Controversies surrounding Grand Theft Auto IV

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Grand Theft Auto IV (often abbreviated to GTA IV and GTA 4) is a sandbox-style action-adventure video game developed by Rockstar North.[1] It is the eleventh title in the Grand Theft Auto series and the first in its fourth generation. Grand Theft Auto IV was released worldwide (except Japan, which it was released later on 30 October 2008)[2] on 29 April 2008.

Prior to and since its release, the game has been subject to a great deal of controversy.

Jack Thompson[edit]

In 2007, Jack Thompson, a then Florida lawyer who had previously campaigned against other Grand Theft Auto games, as well as Rockstar's previously released Bully, stated he would take various measures to prevent the sale of the game by Rockstar to minors.[3] On 14 March 2007, Rockstar's parent company, Take-Two Interactive, filed a lawsuit[4] against Thompson in Florida in an attempt to pre-emptively block him from trying to declare its games a public nuisance. It would be a crime to sell games declared to be a public nuisance, effectively banning such games, which they believe would be a violation of First Amendment rights.[5] Thompson responded by filing a countersuit,[6] accusing Take-Two of violating federal RICO statutes (the charge was later dropped), committing perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiring against him with third parties to deprive him of his civil rights.[7][8]

Both parties reached a settlement on 20 April 2007,[9] and agreed to drop their respective lawsuits. Under the terms of the settlement Thompson is barred from suing to block the sale or distribution of any future games published by Take-Two or any of its subsidiaries. He will be restricted to communicating through Take-Two's attorneys on any future matters. Thompson will still be able to maintain his outspoken stance against the publisher's titles, as well as still being allowed to act as counsel in lawsuits brought against Take-Two by other parties. For their part, Take-Two agreed to drop its contempt of court lawsuit against Thompson regarding alleged improper conduct during the Bully court hearings in Florida,[10][11] which, if found to be in contempt, could have resulted in Thompson seeing jail time.[9][12][13]

Thompson filed a document with a federal court in Florida on 18 September 2007,[14] that claims that the assassination target of a mission in GTA IV is a lawyer character based upon himself. When the main protagonist enters his office and pulls a gun on him, the lawyer yells "Guns don't kill people! Video games do!" Thompson has threatened that unless the similarities to himself are removed from the game he will "take necessary and proper means to stop release of the game".[15]

On 25 April 2008, it was reported in Metro that Jack Thompson had written a letter to the mother of Strauss Zelnick, Director of Take-Two Interactive. In the letter, which strongly criticised the game, Zelnick, and his mother, Thompson called Grand Theft Auto a "murder simulator". He went on to say that "The pornography and violence that your son trafficks in is the kind of stuff that most mothers would be ashamed to see their son putting into the hands of other mothers' children". Thompson then questions Strauss Zelnick's upbringing and says that his mother should be ashamed of herself, and that she "...spared the rod and spoiled the child. That would explain why he has brought you, by the way he presently acts, to shame." He finishes by saying "Happy Mothers' Day, Mrs Zelnick, which this year is 11 May, two weeks after your son unleashes porn and violence upon other mothers' boys. I'm sure you're very proud." Neither Take-Two Interactive nor Rockstar Games have made any comment regarding the matter.[16] Thompson subsequently claimed he sent the letter to Zelnick's lawyer, not his mother, and that the letter was formulated as a parody intended to induce feelings of "shame" in Zelnick.[17]

Glenn Beck[edit]

On his program, Glenn Beck, a conservative US talk-radio host, used GTA IV as an example to make wider claims about the use of violent video games by the US military, repeating claims made by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman that the US military uses first person shooting games to de-sensitise soldiers to killing.[18]

In the second segment of the show, Beck spoke to Jack Thompson and Gavin McKiernan, national grass roots director for the Parents Television Council. Thompson called the game "a murder simulator" and went on to make unsubstantiated claims about actions that the player could perform in the game. McKiernan added "This is really an adult product we're talking about" and went on to claim that research into media violence had shown the potential effect violent media could have on children. He went on to claim that there was a definite difference between violence in movies and violence in video games. Thompson said the game should be rated Adults Only, saying "the sex in the game was taken out so it could even be sold to adults in Australia." Thompson claimed that the ESRB rating for the game was "phoney", to appease large stores that refuse to sell adult rated games.[19]

New York City officials[edit]

Mural ad for the game on a wall in New York City, July 2007.

After the release of the first trailer for the game, New York City officials were appalled with the choice of their city as the inspiration for the setting of Grand Theft Auto IV, and said that a game like GTA does not represent the city's crime levels accurately.[20] A spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "The mayor does not support any video game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers." Although no points are awarded throughout the game, the player is required to kill or injure police officers on certain occasions to advance in the game's main story.[21][22] As a response, Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, accused New York City officials of double standards, for criticising video games but not other forms of entertainment, such as books, films and television shows, which use New York City as the setting.[23]

Edited release[edit]

While there is no official confirmation as to what was removed in the edited version of the game,[24][25] blood pooling has been removed.[24]


Despite confirmation in February 2008 that the Australian version of Grand Theft Auto IV would not be edited in any way,[26] Rockstar later told The Sydney Morning Herald journalist Jason Hill that the Australian version would be edited.[27]

Grand Theft Auto IV was given an MA15+ rating on 11 December 2007. In a post on his blog, Jason Hill stated that a Rockstar spokesperson confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald's video game section, Screenplay, that the company had produced a special version of Grand Theft Auto IV to comply with the Australian classification system. The spokesperson would not comment on what has been cut from the game.[27]

Cuts in the Australian PlayStation 3 edition are as follows:[28][29]

  • When picking up prostitutes, you are not able to select your 'service'. Like previous Australian Grand Theft Auto releases, all sexual animations have also been removed. The car will simply lock-on to a rear view, and the car will bounce up and down.
  • Blood pools do not ooze out of victims bodies. In the uncut version, bloody footprints also appear when walking through blood pools, and the same happens with bloody tire tracks when driving through them. This is not available in the Australian edit.
  • When characters are injured in the edited release, the injuries are of a lot less impact, "replacing graphic bullet wounds and blood patches with slight discolouration"[29]

When it came time to release the game in Australia on the PC, however, Rockstar submitted a completely uncut edition to the Australian Classification Board to review, which they rated MA15+ without any editing or alterations. An official statement from Rockstar Games confirms this: "Grand Theft Auto IV PC has been rated MA15+ [for] Strong Violence, Sex Scenes, Coarse Language and Drug References by the Australian Classification Office. The PC game is unedited in any way and identical in content to the international version." [28][29]

Since 23 March 2010 in Australia, all the editions of Grand Theft Auto IV have been completely uncut.[citation needed]

New Zealand[edit]

It was announced on 15 April 2008, and subsequently reported across the Internet, that the New Zealand release would be receiving the edited Australian version[30] with Take-Two Interactive Support Team citing "time scales and logistical reasons" as the reason.[31] Later, on 5 May 2008, it was confirmed the original version of the game had been submitted to the OFLC.[32] On 21 May 2008, the original and uncut game was now officially classified by the New Zealand OFLC thus legal to sell in the country.[33]

Mothers Against Drunk Driving[edit]

The organisation Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) sharply criticized an in-game option that allows players to drive while intoxicated and called for a stricter rating on the game that would effectively ban its sale in the United States. "Drunk driving is not a game and it is not a joke," MADD said. "Drunk driving is a choice, a violent crime, and it is also 100 percent preventable." MADD is asking the Entertainment Software Rating Board to bump Grand Theft Auto IV '​s rating up to AO for Adults Only from M for Mature and calling for Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games to consider stopping distribution out of a sense of social responsibility, or out of respect for those who've been hurt or killed by drunk drivers.[34] The ESRB describes that the game includes "Use of drugs and Alcohol".[citation needed]

Rockstar issued a statement to the Associated Press, saying "We have a great deal of respect for MADD's mission, but we believe the mature audience for Grand Theft Auto IV is more than sophisticated enough to understand the game's content."[35] When attempting to enter a car while drunk in the game, the main character, Niko Bellic, will remark that he shouldn't drive drunk, and the player is encouraged to call a taxi instead. In addition to being extremely difficult to drive a car while intoxicated, in-game police will pursue the player if they are seen driving while intoxicated, leading to the risk of substantial monetary penalty for Niko. The game also allows only one circumstance in which Niko can get drunk - going for a drink with a friend or while out on a date; otherwise, the player cannot casually cause Niko to become intoxicated.

Chicago Transit Authority lawsuit[edit]

Take-Two has filed a lawsuit in response to the Chicago Transit Authority pulling ads promoting GTA IV from their property, violating a contract for the ads to go until June 2008.[36] A CTA representative said that the ads were removed due to complaints in 2004 surrounding the ad campaign for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.[37] Miami-Dade Transit might also be facing a similar lawsuit due to similar circumstances.

Little Lacy Surprise Pageant[edit]

In the UK on 16 June 2008, The Sun reported the presence of an in-game internet resource called "Little Lacy Surprise Pageant" available on the in-game internet.[38] This is a reference to the fake commercials heard on the fictitious radio stations in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. The fake site––displays a message from virtual authorities saying it has been closed down. It warns that anyone caught looking at it will be investigated and features the warning: "We see it all, we know it all," which is similar to the quote "Don't think you can't get caught. You are not anonymous." found at The player's Wanted level immediately jumps to 5 stars, resulting in both police and FIB (Federal Investigation Bureau) involvement in their arrest.

The domain name address is just one of dozens of fake sites in GTA IV. Typing it into a real internet browser redirects users to the official website for the game.

New Hyde Park crime spree[edit]

On 27 June 2008, police arrested six teenagers who went on a crime spree in the town of New Hyde Park, New York. The group mugged a man, knocking his teeth out, attempted to car-jack a woman driving a BMW and smashed a passing van with a bat. According to the Nassau County Police, the teens claimed they were inspired by Niko Bellic perpetrating violent crimes in Grand Theft Auto IV.[39][40]

Thailand taxi driver murder[edit]

On 4 August 2008, BBC Newsbeat reported that an 18 year-old student had been arrested in Bangkok, Thailand after he killed the driver of a taxi while attempting to steal it. Bangkok police captain Veerarit Pipatanasak stated "He wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game."[41] According to local sources, the student was playing the game in an arcade and wanted to rob the taxi driver to get money to continue playing the game.[41]

As a result of this incident, the game (along with the whole series) was subsequently banned in Thailand.[42]

Male full-frontal nudity[edit]

The Lost and Damned expansion pack was condemned by parents group Common Sense Media who issued a public warning against the pack's content due to a full-frontal nudity scene during one of the cut scenes. They claimed the game was "more controversial than its predecessors" because it featured "full frontal male nudity".[43]

Killing of 90-year-old grandmother[edit]

On 24 August 2013, Sky News reported that a 90-year-old grandmother was killed when an eight-year-old boy grabbed a handgun and shot her in the head, after playing Grand Theft Auto IV in Slaughter, Louisiana.[44]


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  2. ^ Tanaka, John (22 April 2008). "GTAIV Heads to Japan". IGN. Retrieved 25 April 2008. 
  3. ^ "Thompson Rallies Against GTA IV - Edge Magazine". 3 January 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  4. ^ "Case 07-80238" (PDF). 13 March 2007. Archived from the original on 21 August 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2007. 
  5. ^ Game Politics Staff (1 April 2007) BREAKING: Take-Two Sues Jack Thompson over Manhunt 2, GTA4,
  6. ^ "CASE NO. 07-20693-CIV-ALTONAGA" (PDF). 21 March 2007. Archived from the original on 21 August 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2007. 
  7. ^ Game Politics Staff (22 March 2007) In Countersuit, Thompson Claims Take-Two at Center of Vast RICO Conspiracy,
  8. ^ Sinclair, Brendan (21 March 2007) Thompson Countersues Take-Two,
  9. ^ a b "GTA Publisher, Jack Thompson Settle Lawsuit". GamePolitics. Retrieved 21 August 2010. 
  10. ^ Game Politics Staff (23 October 2006) Could Jack Thompson Be Jailed Over "Bully" Case?,
  11. ^ Dodson, Jason (23 October 2006) Report: Jack Thompson May Face Contempt Charge,
  12. ^ Game Politics Staff (20 April 2007) GTA Publisher, Jack Thompson Settle Lawsuit,
  13. ^ Seff, Micah (20 April 2007) Jack Thompson and Take-Two Bury the Hatchet,
  14. ^ "Case 1:07-cv-21256-AJ Document 12-2" (PDF). 18 September 2007. Archived from the original on 21 August 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2007. 
  15. ^ "Jack Thompson Says GTA 4 Mission Target is Him; Threatens to Block Release". 18 September 2007. Retrieved 18 September 2007. 
  16. ^ "Jack Thompson hounds Rockstar boss'... MOTHER". 25 April 2008. Retrieved 25 April 2008. 
  17. ^ "Jack Thompson's Open Letter to Take-Two CEO's Mother". 22 April 2008. Retrieved 22 April 2008. 
  18. ^ CNN Headline News - Grand Theft Morality Pt.1. YouTube. Retrieved 7 May 2008.
  19. ^ CNN Headline News - Grand Theft Morality Pt.2 YouTube. Retrieved 7 May 2008.
  20. ^ "New York appalled with GTA IV setting". Future Publishing. Retrieved 1 April 2007. 
  21. ^ Gendar, Alison; Pereira, Ivan; Saul, Michael (31 March 2007). "Pols rage as vid game takes shot at city". New York: Retrieved 1 April 2007. 
  22. ^ "IGN Guides". Retrieved 24 March 2009. 
  23. ^ Millard, Elizabeth (2 April 2007). "New York Balks at Next Grand Theft Auto". 
  24. ^ a b "What Was Cut? Australian And Unmodified GTA IV Compared | Kotaku Australia". Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  25. ^ Booker, Logan (17 April 2008). "Guess What We Didn’t Find in the OFLC Board Report For GTA IV? | Kotaku Australia". Retrieved 21 August 2010. 
  26. ^ Van Leuveren, Luke (4 February 2008). "Aussie version of GTA IV completely uncensored". PALGN. Retrieved 6 April 2008. 
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  28. ^ a b "Grand Theft Auto Series | Censor". Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  29. ^ a b c "R18+ Games Australia » Grand Theft Auto IV". 29 April 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2010. 
  30. ^ "New Zealand version of GTA IV also cut". Retrieved 16 April 2008. 
  31. ^ Take-Two Interactive Support Question #080418-000003
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  33. ^ "GTA IV Uncut Hits New Zealand Streets". Archived from the original on 22 May 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2008. 
  34. ^ 2:46PM PDT (29 April 2008). "Mothers against GTAIV's drunk driving -". Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  35. ^ Lang, Derrik J. (5 January 2008). "MADD attacks 'Grand Theft Auto IV' - Technology & science - Games -". MSNBC. Retrieved 21 August 2010. 
  36. ^ Kearney, Christine; Trotta, Daniel; Eastham, Todd (5 May 2008). ""Grand Theft Auto" publisher sues over pulled ads". Reuters. Retrieved 8 May 2008. 
  37. ^ Sinclair, Brendan (28 April 2008). "GTAIV ads pulled because of San Andreas flap". GameSpot. Retrieved 8 May 2008. 
  38. ^ Weinberg, Jonathan (16 June 2008). "Video game has spoof perv site". The Sun. Retrieved 16 June 2008. 
  39. ^ "6 teens arrested in NY crime spree". Newsday. 26 June 2008. Archived from the original on 29 June 2008. Retrieved 27 June 2008. 
  40. ^ Chayes, Matthew (27 June 2008). "Cops: Grand Theft Auto video game inspired teen crimes". Newsday. Archived from the original on 30 June 2008. Retrieved 27 June 2008. 
  41. ^ a b "Thai youth imitates Grand Theft Auto in cab murder | Reuters". 4 August 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2010. 
  42. ^ Reed, Jim (4 August 2008). "Thailand bans Grand Theft Auto IV". BBC Newsbeat. Retrieved 4 August 2008. 
  43. ^ Cavalli, Earnest (21 February 2009). "Parents Group Warns Against Lost And Damned Nudity | Game|Life |". Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  44. ^ Sky News (24 August 2013). "Boy, 8, Kills Gran After Playing Video Game". Sky News. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 

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