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The Gamechangers title card
|Written by||James Wood|
|Directed by||Owen Harris|
Ian Keir Attard
|Theme music composer||Vince Pope|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Executive producer(s)||Mark Hedgecoe|
|Production location(s)||South Africa, New York, London|
|Running time||90 minutes|
|Original network||BBC Two|
|Original release||15 September 2015|
The Gamechangers is a British docudrama produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the story of the controversy caused by Grand Theft Auto, a video game series by Rockstar Games, as various attempts were made to halt the production of the games. Directed by Owen Harris and written by James Wood, the film centres on the legal feud between Rockstar Games president Sam Houser (Daniel Radcliffe) and controversial attorney Jack Thompson (Bill Paxton) over Rockstar's popular video game series Grand Theft Auto, and the debate regarding the psychological effects of violent video games.
On 27 October 2002, the New York-based British gaming company Rockstar Games releases Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which immediately shatters sales records, with 1 million units sold within 24 hours, and is universally acclaimed for its authenticity, scale and gameplay. Inspired by the success of the game, heads of Rockstar, Sam and Dan Houser immediately begin planning and researching for another, even larger and more elaborate game, one that moves away from the Vice City's crime movie origins and based on the war between African American street gangs in South Central Los Angeles in the early '90s. The following June, however, 17-year-old Devin Moore — a persistent player of the game — shoots dead several police personnel in a police station in Fayette, Alabama and steals a police car. His case catches the eye of conservative Florida-based attorney Jack Thompson, who, upon questioning Moore in prison and playing the game for himself, theorises that the game's violent content and alleged glamorisation of criminal activity may have been the primary cause for his rampage. He gathers together some expert analysis of the effects of violent images on human brains and the use of violent video games in the military, and files a lawsuit against Rockstar Games and its publisher, Take-Two Interactive seeking damages on behalf of the families of the murdered personnel. This immediately earns him and his family the ire of the game's fans, who start vandalising their house and making threatening phone calls to their house phone.
Because of Thompson's outspokenness, unprofessional conduct and violation of court protocol, such as appearing on television to discuss the case in detail, comparing the game to Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor and sending aggressive emails to the defendants, he is taken off the case, which is immediately thrown out on the basis that none of the remaining claimants had ever met Moore, despite claiming to be discussing his motivation. Thompson is outraged, and to make matters worse, Rockstar's law firm, Blank Rome, decides to start legal proceedings to have him disbarred for his conduct. Although Rockstar Games is in the clear, Sam is left feeling frustrated, believing that modern parents, politicians and lawyers like Thompson are blaming him, his company and his game in place of acknowledging their own failings in raising their children properly and preventing them from getting involved in criminal activity. His frustration and stress soon boils over into his work life, where his new game, along with several others that the company is working on (Bully and Manhunt 2) is already six months behind schedule, and he begins to overwork his producer and friend, Jamie King, while becoming irritable with his staff.
Eventually, the new game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, is released on 26 October 2004, almost exactly two years after Vice City. It is met with almost as much acclaim as its predecessor, with its customisable character being the main focus for praise. In June of the next year, however, a modder in the Netherlands, Patrick Wildenborg, discovers a minigame within the coding of the original game which features a crude sex scene between the protagonist and his girlfriend. The scene was something that Sam had initially wanted to include in the game, but had eventually been forced to drop to retain the game's "M" rating with the ESRB, although he had left the code for the scene on the disc because of his concern that removing it would potentially affect the rest of the game and push its already overdue release date back. Wildenborg makes the mod publicly known on YouTube, provoking outrage and, in turn, causing the ESRB to change the game's rating to "Adults Only," resulting in most mainstream retailers in the United States pulling the game from their shelves. Seeing this, Thompson is inspired to restart his campaign against Rockstar, organising a protest outside their New York headquarters. He is soon summoned to meet with then-Senator Hillary Clinton, who likewise wishes to change the law regarding the sale of violent video games to minors.
Houser is forced to testify before the FTC to explain how the mod made it onto the final copy of the game, while at the same time Thompson is brought before a disciplinary hearing by the Florida Bar regarding his earlier actions. Ultimately, Rockstar settles their case, and Thompson is disbarred. However, the assistance he provided Senator Clinton allows her, along with Senators Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh to pass the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which mandates a federal enforcement of ESRB ratings for video games. However, this bill did not become law; it was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and expired at the end of the 109th session of Congress without further action.
- Daniel Radcliffe as Sam Houser, co-founder and president of Rockstar Games
- Bill Paxton as Jack Thompson
- Joe Dempsie as Jamie King, VP of development at Rockstar Games
- Alex McGregor as Bridjet
- Shannon Esra as Jen Kolbe, head of the publishing team at Rockstar Games
- Mark Weinman as Terry Donovan, VP of marketing at Rockstar Games
- Ian Keir Attard as Dan Houser, VP of creative at Rockstar Games
- James Alexander as Tom Masters
- Nick Boraine as Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association
- Fiona Ramsay as Patricia Thompson
- Inge Beckmann as Michelle Gerilikos, a member of Blank Rome's lawyer team
- Garion Dowds as Johnny Thompson
- Nicole Sherwin as Jdg. Dava Tunis
- D. David Morin as Jdg. Moore
- Garth Breytenbach as Police Ofc. Arnold Strickland
- Jenna Dover as Pat Vance
- Thabo Rametsi as Devin Moore
- Gideon Lombard as Patrick Wildenborg, a Dutch modder who rose to fame after uncovering the 'Hot Coffee' minigame within the code of GTA San Andreas
- Abena Ayivor as Laila
- Thorsten Wedekind as Steve Strickland
- Christiaan Schoombie as JP
- Stephen Jennings as Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
- Dean Fourie as Ray Reiser
- Richard September as DJ Dog
- David Butler as Dr. John Murray
- Jan Neethling as Police Dispatcher Ace Mealer
- Nkangisang Maduo as Police Cpl. James Crump
- Bridget Thorpe as Mrs. Wildenborg
In May 2015, Rockstar filed a lawsuit against the BBC for trademark infringement, stating that they had no involvement with the development of the film and had unsuccessfully tried to contact the BBC to resolve the matter.
IGN awarded it a score of 4.5 out of 10, saying "The story of GTA is a great one that deserves to be told, but Gamechangers barely scratches the surface." Benji Wilson of The Telegraph awarded it 4 stars out of 5 and stated that "Radcliffe is excellent" and particularly praised the Alabama shooting scene for it having a similar perspective to games like Grand Theft Auto.
- Wilson, Benji (15 September 2015). "The Gamechangers, BBC Two, review: 'Radcliffe is excellent'". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 16 September 2015. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
- Tilly, Chris (16 September 2015). "The Gamechangers Review". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on 16 September 2015. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
- Govtrack.us. "S. 2126 [109th]: Family Entertainment Protection Act". Retrieved 2007-08-31.
- Krupa, Daniel (21 May 2015). "Rockstar Games Files Lawsuit Against the BBC". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on 23 May 2015. Retrieved 23 May 2015.
- "The Gamechangers, BBC Two, review: 'Radcliffe is excellent'". The Telegraph. 15 September 2015. Retrieved 24 October 2015.