On May 20, 1997, a worried Lord Campbell of Croy, a Scottish politician, was raising a question before the British House of Lords to find out what the Government’s position was on a computer game that, although it would not go on sale until By the end of the year, he was already hoarding negative headlines: “Is it true that, as they say, the game includes car thefts, abuses, and police chases, and that there will be nothing to prevent the children from buying it?” Yes, it was the first edition of the ‘Grand Theft Auto’.
We may already be used to this type of reactions by certain groups, but the truth is that a great debate arose at the international level. It was not the first time: in 1993, two other video games (‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Night Trap’) became protagonists and made American politicians establish regulations and ratings by age. However, the case of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ was different: as you would know later, it was an elaborate marketing campaign.
The controversy as a Marketing
In 2012, and in the book ‘Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto’, the writer David Kushner offered a slightly different version than we knew. In Wired they published one of the first chapters, which explains how BMG Interactive, the company that owns the rights to the video game and would later become Rockstar North, made the decision to hire Max Clifford, one of the most well-known publicists. I had already worked with many frontline clients, mostly musicians.
Clifford designed an unconventional strategy to make it known: not to hide the violence and the most controversial aspects of the game, but to use them so that everyone would hear about it. Kushner mentions in his book how the publicist came to say that he would tell the story of a politician and that, in three months, the matter would become a national polemic. That’s how it was, and they even used part of the debate in the House of Lords as a radio ad.
At the end of that year, the Daily Mail already echoed in his newspaper a new video game that “encourages players to steal cars and run over pedestrians”. While ensuring that some traffic associations, politician, and groups of consumers demanded its prohibition. The video game went on sale only for players from 18 years and tabloids filled pages for weeks. They had achieved it.
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Controversy also in the Rest of the world
In Brazil, at the end of the 90s, the most controversial video games were directly prohibited. In 1997, under the excuse of “administrative decisions in defense of consumer rights,”. The Department of Consumer Protection Protection ordered the withdrawal of the game ‘Carmageddon’ from the sale. A year later, the turn was for ‘Grand Theft Auto’, considering that it was harmful to society.
In Australia, they did not get to prohibit it, but they studied it after the commotion generated by the launching and came to issue a statement about it. The OFLC, the Australian agency that is responsible for the age rating. They decided not to take measures beyond prohibiting its sale to children under 15 years. The reason? When seen from above, the lack of detail and realism “reduce the impact of the concepts and violence of the game.”
Image Source: gta.wikia.com
Unfortunately, as that time media did not have digital versions yet or if they had not saved files. It is hard to find more references to the controversial release. Yes, we have found three reviews ( one from Gamespot, another from IGN and this one in Spanish from MeriStation ). We recommend a look at the opinions of Amazon, which also go back to that time.
The Beginning of Grand Theft Auto Saga
On December 14, 2017, 20 years have passed since the version of the game for the PlayStation. And, since then, the series has not stopped growing. According to figures from this August, more than 220 million copies of GTA have already been distributed. Which, according to this classification, place the franchise in fourth place among the most sold to date. Only behind Mario, Super Mario, and Pokémon. Who was going to tell the British politicians?
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