What makes gamers go gaga over games? Balletic battles with sci-fi androids? Sparkling high-speed races with gazillion dollar automobiles? Historical odysseys in the streets of 15th century Italy? Fantastical flights in the cape of a superhero?
Could it ever possibly be the idea of mowing down street thugs, pistol-whipping prostitutes and getting virtual lap dances?
The latest Grand Theft Auto game, Episodes From Liberty City, is a standalone bundle containing two different "adventures" in one package. Both were originally released as downloadable expansions for Grand Theft Auto IV, which was until recently the top-grossing video game in history. (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 dislodged it.)
These hard-knuckled tales take place in GTA IV’s world while overlapping each other and running across, from time to time, that game’s Russian immigrant protagonist, Bellic.
Adventure 1) The Lost and Damned follows the bloody doings of Johnny Klebitz, a bullnecked, high-ranking member of a biker gang called the Lost. While his boss has been in the slammer, Johnny has been making truces with enemy gangs and trying to make things profitable—as long as profit doesn’t interfere with his love for a good ruckus.
The big boss man is recently returned, though, so all deals are off. This grizzled killer isn’t interested in retirement or a 401(k). He just wants to make up for lost time by getting loaded, having as much sex as is physically possible … and busting some heads. So he and Johnny get out the grenade launchers, pipe bombs and shotguns to not only wipe out rival gangs but also, uh, debate leadership style.
That’s not to imply that this is a good guy/bad guy struggle. This is more of a sadistic killer/rampaging lunatic tussle. GTA IV’s Bellic had something of a moral struggle from time to time with his dark actions. There’s none of that here.
Adventure 2) The Ballad of Gay Tony changes things up a bit and deals with a different segment of the city’s underbelly. Not better, just different. Gamers play as Luis Fernando Lopez, a card-carrying member of the Northwood Dominican Drug Dealers. He’s also the bodyguard/right-hand man for Anthony Prince, aka Gay Tony. Luis is also into illegal underground fighting—which means that whether he’s looking after Tony’s clubs (one gay and one straight), mangling Tony’s debtors or facilitating his boss’s drug habit, he’s found plenty of bloody ways to spend an evening.
Like its sibling, Luis’ tale contains various missions that take you through thug-filled streets, gun-blazing environs and sexually sleazy locales that range from prostitute-littered street corners to (very) interactive strip clubs. (Women dress in everything from seductive, backside-revealing leather chaps to nothing more than a g-string and two pieces of black tape.)
For sheer shock value, The Lost and Damned includes a scene of full-frontal male nudity. In both games the sexual iceberg sinks deep as gamers are subjected to lusty lap dances, sexual hook-ups, flesh-jiggling anime cartoons and loads of salacious commentary.
As usual (for a GTA game), f-words fly as fast as the bullets. Bloody gore spatters grimy walls. Stealing cars and beating down old ladies for spending cash is expected. Drugs and alcohol are as easy to come by as sodas are in my fridge.
So while the gaming press raves, I’ve been reading other reports. Like this one from the Associated Press: When a kid in Virginia was picked up by police for crashing a car, he said that since his mother wouldn’t drive him he decided to simply steal her car, use the skills he’d learned via a GTA game and drive himself.
He was 6 years old.
There were no cool caped superheroes or sci-fi aliens or even any dancing dinos to draw him to the game he played. Just 40 to 50 hours of going to virtual strip clubs, stealing cars, shooting associates and beating up women.