Grand Theft Auto Comes to San Andreas

Take-Two Interactive's Rockstar Games unit has announced the expected shipping date of the next iteration of its blockbuster Grand Theft Auto franchise. Although Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is roughly eight months away from completion, Rockstar executives are promising to exceed customer expectations - customers who own Sony's PlayStation 2 game console. San Andreas will be exclusive to the Sony.

Grand Theft's winning formula has thus far relied on a disorderly mix of unruly car chases, scantily clad women, and gratuitous violence. Over 30 million units of the Grand Theft Auto franchise have been shipped to date; producing all-time record high sales for its retail partners. If the series were a movie, its gross sales would rival box office hits including Jurassic Park.

Crime may pay for Take-Two, but some studies have linked video games with mature "M" ratings with excess aggression in children. The validity of those studies is at the heart of a court case against Take-Two where two American teens, Joshua and William Buckner (ages 14 and 16), went on a shooting spree, killing one man and injuring a woman.

The teenagers' parents claim that the deadly duo had no intention of harming anybody, and had recently been playing Grand Theft Auto. The Buckners filed suit for US $100 million. Families of the victims since joined the suit, calling for the game maker's shareholders to be held accountable for the actions of the teens.

According to court documents, lawyers for the plaintiff compared the game to 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate. In The Manchurian Candidate, US soldiers were brainwashed to serve as mindless killing machines during the Korea War.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of the Columbine massacre played the game Doom prior to murdering 13 individuals.

Interestingly, the US military employed gaming technology to train its forces during the Afghanistan conflict. The system, called Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM) was used to simulate real-life combat conditions. According to ABC News, STRICOM is fed by a $1 billion a year budget.

The Army also leverages video games for recruitment purposes. The America's Army series – a free download - is today's equivalent of World War Two newsreels.

In a 2002 study, Iowa State professor Craig Anderson and his fellow researchers found that even brief exposure to violent video games could cause a temporary increase in aggressive behavior. A second study linked game play with aggressive attitudes.

Summing up his findings, Anderson said: "The active nature of the learning environment of the video game suggests this medium is potentially more dangerous than television and movie media. With the recent trend toward greater realism and more graphic violence in video games, consumers and parents of consumers should be aware of these potential risks."

Anderson has published a list of recommendations for parents whose children who play video games.

A September 2000 FTC report concluded that, "parents are involved in the purchase or rental of games 83 percent of the time."

To contest Anderson's research the Entertainment Software Association (EAS) has published a fact sheet stating, "Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically during the 1990s while video games have steadily increased in popularity and use."

In addition, the EAS has found that the average age of gamers in the United States is 29 years of age.

Rockstar Games is expected to release San Andreas on October 19, 2004, and soon after in Europe, on October 22.

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