Grand Theft Auto IV: The “Violence in Video Games” Debate Continues

Posted April 28, 2008 by

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Grand Theft Auto IV is now on store shelves–until it sells out, that is. The wildly popular video game series, which takes the gamer on a rampage of car theft, murder and brutal beatings across a NYC-like landscape, is predicted by many to break all sales records.

Even though GTA is rated “M” for mature, young kids are playing it across the country and around the world. The debut of the GTA:IV is already stirring up controversy–the Chicago Transit Authority pulled down ads for the game last week in response to its violent content.

As a parent, I’ve already started worrying about how video games will affect my five-year-old son. If you Google the topic, you’ll find a million and one opinions, both for and against letting your child play them. I came across a study by the National Institute of Media and the Family that made me sit up and take note, however: their research indicated that “after playing violent video games, people have more aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.” That backs up the work of Dr. Craig Anderson of Iowa State University, one of the foremost authorities on this subject. During an interview he gave to EP last year, he told us that children are particularly prone to being influenced by video games and have been found to exhibit more aggressive tendencies after playing violent video games.

So where does that leave us as parents? Even though you may monitor the games your child plays, dollars to donuts he or she will at some point have access to GTA, Halo and other games at their friends’ houses. (Another problem is that many parents still don’t understand the ratings system for video games and may not have actually played or watched GTA themselves. What that means is that although a lot of people think games like this are harmless, in reality, the M rating indicates that the intended audience is for those 17 and older.)

To get a reading on all of this, I decided to randomly ask parents I know how they handle this in their own homes. There was the “Anything Goes” group, people who let their kids play whatever they want, regardless of ratings. The “Play Responsibly” group said that violent video games are part of the culture, just like movies and music, and that you simply have to be responsible and make sure your child isn’t exposed to them at an inappropriate age. The last group advocated a “No Video Games” policy, and advised me to “Ban video games completely from the home.”

Where do you stand? And if you don’t allow violent video games in your home, how do you monitor your child when they’re at a friend’s house?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  2. matt Report

    Many adults will ignore this because of my age. I am currently sixteen, have never been in a fight, and I am a fan of cod, halo, etc. Many parents need to establish the difference between reality and fiction at an early age. My parents did and buy me games that are suitable for my maturity level. Take the time to know your kids maturity level, and purchase games accordingly then this will no longer be a debate. Then the world can move onto more important topics. Thank you for reading, good day.

  3. livoniagal Report

    My child is ADHD and is now almost 16 years old. He grew up using a computer and has always loved video games. The use of the games was okay up until last year when he purchased (with his own earned money) an XBox game and started playing Code 6…..He became increasingly addicted to it and could not transition off the game. He was playing on-line with his friends and did not even want to invite anyone over. When my husband caught him playing ALL NIGHT (which we suspected), we took the x-box away – it’s been six weeks and he is now more compliant and less aggressive. I am trying to convince my husband NOT to give him the Xbox back even with limitations. I don’t think he’ll comply and he will start college in 2 years. This is the worse type of game I’ve ever seen and my friend’s son played on-line game called Worlds of WarCraft – it was even more addicting! he is not doing well in college either. They lose interest in everything else all these boys want to do is play this game. My advice is don’t ever let them get involved in these type of games. We learned the hard way and it was quite a fight – yet my son admitted that he WAS abusing it!!! This is a huge thing – what you parents have to learn is that it’s our job to help our kids or they wouldn’t need parents – right? My best advice to anyone who has a kid with ADHD – they need you to be strong and not give in – remember ADHD is a “self governing” problem. (according to the “Driven to Distraction” doctor) Let the Dad’s step in and be Dad’s- they dont’ listen to their Mom’s at this age. Be tough..

  4. Dawn Report

    My son (12)also has become a “basement vampire” for about 10 hours a day, if I let him. He wants GTA – the new one and I said no. I have read the ratings and I talk to the guys in the store. My philosophy is that all of his friends have the games but at my house I keep it to No strong language and No nudity at all. There are M rated games that he can watch as long as he is killing aliens or some other nonhuman thing. I read every game before he buys it. I call the parents of his friends and say no GTA. My newest thing is that XBox has a timer. I haven’t used it yet. Has anyone else – some thoughts?

  5. Cat Peters Report

    We have a range of ages in this household (22 yr old daughter & the rest are boys 18, 16, 12. I tell you I have my hands full. I work part-time but monitoring my boys is full time. Games, movies, music, sleepovers, friends, reading material, computer time, MSN, Facebook, porn, text messaging, drugs, alcohol, etc. There is no earthly way I or my husband can possibily patrol this 24/7. Our kids have been raised in a good home, explained to, reasoned with, threatened, prayed for and disciplined when they have slipped up. If anyone alluded to me that we could do better, I’d have to honestly say that they either didn’t have kids, their kids are still at an age where parents have a much bigger say, or they truly have no clue what’s going on. I have met parents like that – they wag their finger and yet it is not even dawning on them that the reason their child is so very agreeable is because they have either never said “no” or haven’t heard about what their child is up to when they aren’t watching. Often judgemental words come back to bite you. The tighter you hold on, the harder they squirm. At some point, one will need to say, “I’ve done what I can, and now it’s up to them.” It doesn’t mean you abandon them but there comes a time for walking along side them and encouraging them and not instructing them. Our role changes. Very few kids in this day and age will not come face to face with something that won’t cause them to stumble. Temptation is everywhere unfortunately. My husband & I do what we can – we nix violent video games and movies but then find out they play/watch them virtually everywhere they go. Often these are at friend’s houses that are from good homes. I guess we could say, “you can never go to anyone’s house again” but what does that solve? We limit times – we limit some friendships. But out and out banning friends is setting ourselves up to fail. It’s a band-aid solution otherwise and only causes them to become devious and stop talking about their ‘out of the house life’. They know we don’t permit certain movies/games, etc. in this house and we have explained why. They know our standards – we have made no secret of that. We talk about them often. And yet – they still mess up. Every family’s standards and values vary. We can’t make our kids’ drink the water we lead them to. We can only offer it (again and again). We don’t supply them with money to buy these things. We keep doing this and keep insisting. Parents who think that if they take enough things away, yell loud enough and long enough, ground enough times will be effective are in for a rude awakening. Perhaps it will work – for a time. But truthfully, from personal experience – it’s short lived and then you are dealing with worse stuff. My advise is pray for them (and yourself), keep informed as much as you can, don’t presume your kids are always up to bad stuff – they are prob. pretty good kids most of the time, be approachable and don’t forget to lighten up. This will all make you crazy, put too much stress on your marriage and your relationship with your kids. Know what your few hills to die on are and be united in working on them (as a couple). Past that – you have to trust that if you are this responsible and caring, you have raised kids that under it all are the same way, and that they will see their way through this maze and back when they have a few more years on them.


  6. Adam Report

    sorry i spelt eleven year old wrong and exuse my bad grammer half of my laptops keyboard has broken so i must use the virtual one supplied with windows vista
    its so painful to even type in a sentence let alone grammer check and spell check it

  7. Adam Report

    I have a eleeven year old son he truly enjoys video games and so do i
    as infact i create video games for a living for EA games
    and i buy him all the latest hits
    Halo 3 gears of war Gta Resistance army of two assasins creed etc
    and he realy enjoys them
    but not once has my son ever exported violence
    from a video game
    but please all of you lighten up
    you can buy your child the game just tell him that
    he can play it but you must know reality from fantasy and tell him if he exports the violence you will just take away all his violent video games easy as that

  8. Lisa Report

    I agree with the article. My nine year old (ten next week) has been wanting Grand Theft Auto for months after playing it with my neice’s 25 year old fiancee. When I found out he had played it, I reviewed all of my son’s games to see why they were given their ratings. My neice’s fiancee has been notified that my son can NOT play or watch mature rated games. (Just the thought of Grand Theft Auto makes me feel ill and I was saddened to see there is a new one about to come out, let alone confounded by its wild popularity.) I, personally, am not a fan of video or computer games (I am 46 and remember when “Pong” was revolutionary), but my son is a huge fan and quite often, it is what he has in common with other boys his age and older, so it is a social avenue for him as well.

    Needless to say, I do not allow my son to own mature games. He does have some teen rated games which I have played with him or watched him play. With what he does have, he now has to earn his game time. When he balks, I tell him he has to SHOW me he is mature enough to handle the teen games by being accountable with a certain level of expectations across the board (home, school, social interactions, etc.). He knows I’ll sell them and keep the money myself if he goes too far.

    He loves gaming and has the propensity for becoming an electronic vampire in the basement if I let him. I do see him becoming addicted and have intervened. I have not completely banned them altogether, for he has learned some positive things from them (believe it or not) but there has to be a balance or he has to take a hiatus from all gaming and bolster his social, physical, or academic skills for a while until he can get a handle on it again. I figure if I can help him learn to self-monitor his game usage it will help him monitor himself when it comes to peer pressure and drugs, sex, gang mentality, bullying, the growing popularity of casino gambling, etc. Monitoring video game usage is certainly not the answer to everything, but I think learning how to deal with it within responsible boundaries goes farther than banning it all together. Video and computer games are going to be in his society for the rest of his life and I feel as a parent I need to guide him through it and let him decide whether or not it is an activity he can responsibly handle if he even chooses to participate in it at all.

    Video games also encompass computer games and internet usage which ties in with so much other stuff. It is the society they live in and albeit a very scary one to let our kids loose in, but if we don’t take those few years when they are introduced to it and all of the complexities that follow to guide them, then isn’t that as neglectful of us as if we never taught them to read or balance a checkbook?

  9. Elisabeth Report

    The authors of “Grand Theft Childhood” have a different take on this subject. They say that while playing violent video games is a sign of increased risk of antisocial behavior, parents need to pay attention to their teen’s behavior and guide them, rather than banning all such types of video games completely. Read the full blog post on this subject from Open Education here: Does anyone agree?

  10. Janice Report

    I have to agree with Austin. Furthermore, I wonder how many household’s have DVD’s with action/violence and smut that kid’s see? What is the difference in a violent/sex/drug related game and TV or DVD except a game Controller. Are we going to stop our kids from watching TV and DVD’s? I wonder how many parent’s watch this and their child has to watch it or go to their room and draw for lack of anything else to do? I agree with Austin, blame the constitution, not the publisher. Geez, my kids play video games, but they do not act out like on the games. In fact, they are making good grades in school, get compliments on their behavior wherever we go, are respectful. So, these games do not make ALL kids turn out bad. Some kids turn out that way for lack of attention at home….hmmm…go figure THAT one! When my kids turn the game off, its forgotten. Not all kids turn out violent or drug peddler’s or pimps because of games. I am NOT going to make my kids sit and play “Barney” games every time they get on a system! I keep a close eye on what they play and watch on TV or DVD. I think there are some parent’s who need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

  11. Austin Report

    Any parent who remorsfully admits to not having a choice or options regarding their kid having access at least while away from home is failing to some degree. Wondering if Tommy is playing a violent game at a friends house? I guess having close communication with neighbors is too bothersome these days. Heck, If you cant control a game, who says Tommy isnt lighting up an 8Ball and peddling porn?! Only the parent is responsible for their children, if they grow up to be criminals look in the mirror and try to remember what wine, hobby, or chore was more important.

    You admit the game is bad? Blame the constitution not the publisher. Our freedoms arent going anywhere (Thank my fallen brothers)and everybody knows corporations do not have consciences and are not reading!

    Many parents I speak with claim they do not want to smother or completely control their children’s lives. Does society/ government control you? Umm..yea its called law. Your free to search for the dream with certain rules. You break em’, you get punished “jail”. Feel free to use this as a dicipline shell.

    As a cop I have contact with an abundant amount of troubled kids. The parents are always confused and sad, as they turn away from the conversation to answer their cell phone and place the topic on hold I already see the problem.

    Guns, Drugs, Gangs, Knives, Porn, and Violence are in schools, and oh yea, video games. Are you serious?!

    Good luck american parents, contrary to popular belief, you are the future.

  12. steve DuPlessie Report

    It is simple to understand that exposure to violence and casual sexuality impacts the way a kid thinks about their world, their friends and about themselves. Violence becomes a way to resolve issues. And this is violence with weapons, not “thumb wrestling.” All women and girls quickly become sexual objects. Playing the games togher reinforces the idea that “we both agree that we like this violence and sex stuff.”

    So what should a responsbible parent do? Certainly prohibit M rated video games and R rated movies to children under 17. My wife and I reinforced that message by not allowing adults in our household to play M rated games or watch R rated movies either. Period. If it is not good for our kids, then it is not good for us either.

    (The concept of “I’m old enough, I can handle it” is just granting permission to be exposed to strong messages about devaluing human life and sexualizing the opposite gender. Why exactly would you want to send yourself those messages? Is that what you call “entertaining?”)

    It is not enough to prohibit the games and movies in your house. You must insist that your kids call you for a ride home when their friend wants to play that game or watch that movie, too (the same as you would do with alcohol or drug abuse outside of your home). Your kids should be given permission to put the “blame” on dad by saying “My dad won’t let me play that game. I need to go home now.”

    I think its time for us to reach up for a higher moral standard and not continue the cultural creep to the gutter. Violence and sexuality in movies, video games and music are debasing our society and that means they are debasing you and me. It’s time to throw out the trash.

  13. Valerama Report

    While I agree that these games are offensive, “M” simply indicates the contents of the game meet certain criteria. The ratings system is similar to movie ratings — it’s not a value judgment, and indicates the CONTENT is suitable for those over 17.

    Classifying ratings based on age is just as ridiculous as many other age-based systems… it really depends on the maturity of the individual. There are many mature teens, and many more 25 year olds that aren’t mature.

    I guess you have to start somewhere, though.

    (That said, I agree that GTA games are horrid!)

  14. Jenna Report

    I caught my 9 year old playing Grand Theft Auto with his friends, and now we don’t allow video games in the house any more. Of course, when he goes to his buddies house, all bets are off.



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