Paul Sakuma/AP
Copies of the game Grand Theft Auto IV.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Decidedly Not for Kids

March 24, 2009 11:15 AM
by Anne Szustek
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars recently debuted on the Nintendo DS. Some say it’s fine entertainment for adults, yet others decry the violent video game’s appearance on a kid-friendly device.

New Grand Theft Auto Illustrates Shift in Video Game Marketing

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was released last Tuesday. This incarnation of the oft-controversial “Grand Theft Auto” series features the same backdrop as its predecessors: “Liberty City,” a thinly veiled allusion to New York City. In Chinatown Wars, players assume the role of Huang Lee, the son of a murdered leader of the Asian gang Triads; he’s ostensibly out to find his father’s missing sword, but finds plenty of time to throw grenades and make drug deals on the way.

Chinatown Wars, like other titles in the Grand Theft Auto series, contains violence, profanity, and frequent references to sex and drug use. The game is rated “M,” meaning it’s intended for “mature” audiences, or players age 17 and older. And for this age set, reviewers give the game generally positive reviews. The Guardian calls Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars “an incredible achievement and testament to the extraordinarily uncompromising vision” of Rockstar Games, the game’s manufacturer. Video game review site GamePlasma praises the game’s broad range of options: “Everything from chainsaws to flamethrowers are available for players and each has its own delightful and chaotic use in the many in-game missions.”

However, some have voiced concerns about the appearance of “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars” on the Nintendo DS, a handheld console popular among the under-age-17 set.
"Nintendo's success with the Wii and DS can be attributed [in part] to their maintaining a core base of 8-14 year olds," David Cole, founder of research firm DFC Intelligence, was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.

According to New York Times game reviewer Seth Schiesel, the average age of a video game buyer is around age 30. Schiesel believes that Chinatown Wars signifies the broadening of the game market to appeal to more mature tastes.

Nonetheless, he predicts that some parents will purchase the game and then seek to return it, claiming they were unaware of the game’s contents. If that happens, Schiesel says, “[T]he clerk should reply: ‘What in the world were you doing buying this game for a child in the first place? Didn’t you read the box?’”

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Background: Grand Theft Auto IV under fire

Previous versions of Grand Theft Auto have also raised parental concerns. The April 2008 release of Grand Theft Auto IV was met with high anticipation by gamers and emphatic resistance from some parents and lawmakers. Video game enthusiasts touted the potential for hours of intense entertainment and there were reports of people scheduling vacations from work simply to play the game.

But the Parents Television Council was urging retailers not to stock the game, asserting its violent and pornographic content could have a negative effect on children. Although the game was intended for adults and was also rated M by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), they believed children would still be able to get their hands on a game which, they said, would “teach children how to kill.” Attorney Jack Thompson made that same argument in 2005, claiming that playing previous versions of Grand Theft Auto inspired his client Devin Moore to murder three police officers.

Related Topic: “Fat Princess” and “Beer Pong” video games spark protest

In July 2008, Sony angered the online feminist community with the PlayStation game Fat Princess, which requires the player to feed a princess cake so that she becomes too fat for her potential captors to carry away.

Another 2008 game that came under scrutiny was Beer Pong, a Nintendo Wii version of a popular college drinking game. The makers of the game decided to change its name to Pong Toss and removed the beer from the plastic cups.

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