I’m told I should love this “Grand Theft Auto IV”

GateHouse – I don’t have much occasion to play video games these days, mostly because I am not 14 years old. But it’s also for other, less snotty reasons, such as that I am not 15 years old.

Sorry. I don’t wish to make fun of my video-game-obsessed brothers and sisters — Ha! Did you see how I sort of suggested girls would be involved? — but video games have never really been a big part of my deal, with the possible exception of Dr. Mario, at which I was the single greatest player in the state of Indiana between the years of 1992-1993. This is not a debatable point. The trail of wretched losers I left in my magnificent wake stretched from northwest Indiana to Lafayette and back again.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column — and my traditional hello here to my immediate family, except my Dad, who I imagine is continuing his years-long struggle against the Internet — that I will illustrate this point by telling a lengthy and detour-packed story about my son.

Jake has a little 5-year-old friend who drops by occasionally, and by “occasionally” I mean “12 seconds after he sees my car pull into the driveway, like he had some sort of Honda-seeking sonar installed on his Lightning McQueen bike helmet.” Each and every time this kid steps into my house, where he’s been literally dozens of times, he expresses brief but visible displeasure that we have not, in the handful of hours since he was last over, obtained a PlayStation 3.

Kyle: “Do you guys have video games?”
Me: “No, Kyle, we still don’t, buddy.”
Kyle: (makes a disappointed face as though I just told him about Santa Claus while stepping on his crying puppy) “OK.” (breaks something I like)

Jake, for his part, would not know a PlayStation 3 from a shoebox filled with very old applesauce, which is how I’d like to keep it for as long as is possible. I figure that will be about another two years, or at least until I let him go to Kyle’s house, which is apparently loaded with piles upon piles of PlayStation 3.

Anyway, I’m talking about all this because of “Grand Theft Auto IV,” which was released last week and is apparently the greatest thing to hit shelves since video games were invented in 1882. But I must confess, I’m saying that secondhand: I haven’t played “Grand Theft Auto IV” myself, mostly because it’s way more fun to do with actual cars or, if you can swing it, tractors. Also, it’s because I haven’t once done any actual research for a column I’ve written here, and I ain’t fixin’ to start now.

Luckily, I don’t have to play it to find out how awesome it is, because The Media last week conveniently took a break from telling me how shocked I should be about Miley Cyrus’ shoulders to report that “Grand Theft Auto IV” was on track to be the single most devastatingly successful video game of all time. This, The Media continued, gasping audibly in pleasing unison, was the case despite the game’s shameless and gleeful employment of any number of societal horrors. Evidently, “GTA IV” is a gooey moral tar pit that allows players to partake in all manner of crime, like stealing cars, driving fast, crashing the cars you stole, killing people, soliciting hookers, killing the hookers you solicited with your cars, noggin-whacking, face-punchifimicating, moderating an ABC Democratic primary debate, serving on the marketing team of that Ashton Kutcher/Cameron Diaz movie and, of course, kitten-blendering.

So to recap, it’s a video game aimed at teens featuring over-emphasized violence and gratuitous nudity, and your various media outlets last week spent good solid days telling everyone how popular it was going to be. And teens went out and bought it! You’re thinking, “Jeff, this is crazy, you’re a crazy person!” But no, IT REALLY HAPPENED.

Again, I haven’t played “Grand Theft Auto IV,” mostly because I’m just now getting around to “Guitar Hero” and I’m old enough that I can process just about one new video game per year now. And as someone who grew up in the Atari generation – and by extension someone who’s metabolism is now slowing to such a noticeable degree you can almost hear it powering down, and who didn’t initially want to go see “Iron Man” in the theater because, and I’m quoting here, “I don’t want to deal with all those youths” – I have to say that part of me longs for the days when the most violence you had to deal with in video games concerned ghastly acts of carnage against the Centipede.

But that said, I did play one of the older “Grand Theft Autos,” and I can’t remember which one, but I do remember this: It was INSANELY FUN. DISTURBINGLY FUN. I CAN’T GET MY FINGERS OFF THE CAPS LOCK FUN.  It was probably the most fun I’ve had playing a video game since my mom let me go to third grade late one day because I was in the middle of the single greatest game of “Pitfall!” I would ever be a part of.

So you go, children, you have your nutty violent fun with the video games. Just, if I could be the voice of aged reason here for a minute, it’s very important, Teens of America, for you to know the difference between video game kitten-blendering and real kitten-blendering

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About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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