“Grand Theft Auto” has always been a video game that has received both love and hate from critics. Most people loved a video game built on the idea that the player could go anywhere, do anything, and didn’t have a time limit or point goal to achieve.At the same time many people didn’t love the idea of the player being able to use these freedoms to steal cars, kill cops, and solicit prostitutes.

With its release on April 29 “Grand Theft Auto IV” was able to put the series back into the spotlight, both for its solid gameplay and the level of gratuitous sin that comes with it.

Most critics will comment that there are children playing the game and are being negatively influenced by its mature themes. The Parent Television Council has even petitioned stores to not stock the game on their shelves.

However, since the the game is rated Mature, meaning no one under 17 can purchase the game, it is no worse than any R rated crime movie or HBO original series.

It is hard to understand how a video game that has received rave reviews from publishers, all of which cite both the games superb innovation and artistic design, could become such a target of controversy over censorship and content. The same artistic innovation and gameplay is the video game equivalent of the “The Godfather” for movies, and maybe something like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” for music.

The problem seems to be that most people haven’t decided if they really are ready to consider video games a form of art.

Video games have always been seen as toys, or a child’s plaything, which is probably why parents and protest groups seem to think that even though the game can only be sold legally to anyone over the age of 17, everyone who will be playing the game will be a child.

R rated movies are the other form of entertainment that require the viewer to be 17 but almost never are there controversies over films being too violent or vulgar. These movies portray real people in acts of violence and sexual interaction whereas video games simply can’t.

“Grand Theft Auto” is based on mature themes, and probably shouldn’t be played by most children under the age of 17, but isn’t it really the parents’ job to ensure that their child will simply play a game for what it is and not go out and steal a car or solicit prostitutes (though most people would just look at a 15 year old kid trying to open their car-door and drive away like he was crazy, and prostitutes don’t solicit to 15 year olds, at least I hope not).

Variety Magazine has projected that “Grand Theft Auto IV” will sell more copies than any other video game ever in its opening weekend, a statistic that will sure lift the controversy to a new peak.

A Google search of “Grand Theft Auto Controversy” returned about 180,000 hits, which was a lot more than “Hasselhoff Controversy” (a shocking 120,000), but less than Miley Cyrus (200,000). Obviously the game is rising on the nations noted issues of interest.

Even though the game is based on very mature subject matter, and involves a lot of moral flexibility, nothing can take away from the artistic achievement and innovation that is “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

Perhaps the game will change everything and this will finally be the game that crosses video games over from toys to art.

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