Censor stymies Grand Theft Auto plot

By Peter Griffin

A video game in which players can buy cocaine, visit strip clubs, shoot police and set people on fire has been censored for New Zealand - but thousands are still expected to queue up when the game goes on sale at midnight tomorrow.

The censorship of Grand Theft Auto IV has forced the country's largest online retailer of games to cancel $50,000 worth of advance orders.

Gameplanet Store's website was inundated with orders from Australia this month for the violent gangster epic after it was revealed a censored version would be sold there to conform to the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification's M15+ game rating.

But game publisher Take 2 Interactive soon confirmed New Zealand would receive the same toned-down version of the game even though Grand Theft Auto IV will debut here with a R18 rating.

Lobby group Family First said yesterday the game should be banned.

"Players could re-enact having sex with a prostitute, beating her bloody, taking her money and running her over with a car and shooting at police officers," said spokesman Bob McCoskrie. "It is completely naive to believe that teenagers and young children won't have access to and be able to play the game. It is also completely unrealistic to believe that young people will not be influenced in their attitudes and behaviours by constant exposure to this type of material."

Last night it remained unclear what had been cut from the game.

Gameplanet co-founder Simon Barton estimated he could have taken double the orders that had been placed from Australia, but customers had praised his decision to cancel those that had been received.

Take 2 has not given an explanation for carrying the censored version here.

"Everyone's assuming it is logistics," said Mr Barton. "It just makes sense for them to send us the Australian version."

In November last year Superintendent Bill Harrison, national manager of police youth services, said youth violence rates in the Western world had jumped in the past two or three years. He blamed violent video games, in particular the Grand Theft Auto series, as a possible spur for the statistics.

Mr Barton said demand for the game from the local market was so great - despite the censoring - that he and other retailers were likely to sell out of stock.

"There's plenty of swearing, plenty of violence. It's very good. But I wouldn't want my 15-year-old playing it," said the father of four boys aged 3 to 8.

Controversial since its first incarnation in 1997, Grand Theft Auto has come in for increasing criticism as its popularity has grown. One of the franchise's most popular releases, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was pulled from shelves when it was revealed a sexually themed mini-game had been written into the code of the larger game.

But with controversy has come commercial success for the action series in which drive-by shootings, hit-and-run accidents and robberies are standard fare. Creator Rockstar Games expects to sell six million copies of the game in the next week.

- NZ Herald

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