May 2, 2008
The Passion of the Heist
How should the church respond to Grand Theft Auto IV?
I have a confession to make: I'm a thief and a murderer. I haven't actually killed a living, breathing human being (I have stolen a thing or two, though; mostly pens and pencils). But one summer in college, a roommate and I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City until we'd both done pretty much every awful thing there is in the world to do, including killing and stealing.
And it was great fun.
The newest installment of the Grand Theft Auto series is anticipated to be dang near the most lucrative media release ever. Take-Two Interactive Software, the company that owns GTA creator Rockstar Games, expects to sell 9 million copies of the game by the end of their fiscal year in October. They expect sales to gross $400 million in its first week; that's a measly $1 million less than the top grossing movie of all time, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, made in its first week.
Together the series of three games has sold around 70 million copies so far, which puts it in competition with (and actually slightly ahead of) Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003). It will also be in league with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last of Rowling's Harry Potter books, which sold 12 million copies in its first run in the U. S. Think of that: if the game's popularity is comparable to that of Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, there's no doubt that people in your church will soon be stealing cars and chasing women. Virtually, of course.
Now that the Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter comparisons have been made, that makes me wonder, What is the church to do with Grand Theft Auto IV?
Do you suspect we'll see Christians picketing Game Stop and Wal-Mart for selling a game that celebrates violence, drunkenness, theft, prostitution, and heaven knows what else? Will we write books and Bible studies to refute the game's poor theology? I doubt it. I suspect we'll buy it. And play it. (Not all of us, of course. Females seem to be immune to these sorts of temptations. And since the church is made up mostly of women, then maybe it won't be any problem at all.)
I understand the temptation myself. It didn't take me long to overcome the queasiness I felt during my first exposure to Vice City. Sure, I have qualms about murder and carjacking, but only in real life. It turns out it's quite a lot of fun to pull someone out of their car and drive it around a while when there are no consequences (and no one really gets hurt). It's also great fun to run down pedestrians and take their pocket money or shoot a cop to instigate a high-speed chase. I had no problem preaching on Sunday morning (in real life, of course) and selling drugs from the back of an ice cream truck (in Vice City, of course) on Sunday afternoon.
We continued our killing spree through the summer, my roommate and I, our consciences relatively unscathed. The only thing that gave us pause (you're gonna laugh) was when we acquired, as the reward for completing one mission, a strip club called the Pole Position. Once a week (in Vice City time), one of us drove by the club to pick up our income. Our principles prevented us from going inside the club, where the scantily clad digital dancers made us feel dirty. Gratuitous violence and civil mayhem my evangelical conscience could bear, but the insinuation of sexual sin - that made us both uneasy.
In fact, it's the connection to virtual sexual sin that makes me think I ought to confess my GTA addiction at church. I mean, if you can kill a man in your heart (as Jesus seemed to think you could), then why should we expect God to excuse us for offing someone on a video game? We evangelicals are pretty sure we can commit adultery in our hearts, and we seem to agree that viewing pornography makes us guilty of that heart kind of adultery. If viewing pornography (which isn't a real affair, after all) makes us adulterers, then doesn't killing someone in a video game (which isn't a real crime, after all) make us murderers?
No, you'll object. It's different. Porn involves real people; video games don't. You have a point there. But then again, the deep tragedy of pornography is that it objectifies and dehumanizes women (and men). It completely ignores all the things beneath the skin that makes a human a human - the spirit and personality and whatever else. It presents us with a facsimile of a person. A video game starts with the facsimile and then adds spirit and personality to make it more human so that we find more satisfaction in killing it.
So what do you think? Am I guilty of sins I should confess to my church? Or am I within my liberties as a Christian? Tell us what you think and then take the poll on the left.