The call for pre-release comments from both parents and kids about GTA IV has been great. We've been able to pull together some great quotes from kids about how they'll be getting their hands on the game, and we have been able to sit down with some moms to get their take on the reputation of the franchise too. This stuff has been particularly helpful for targeting how we'll approach the game next week, and getting a handle on what it is that pushes folks' buttons about the thing.
When we talked to the moms, we were expecting to hear a lot of concern about any of the suggestive content in the game. After all the fuss with San Andreas about Hot Coffee, and the word already out on the strippers, and hookers and "services" they provide in GTA IV I was fully prepared to be fielding questions about sexual content in games, and why this was a primary concern. Oddly though, none of the moms we talked to even mentioned it. Their perception of GTA as a franchise is that it's "violent" and each expressed concerns about beatings and drive-bys and indiscriminate killing. One mother asked us, "When will there be a game where you are actually punished for shooting at cops?" and was quite surprised to learn that GTA has been penalizing players for challenging authority since the very first game back in 1997.
After watching the trailers with the moms, and talking in more general terms about the franchise, something that came up from pretty much all concerned was "why would anyone want to play this?" All but one of the mothers found the whole notion somewhat distasteful based on their preconceived notions, but attitudes did start to shift a little when the more satirical or humorous footage was shown. For many, it seems, it's hard to comprehend that a video game can embody the same approach to entertainment as the media they're used to seeing on television. The attitude that "games are for kids" is deeply engrained in many, and coupled with parents' wishes to protect their kids from anything that might be "damaging," it's easy to see why there's a very conservative attitude when it comes to games.
Using television as a simile becomes quite useful in these scenarios. Get the moms talking about a more "adult" TV shows that they enjoy, such as The Sopranos, or Dexter, or Weeds is a great way to put the whole thing into some perspective. None of the moms we spoke to found any of these shows as objectionable as they found GTA, and they all admitted that they wouldn't allow their kids to watch them either. With this framework, it's possible to explain the fairly simple notion that "some games are for adults" a little more clearly. Much as Dexter does not represent "all TV," GTA does not represent "all video games." To stretch the concept to breaking point, you could argue that the perception (or perhaps it's more like the "wish") is that all games are like Mario Kart. If this is the case, anything that contradicts this thought is considered subversive. To feel that way though is no more absurd than considering that all TV is (or should be) like Everybody Loves Raymond. If you are prepared to see that there is a distinct difference between a sitcom and an adult cable show, then surely you should see that there's a difference between Mario and GTA?