The GTA series is notorious for being controversially progressive in the way it deals with issues previously deemed too sensitive for the video games medium. Be it shooting cops or encrypted sex mini-games, whatever the case may be, renegade developers RockStar North deserve props for generating serious discussion on the inclusion of such adult themes in games, while at the same time inching the boundaries of the medium forward.
With the recent release of The Lost and Damned; a downloadable episode for GTA4, the developers included some brief scenes of full male nudity (yes, people get worked up about this supposedly) and as you might have assumed, controversy has sparked up again.
Below you can watch one of the new trailers for the new DS iteration of Grand Theft Auto – GTA: Chinatown Wars. I chose the carjacking trailer as it features more gameplay than the big unveil video. As you may have guessed, I’m very impressed by the trailer, not just because of the vibrancy in colour or interesting play mechanics, but more so for the potential, it brings to blockbuster gaming on a portable scale and taking handheld games seriously – issues which I covered previously here on Zath.
The match and strike that will likely spark controversy for this new title is the clash of demographics and controversial new game mechanics. While video games may still be considered the lowest form of treachery by many a parent, both the DS and Wii consoles seem mostly immune from the exacerbated media dirt throwing often absorbed by this demographic. Furthermore, DS games more often than not stay well within their bounds of content that these people deem acceptable for video games. GTA, on the other hand, is perhaps the polar opposite; a product that flourishes in its adult nature, free from parental constraint and obviously like any piece of mature content, unfit for the eyes of children.
Despite all this, I personally wouldn’t have given a second thought to the prospect of these two issues colliding if it wasn’t for hearing the second part of my argument; those new gameplay inclusions exclusive to the DS iteration. These include literal carjacking and drug dealing. As the above video depicts, carjacking involves a small mini-game in which you literally jack the car by unscrewing and rewiring the motor, in contrast to previous games where the process was done for you. The other new feature is a drug dealing mini-game where you can sell various drugs to prospective areas around the city, with profit determined by supply and demand.
These inclusions don’t bother me particularly, what bothers me is what will happen once word gets out to the media that a game for everybody’s favourite, the squeaky clean system (still seen with the child connotation) allows you to literally deal drugs and jack cars, by way of the touchscreen. These capsules of gameplay border perhaps uncomfortably close to the real deal than previous games, thanks in part to the DS hardware. If you picked up on what I’m trying to say; this is the Manhunt 2 (Wii) debate all over again.
All of this potential controversy doesn’t really mean much to us; we’ve heard and seen the argument before. I think that both you and I know games are big enough now that drug themes, violence and 3D rendered penises really shouldn’t really be an issue. For the sake of this article what interests me is how much controversy has the ability to dethrown a genuine portable blockbuster to great publicity and stature. As the past has proven previously with Rockstar, any sort of media backlash towards games ripples to the forefront of gaming conversation and makes the game in question the hottest ticket item of the month, a place rarely kept by portable titles.
To consider that a portable title such as GTA: Chinatown Wars (DS) could receive this kind of treatment only legitimizes it as a piece of art that is inherently influential. The whole process of media scrutiny only acknowledges games as meaningful and in the context of portable gaming, this can only act as positive reinforcement for the “portable blockbuster” concept.