Mary Jane Irwin, 04.29.08, 2:30 PM ET
BURLINGAME, CALIF. -
"Grand Theft Auto IV" is the videogame event of the year, industry pundits swear. It is projected to sell 9 million copies by year-end, besting the record set last autumn by Microsoft's golden child, "Halo 3." Wondering why there's such frothing demand for a "murder simulator" that lets players live out their deepest, darkest fantasies--including hiring a prostitute, then beating her with a baseball bat in lieu of giving a tip? Can't figure out why downtown New York has been painted black with "IV" posters? Here are our answers.
When did a videogame release become such a big deal?
Well, the U.S. videogame industry is worth a whopping $18.8 billion a year--that's less than McDonald's makes selling burgers and fries but 2.5 times as much as all the music CDs sold last year. It's also enough money to turn even the most conservative of entertainment executives' heads. Scott Steinberg, vice president of product marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America, predicts we're about to see the "GTA Effect"--box office sales, television ratings, Internet traffic will all dip as everyone "hunkers down" to play through "Grand Theft Auto IV" on game consoles. Of course, he gets paid to say things like that.
Wasn't there a huge uproar around "Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas"? What was that all about?
Oh, those sneaky kids at Rockstar hid a really nasty Easter egg inside "GTA III: San Andreas." Only the most die-hard fans who were willing to hack or patch their game could find it. Those who did were rewarded with a mini-game, whose goal was to execute correctly a series of bedroom gymnastics. For some, it took the good times out of gaming. Nobody in Congress liked it, starting with Sen. Hillary Clinton, who critiqued it as destroying family values.
Wondering why there's such a frothing demand for a "murder simulator" that lets players live out their deepest, darkest fantasies--including hiring a prostitute, then beating her with a baseball bat in lieu of giving a tip? See "Eight 'Grand Theft Auto' Shockers."
Did Rockstar back down for this one?
Maybe. You certainly don't see anything. Graphic scenes (besides the blood spatter) are left to players' imaginations. And, for a change of pace, the main character is self-loathing, particularly after sinking to depravity. Those who got hold of the game early say nothing in it is as visceral as an episode of The Sopranos.
Which parts will make Hillary Clinton grit her teeth?
Where to begin? After playing through 35 hours of "Grand Theft Auto IV," Clinton will have ground her teeth to nubs. The game's protagonist, Niko Bellic, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, starts the game at the bottom rung of society, which leads him to commit wanton acts of violence, pay for sexual encounters, drive under the influence, transport drugs, jack cars and assassinate other villainous thugs. When not taking it to the mean streets, Niko can hang out at Internet café Tw@ and cruise for chicks on the online dating site Love Meet.
What's to like?
Like what Hillary Clinton doesn't? In that case, "GTA IV" will be right up your alley. If you grow tired of running around town executing fellow crooks, you can spend some much needed R&R bashing cars into pedestrians. "Grand Auto Theft IV" is all about doing whatever you want, whenever you want. Some commentators call the game a satire of American culture. Others, who have asked it be removed from retailers, just call it wacko.
Do these guys just hate women? Why would any girl want to play this game?
You'll find most females prowling street corners at night or prancing about nightclubs in their unmentionables. You can, however, play as one in multiplayer shooting bouts.
Are these Rockstars also getting rich off this game? How much money will they make selling this stuff?
Yes. The "Grand Theft Auto" series has sold some 70 million copies. "Grand Theft Auto IV" is expected to make $450 million by year-end, according to Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter. We'll know they've made too much money when they start setting up charitable foundations.
Where are the plushies? The T-shirts? Is this a cult?
Beanie Babies have yet to make an appearance in the "Grand Theft Auto" catalog. You can, however, procure some sexy foam fingers and a lockbox. An estimated 23 million people bought "Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas." That's more than enough to qualify as a special interest group.
Do you think Arnold Schwarzenegger will buy a copy?
Why would he need to? He's already had his chance to do this stuff, at least in the movies.
My teenager wants the game. Should I let him buy it? Should I let him play it at his friend's house? Should I lock him in the basement for a month until the excitement passes?
If you're prepared to home-school him, by all means, throw away the key. "Grand Theft Auto" is a cultural phenomenon--it's just not going to go away. The software ecosystem is eager to help, too. Microsoft, for instance, spent $50 million to secure two exclusive "Grand Theft Auto IV" episodes. The first will come out on the Xbox 360 this fall. That said, if your teen hasn't mail-ordered a chain gun after watching Rambo 50 times, he can probably handle a little "Grand Theft Auto."