they argue that exposure to screen violence, be it on television or in a video game, primes a viewer to act aggressively. No one understands exactly what processes in the brain lead to this observed increase in aggression. Now researchers, including a team at the Indiana University School of Medicine, want to solve that puzzle. Their efforts come as game makers release a new set of titles this holiday season, from "Halo 2" to "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

"Halo 2" takes players to a science fiction Earth under attack by the alien Covenant. The game arms players with a variety of lethal weaponry, including a sword that can halve one's foes. "San Andreas" invites players to roam a mythical Western state, engaging in gang warfare, carjacking vehicles, killing innocent pedestrians and picking up prostitutes. Like previous Grand Theft Auto games, "San Andreas" does not shy away from strong language or drug use. While both games are rated "mature" for 17-plus audiences, that does not prevent younger kids from clamoring to play these or other popular video games with violent components.

We Are Devo

A growing body of research suggests that such games may have consequences beyond sore hands and glazed eyes. Two years ago, the IU team showed that brains of healthy teens, ages 13 to 17, reacted differently to violent video games than those of adolescents with a history of disruptive behavior. Teens in the latter group had less activity in their frontal lobes, the area responsible for controlling behavior. Even among the healthy group, the IU researchers saw differences. Healthy teens who reported more exposure to violence than their peers also showed decreased activity in the frontal lobes. Earlier this fall, a follow-up study showed that the greater a teen's exposure to more violent media, the worse he or she performed on tests of self-control and concentration.

Studies done elsewhere suggest that violent video games may affect more than the frontal lobes. A pilot study of eight preteens conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Kansas State University confirmed the suspicion that violent clips would activate the amygdala, the brain's danger sensor.

The scans in this study revealed something even more perplexing -- activation in the back of the brain, said John Murray, a Kansas State professor of developmental psychology and study investigator. At first the researchers did not know what to make of this, but then they realized that the posterior cingulate, used to store long-term memories of significant events, was involved. Veterans and rape victims with post-traumatic stress disorder also show activity in this region. But no one had realized that simulated trauma could have the same effect, Murray said. "That was a real shocker to see that pop with this group of normal kids," he said.

"The kids know it's entertainment, but the brain does not. It treats this as real violence . . . and because it's so dangerous, we store it back there with trauma."

Currently a visiting senior scientist at Harvard's Center on Media and Child Health, Murray and researchers there have a $500,000 grant to look at a larger group of children, including some who are aggressive and others who have been physically abused. If this larger trial confirms the smaller one, it will help explain the link between playing violent video games and subsequent aggressive behavior, Murray said. "These significant or violent events that they see thousands of times bring instant recall. So when they get into a threat situation, they don't have to stop and say, 'Now, let me see: What would Mr. Rogers do?' " he said. "The whole set of aggressive repertoires bounce back."

These studies may well arrive at the same conclusion as many of their predecessors, said Craig A. Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University: Too many video games are bad for you. "You eat one Twinkie, it's not going to cause that much harm. You start eating a lot of Twinkies, and it will," he said.

Let's take a look at this bad boy:

Game Daze: 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas'

It's violent. It's profane and politically incorrect. It's packed wall to wall with tough thugs doing terrible things. Intense crime-all-the-time action, ripe dialogue and often gory graphics all mimic an R-rated film, and shame on so-called grownups who put it in the hands of children or teens who aren't old enough to take in that sort of movie.

"San Andreas" is a game for adults only, even more so than its controversial predecessors "Grand Theft Auto" and "GTA: Vice City." As it did when it channeled Sonny Crockett's 1980s Miami for "Vice City," Rockstar once again recreates a distinctive setting for "San Andreas." This time, the tone, look and dialogue evoke "Boyz N The Hood" and other gang-themed films of the '90s as characters struggle with rivals, cops and other crooks in three fictional Western cities.

The well-developed story opens as Carl "C.J." Johnson returns to Los Santos, the crime-riddled Los Angeles look-alike that he fled years ago in an effort to live a peaceful life. Drawn home by the murder of his mother, he's barely off the plane before he's grabbed and framed for a crime by a pair of cops on the take. From there, C.J. bounces from bicycle to car to motorcycle, from the 'hood to the Vegas Strip, as he ducks drive-bys and undertakes missions to protect his family and his place on the streets. There are plenty of weapons to amass, as well as a "respect" rating that persuades wannabes to join his crew and "wanted levels" where he's got to be constantly alert for law-enforcement agents looking to bust him.

As in "Vice City," sound plays a huge role. The roster of voice actors is packed with big talent -- Samuel L. Jackson, Ice T, Peter Fonda, Chris Penn and James Woods, among others. And gamers who are old enough to play it may find that "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" (PlayStation 2; Rockstar Games; $49.99; Rated Mature) offers the most exhilarating ride they've ever experienced. For us, it presents a moral dilemma that results in a mixed review, reflecting our acknowledgement of the game's dazzling visual and creative accomplishments but also our rejection of its characters' behavior. We could live without some of the song choices and the explicit potty talk and hateful or misogynistic attitudes spewed by some characters.

Toys 'R' Us clerk alerted me about video game contents

I would like to take this opportunity to thank one of the sales clerks at our local Toys "R" Us and to alert other parents about the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." My son had been asking for it for weeks. A quick Internet search turned up nothing unusual. (I would later learn that this game was banned in Australia.) The clerk, noticing my son, told me that one of the missions in the game was to rape a woman, and that I might want to consider another title. While I grant my son considerable latitude in his choices of music and games, it made me sick that I nearly bought this for him.

This letter goes out to other unsuspecting parents, not to discourage them from purchasing the game, but to help them make an informed decision. Sales clerks like the fine gentleman at Toys "R" Us can do much to help us parents make the right choices.

Timothy R. Jenkins
Fredericksburg VA
Date published: 11/11/2004

This is what this parent is afraid his son might get involved with:

Search for solutions that last

Gang membership has its origins in personal, cultural, societal and sociological pressures that affect many Americans - tempered further today by television, film and popular culture.

And violent games.

No community is immune - a fact that often is blamed on Hollywood's glamorizing gang culture and gangsta rap music. Not even Thousand Oaks in Ventura County - long the safest city in America with a population of more than 100,000. "How did Thousand Oaks get to be a gang city? In the early '90s the white kids went to see "American Me" and "Menace 2 Society," then they were all going around with the gang walk after that, and they adopted the culture and they turned into gangs," Klein said. "They they got into conflicts with Hispanic gangs in the Valley and Oxnard and guess what? BOOM! There is a gang problem in Thousand Oaks."

Today Thousand Oaks is home to 183 identified gang members. Although that number is down from 300 in the early 1990s, when the Ventura County Sheriff's Department established a gang unit in the city, it is evidence that the problem is pervasive, even in our safest communities. "The option is now all over the country," Klein said. "Most of America's youth didn't know much about gangs before "Colors" and "Boyz N the Hood" and all the clothing manufacturers started marketing gang clothing and styles. It used to be gang culture. Now it's youth culture being perpetuated by pop culture ... These are our own kids. They aren't aliens. They aren't invaders. These are our own kids."

Bad Boys! Bad Boys! What Ya Gonna Do...

Recipe for failure

For three decades, police across Southern California have fought a losing war against street gangs, handcuffed by inadequate resources even as the number of gangsters exploded along with the violence, drug dealing and other crimes they bring with them. Fontana police Chief Larry Clark said his city and others experiencing high growth naively ignored the warning signs and allowed gangs to take hold so they now face problems similar to those in poor inner-city areas. "If you're real honest, the public put its head in the sand, and said, we don't have a gang problem. By the time they realized you have to do something, it was a major issue and we were behind the curve. That has a lot to do with it."

Added West Covina police Chief Frank Wills: "They are in every city in Southern California, and any city that would deny it is being disingenuous."

Crucial gang prosecution programs, meanwhile, have been cut along with prevention and intervention efforts even though experts are in agreement that they are key components of any successful effort to reduce the impact of gangs. "They multiply faster than we do," said Deputy Chief Ron Bergmann, the San Fernando Valley's commanding officer. "The gang replaces the family. If there's not a cohesive family, they turn to the gangs. It becomes their home."

Pomona police Chief James Lewis said after-school and other prevention programs aren't adequate, even with a doubling of the budget for local boys and girls clubs, and the fourth of 14 after-school centers about to open in the area. "We have to do a better job with the young ones, and to keep those already lost off the streets so they don't serve as role models. We're struggling in both areas."

Lt. Roger Murphy, watch commander of patrol at 77th [LA], calls the strategy of attacking gangs with an understaffed department "triage police work" because officers are constantly being redeployed based on the highest priorities of the moment. Last year, the department concentrated resources in 77th Division - GIT teams and a Community Safety Operation Task Force of about 100 gang and other officers plus federal agents _ and homicides were cut nearly in half. This year, without the same resources, homicides are back up by about 37 percent. "If we could impact and deter some of the outrageous violence, that could cause a different feeling among young people in the community ... they don't think they're going to live that long."

There's another aspect to Life in the 'Hood' that doesn't help much - poverty:

Neighborhood blight an invitation to crime

As more affluent people flee to new homes in the foothills, they leave behind poorer, less engaged neighborhoods. The concentration of poverty swells, property maintenance slips, and these neighborhoods often become magnets for city resources, public policy experts say. "People who are poor are less able to participate in local politics. ... Landlords see these areas as slums, so they are not going to improve their investments,' said Michael Stoll, director of UCLA's Center for the Study of Urban Poverty. "Once people start to see the neighborhood is not kept up physically, no one wants to invest: Residents don't want to protect their neighborhood from crime; criminals know they can commit crimes and no one is going to call the police; and the city is certainly not going to come in there because no one is putting pressure on them.'

The downward spiral has gone on for decades as some San Bernardino County neighborhoods aged. The neighborhoods become a dichotomy of people with criminal behavior and law-abiding families too poor to go elsewhere. Mountain View Manor, or "The Yellows,' has become the center of a gang turf war over drug-dealing rights, said San Bernardino police Lt. Ernie Lemos. "That's a thorn in our side we are trying to handle,' he said of the widely known neighborhood. Two people have been killed at the 78-unit apartment complex so far this year.

"I'm not comfortable here,' Graciella Del Real said, speaking in Spanish. In April, bullets landed in front of her home across Sierra Way. "There are lots of drugs,' she said. "I'm scared to go to the store.' She won't go out at night.

Ashley Jones, the 18-year-old daughter of Mountain View Manor's former manager, said, "We've seen drive-bys. There was a shootout in front of my window. ... We've seen everything.'

Most people know only secondhand the plight of people living in their city's blight. "Out of sight, out of mind,' said Manuel Pastor Jr., director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community at UC Santa Cruz. "When you have a lot of geographic separation and you don't have to spend a lot of time in difficult situations, it is easy to forget putting tax dollars in low-income areas.'

But such places present lingering problems for cities. Officials decide to either flood the areas with redevelopment funds and city services or continue to provide them with a disproportionate amount of public safety resources, the biggest portion of most cities' budgets. The Rialto City Council is expected to consider next year whether to attempt to buy the 160-unit Rialto Apartments on Winchester Drive. The complex constantly siphons police services and is an epicenter for crime, said John Dutrey, housing specialist.

Similar moves on troubled areas in other cities have reduced crime dramatically. It works on the "broken window principle' first introduced in New York City, in which strict enforcement on petty crime and building code violations brings a reduction in violent crime. Such community policing encourages law enforcement to be more proactive. "We're not going to do it all by ourselves,' said Colton Police Chief Kenneth Rulon. "It's the community. It's the apartment complex owners, and it's these programs we're starting. All those have to work hand in hand.'

For example: "Colton Community Homes was a pit. It was the place where gang members and drug dealers lived,' Sgt. Steve Davis said. But a year ago, Officer Lou Gamache made it his mission to reform the apartments in the 2100 block of North Rancho Avenue. He worked with the manager and the apartment owners to turn the place around. "The crime is pretty much gone,' Davis said of what is now called Arbor Terrace.

Research has not emphatically proved that repairing broken windows limits major crime, said John Worrall, a criminal justice professor at Cal State San Bernardino. "It is intuitive,' he said. "It just makes sense.'

Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann agrees. When adults don't maintain their neighborhoods, he said, youths see it as an invitation to delinquency. "There is a very distinct connection between housing issues and public safety,' Bueermann said. "You don't create a safe community merely by putting more cops on the street.'

And so, many cities pump money into their broken neighborhoods. This is apparent in Fontana, where upper-middle-income earners continue to flood into the chic foothills with a very different way of life than their fellow citizens in the city core between Foothill Boulevard and Interstate 10. The Fontana City Council in the past five years has dumped about $4 million into improving its downtown district. The city has also bought and renovated delinquent apartment complexes. "If you make a one-time investment, you could then relieve the city of recurring (police) service calls,' said Mayor Mark Nuaimi. "We see calls for service drop from 200 or 300 a year to 20. That is a huge impact, a huge impact.'

Maybe these cities should just buy lots of copies of these violent games and hand them out to the bangers. Some people would think that a good thing:

Video games the answer to society's happiness

It's almost the end of the semester and many male students are turning to video games, instead of the Internet, to relieve some much built-up stress. Although video games are as much open to girls as they are to guys, the realm of fantasy has been chiefly a man's domain. What exactly is the big fuss over video games? What would make a man wait in freezing temperatures for a tiresome 30 minutes to get a simple video game?

Well, first of all, video games are a lot like disposable wives. For the first couple of months they are fun to play with and show off to all your friends, but then after a while it's time to get a new version. Video games allow for a guy to be attached to a beautiful love for a couple months and then get rid of it when the passion has been deleted. The best thing about breaking up with a video game is there is no heartache, crying, backtalk or kicks to the groin. It's a perfect relationship to end for a guy. "I don't ever mess with girls. The only thing that I let myself get attached to is video games. Video games are nice to me; girls are not. I hate girls because they always break my pretty heart, but thanks to video games my life is complete," said Seth Knisley, a women's studies freshman.

Video games are also cheaper than actually participating in a relationship with a real woman. For a one-time low fee of $50, a man can have two to three months of pleasure, whereas a relationship with a female for the same time has the potential of racking up at least $700. Candy, dinners, roses and alcohol can add up to quite a tab, and video game makers realize this.

Video games were created to make the life of man happier, cheaper and easier; and by golly, it is working. "Before video games came out, all I used to do was take naps and chase girls around the playground. But ever since the first video game came out, I've been able to be lazy in my suede chair and play my fine-looking video games," said undeclared freshman Ross Johnson.

This is where the rationale gets excessively ignorant and self-centered:

Society should accept the art of playing video games because of the upsides.

Video games not only are a better alternative than the man-woman relationship, but they also allow for men to live out their fantasies. Sometimes guys get weird urges to kick dogs, shoot robots or drive 250 m.p.h., but we can't really do that in public without being looked down upon or arrested. So for a man to not get in trouble, he must take up the video game, which does allow him to do all of those things. It doesn't hurt anyone in reality if a guy shoots one of those Halo robots. But if a guy were to go out in public, kidnap kids, dress them up as Halo robots and play a game of "Seek and Gun" with them, the murder rate would of this country would be much higher.

Sure, video games can take a man from all that has to do with social interaction and realness, but that shouldn't be a problem for anyone.

Here's the 'thought' that prompted my earlier comment about cities distributing these violent games:

Men are trouble, and the more time we are off the streets, the more time society is safe. Video games keep men from the real world, and the power of the video game should not be ridiculed.

In contrast, society should be thankful. The FBI 2002 Crime Index Offense Report states that 91.7 percent of murderers were male. Holy smokes! If only we could have given those men the life of video games, they would never have had the chance to get angry with someone or find the time to buy a gun. Video games take a lot of time to play and they would have been able to sidetrack those male murderers.

Careful, kid! Your spoiled-brat immaturity is showing!

But no, American society is so quick to label video games as "useless" and "bad" that men are forced to go out in the real world, get jobs and make a so-called difference.

In reality, the only differences men make are negative. We pillage and cause chaos. The more time men are busy with video games, the more time other people are happy. Video games are the answer to keeping the peace. The first item on President Bush's agenda should be to create a No Man Left Behind policy, which will convert taxpayer's money to buying at least one game console and one video game for each man. The more video games there are in society, the higher the chances that men will be busy with fun instead of murdering.

Men love video games because it keeps them happy and out of trouble. Deal with it.

Just as the world turns, we end up back where in started, in Merry Olde England, where the citizens are apparently taking our violent gamer's advice:

Hit game taking over the streets

Millions of Britons have a guilty secret. They are spending their spare hours immersed in an underground world of LA gangs and gun-ridden ghettos. Relying on huge word of mouth, a video game has become Britain's favourite escape.

Hopping from foot to foot at a market stall are JP and Karl. Agitated, they are bartering hard for a new memory card. Their new game depends on it. "I'm playing it all day," says JP Strachan. "As soon as I get up, for two to three hours. And before I go to bed."

"It's distracting me," he says, "from work." The 32-year-old DJ and producer is now part-time gangsta. He is playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on his Playstation 2.

Game 'widows'

A quarter of UK households will have a Playstation 2 by Christmas and it may be that only such cultural juggernauts as the new Band Aid single or the Best of Robbie Williams will beat GTA: San Andreas for sheer numbers sold. Walk down the street at this West London market, and everyone bar two of those questioned had caught the bug or knew an infected relation.

"There'll be a lot of Grand Theft Auto widows this Christmas," says greengrocer James Hill, 24, shaking his head. "I've been doing the missions and trying to control a whole neighbourhood. But I'm pretty low level at the moment. You get your own jet, own mansion in the hills... I've played it every day, It's totally immersive."

Immersive, non-linear and film-like are all used to describe the game. Its frequent swearing and graphic violence, however, have drawn criticism. It may be that its leap to mass media attention will be sparked by its adult content - a path taken by predecessors when real-life murders and car-jackings were blamed on the game's influence.

Business analyst Dave Read, 28, says the game's free-form structure means he can pick it up for just a few minutes and get somewhere. But he also admits: "On Sunday I probably spent 11 hours straight on it."

It is the street-style aspect, the sounds, language, clothes and scene that sells it, says Huggy T, 36, a part-time youth worker. He is manning a sports shop in the market with colleague Abdul Mutalib, 26, whose 'little brothers are playing it for hours'. "That's why it's done so well", says Huggy. "Anything to do with streetwise, street dancing, street culture - everybody wants to know about it."

Back on the street at her greeting card stall, mother Lisa Bennett, 32, admits "I play it now and again," and says this latest version will be on her Christmas list for son Davey, 16. Despite its 18 certificate and non-stop violence she believes he is mature enough to handle it. "He's got the old version and uses me to play with when his friends aren't there," she laughs.

She'd laugh real hard if something like the initial incident I cited at the start of this post happened to her kid, wouldn't she?

Still Tailin' the Talents

Computer game sales records may be dismissed as a passing blip from geekdom - barely discussed in mainstream media. But as Simon Soffe, from retailer Game, points out, gaming is a "mass market pastime" and the media has been slow to catch up Perhaps they should sniff again at the figures - one million copies sold in nine days since release and £24m in gross revenue in just the first weekend, according to Chart-Track. All told, GTA: San Andreas, from Edinburgh-based Rockstar Games, is expected to become the biggest selling game in UK history, beating the record of its predecessor - Vice City - and current console rivals such as Halo 2.

In comparison, blockbuster films such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King took around £10m in their opening weekend - although games titles are several times more expensive than cinema tickets.

Why There Will Be No Peace

'Murder game' is making a killing

A CONTROVERSIAL video game developed by a city company and described by critics as a "murder simulator" has become the fastest-selling title to hit the shelves in the UK. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has sold more than a million units in Britain alone in its first nine days on sale. The phenomenal sales of the game, developed by Edinburgh-based Rockstar North, are likely to have been repeated around the world, where retailers have reported massive interest in the game.

The hype for the launch at the end of last month was so great that stores including Game and HMV opened their doors at midnight to allow hundreds of eager gamers the chance to get their hands on it as soon as possible. James Macpherson, owner of independent store Games and Movies on Dalry Road, said demand for the game had been so great he was finding it difficult to get copies for his shop. "The initial 75 copies I had ordered in were sold almost straightaway and since then I have just been trying to keep up with demand," he said. "Every time I get more copies they go almost straight away. I’m sure it will get easier when the hype dies down but it is such a massive game that it is not surprising there is this kind of demand."

Ryan Frampton, owner of the Chips store on Nicholson Street, described sales as "blistering" and said: "We sold out on day one and since then it has been constant struggle to keep stock in. As soon as copies of the game come in they are sold and I think it will only get worse the closer we get to Christmas. We have sold well over 200 copies so far, which for the size of store we are is a lot."

Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesman for HMV, said: "The games industry has fewer blockbuster releases than the film industry so when a follow-up to a popular game is released it can have a huge built-in following. This game has become something of a cult and it is probably a bigger franchise now than Tomb Raider ever was. For months before its release it was all over internet chatrooms so it is clear that the expectation was huge."

The sprawling interactive tale of gang life in three fictional American cities, featuring drug dealers, pimps and drive-by killings, received rave reviews from industry magazines and UK newspapers on its release. And its popularity has seen the official guide, which gives players tips to finishing the game, reach 39 on the UK bestseller lists.

Roger Bennett, director general of Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association, said it was great to see a product developed in Britain dominating such a huge global market. "This is a magnificent achievement and the sales equate to a staggering estimated value of more than £35 million," he said.

The entire Grand Theft Auto series has been a phenomenal success worldwide, generating sales of more three and half million units in the UK alone. The high sales have come despite the game’s 18 rating and the fact its code was released on the internet by hackers days before its launch. The code allows it to be downloaded and played on modified PlayStation 2 consoles.

In the US, however, where exit polls at the recent presidential election showed moral values to be the number one issue with US voters, it continues to attract controversy. Two Florida lawyers, who linked the game’s predecessors with murder and violent crimes, have launched a lawsuit stopping the sale of the game to minors. Attorneys Ray Reiser and Jack Thompson claim selling Grand Theft Auto to children under 18 already violates laws in 48 states. Games retailers have said they operate by the industry guidelines and do not sell to youngsters, but the two lawyers want this loose arrangement to be made law.

Released in 1997, the original Grand Theft Auto was a runaway global success and generated sales of £400 million worldwide.

Money talks, and moralists walk.

Here's another 'harmless' real-life activity simulator your kids may want this Christmas:

Eidos Announces Hitman: Blood Money

Eidos has announced the next installment in the Hitman fanchise titled Hitman: Blood Money, it'll be released in spring 2005 for Playstation 2, Xbox, and PC. In case you aren't up on Hitman, in this installement the player once again takes on the role of mysterious Agent 47, the world's top assassin, who must find out who is killing off the agents from ICA. A new feature in Blood Money is the cash system, where you can get paid for killing.

News - Eidos announces Hitman: Blood Money

Eidos has announced the next installment in the Hitman fanchise. Titled Hitman: Blood Money, it will be released in spring 2005 for Playstation 2, Xbox, and PC. Io-Interactive will be developing the title, and Eidos will handle the publishing duties.

In Blood Money, the player once again takes on the role of mysterious Agent 47, the world's top assassin. The storyline goes like this: Agents from ICA (Agent 47's contract agency) are being systematically taken out, and Agent 47's job is to find out who's behind the killings and stop them. However, things get dicey after Agent 47 loses contact with ICA and senses that he may be targeted next. Agent 47's mission takes him to America, where it seems most of the game takes place.

One new feature in Blood Money is the cash system. Each time you make a kill, you'll be paid in cash (hence the title "Blood Money"), and depending on how you use that money, where you're able to go in the game, weapons available to you, etc. will change. This will hopefully add some replayability to the game and ensure that everyone playing through it has a unique experience.

Hitman: Blood Money is powered by a new version of Io's Glacier engine. Janos Flösser, managing director of Io-Interactive says, "Considerable time and effort has been spent developing a new version of the Glacier engine that enables us to implement many new and exciting features. The quality of the graphics and A.I. surpasses even our own expectations and this combined with a gripping narrative and the introduction of some really inventive characters makes us confident that Blood Money will be the greatest Hitman title to date."

More on Hitman: Blood Money

We started with Grand Theft Auto, so we'll finish with it. We wouldn't want to be accused of discrimination, now would we?

'GTA: San Andreas' excels in every area

If "Vice City" was likened to an interactive version of "Scarface," consider "San Andreas" the closest thing to starring in "Boyz N the Hood." Gamers play as Carl "CJ" Johnson, a young man who returns to the slums to avenge his mother's murder with the help of his old gang. The dialogue between CJ and his crew is raw but convincing. DJ Pooh, who co-wrote the screenplay for the movie "Friday" and who has produced albums for LL Cool J and Ice Cube, co-wrote the game script. He also helped acquire voice talent for the game, including Young Maylay, an up-and-coming West Coast rapper, along with familiar celebrities, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Fonda, James Woods and George Clinton, to name a few. The story is very well written and is packed with plot twists.

"San Andreas" introduces new game-play features to the series. For one, you must perfect certain skills over time, such as hand-to-hand combat and driving. You must also earn "respect" with each mission; the more you gain, the more likely gang members will help you on missions. CJ must also eat to maintain health and stamina — but if he eats too much and doesn't visit the gym, he'll become overweight and less likely to succeed at more physical missions.

"Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" is the most expansive game yet in the series. Rockstar Games estimates that it will take 100 hours to finish, if you include the optional side missions. With three huge cities, plus desert and countryside locations, there's a lot to explore — and miss if you don't know where to look. Once players have visited all three cities in the game, you can hijack a train at any of the six train stations, such as the Yellow Bell Station in Las Venturas. The freight train mission challenges players to navigate the train through each of the checkpoints within a predetermined amount of time — but speeding may cause the train to derail on tight corners. Complete this mission and CJ will be awarded a good deal of money.

"Grand Theft Auto" players must run, gun and drive through a bustling city to perform missions such as knocking off a mob boss or preventing a truckload of ammunition from reaching its destination. You can also carjack any vehicle in the game, but doing so in front of a police officer results in a cat and mouse chase throughout the neighborhood.

This violent title is appropriate for adult players. The game isn't for everyone because of its graphic violence and coarse language, but for mature fans of this 32 million-unit-selling franchise who want to know if this sequel lives up to its hype, the answer is a resounding yes. Indeed, this mature-rated game may be deemed offensive for its depiction of life as a "gangbanger," but if taken for what it is — an interactive action-adventure for adult gamers — you won't find a title that's more difficult to put down.

More on 'GTA: San Andreas'

Let's hear from all you Good Moral Value Christians who have bought or are planning to buy this sort of 'game' for our kids. There IS a good reason to do so - it will lessen the amount of time Bu$hCo will have to spend converting your little darling into a cold-blooded killer. Think of the tax relief you could receive for doing Uncle Sam's Club's work for it!

There are times I wish the Rapture really was about to happen. This is one of them.

Copyrighted source material contained in this article is presented under the provisions of Fair Use.


This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.

pessimist :: 4:18 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!