Fighting Fit

A great week for gamers and a poor show from the medium's critics.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial offers analysis of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GamesIndustry.biz newsletter subscribers.

It is, according to eternally amusing quixotic crusader Jack Thompson, "the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio". Alternatively, according to the altogether less entertaining but vastly more factual Chart-Track, it's the fastest-selling game in the history of the UK market - a feat which, the Wall Street Journal suggests, will probably be repeated in the USA.

The furore surrounding the hugely anticipated Grand Theft Auto IV couldn't possibly be any more bi-polar. On one side, you have the vast audience that "gets" games - awash with 10/10 review scores, hugely enthusiastic online and offline buzz, talk of an epidemic of "GTA flu" on launch day and, of course, those sales figures.

On the other side, you find all the frothing, howling and hypocrisy that we've come to expect from the right-wing conservative travelling circus which attends the launch of every controversial videogame. Reactionary knee-jerks range from the removal of ads for the game from public transport in a number of US cities (potentially opening a huge First Amendment can of worms in the process) to a call from a New Zealand politician for - you guessed it - an outright ban.

Along the way, there are plenty of extraordinary roadshows to take in. Marvel at Jack Thompson's taste-defying stunt as he compares a videogame to an epidemic that left countless destroyed lives and deformed bodies in its wake! Gasp at the hypocrisy as police spokespeople slam the game, even as their fellow officers queue up to buy it! Chuckle knowingly as minor politicians spot a bandwagon trundling past and take flying leaps at it!

With crucial local elections - and a huge debate over income tax - dominating politics here in the UK, we've thankfully been spared the mock outrage of the usual suspects on this side of the Atlantic. However, even the ongoing theatre of the Democratic primaries hasn't been enough to distract the USA from the fact that there's a videogame out in which people are shot, cars are stolen and, worst of all, people appear to have sex! (In their clothes, in such a manner that you can't see anything anyway - don't get too excited.)

If anything, however, the whole response to GTA IV is actually quite reassuring. When the UK press responded to the Byron Review a few weeks ago, I commented that the backlash was so shrill, so defensive and so pathetically, self-righteously vitriolic that it made clear that we have turned a corner. What would once have been strident calls for bans, censorship, hangings, floggings, the return of the birch and a good dose of national service to sort it all out, had been reduced to vaguely morose and pitifully luddite complaints about how all this new-fangled nonsense will end in tears.

The response to GTA IV is certainly more enthusiastic - at least in the United States - but it's still a pale shadow of what was, not so long ago, a genuinely worrying legal and political campaign. Legal battles in several states have been fought and lost - and shouldn't have been fought at all, if their proponents had the first clue about the nation's constitution, but fools have always rushed in where angels have the common sense not to tread. A number of top politicians and broadcasters have sensed a losing battle and gone quiet on the "cause".

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