Every time someone under 30 commits a high-profile crime, gamers (the ones who pay attention to the news, anyway) tend to brace instinctively for the media to make the inevitable "videogame link." And aside from perhaps 1993's Doom, no games get linked to crimes more often than the Grand Theft Auto series, a favorite target for nongaming technophobes who enjoy ranting publicly about perceived threats to children.
When Grand Theft Auto IV hits at the end of this month, however, we fully expect the moral-panic machine to kick into high gear. In addition to being deeper and better-looking than the previous entries, GTA IV is one of the most convincing virtual worlds we've ever seen. And while the added realism makes a lot of its violence more unsettling than cool, we have every confidence that we'll soon be seeing all sorts of misconception-riddled stories about how GTA IV glorifies and inspires horrific crimes.
In anticipation of the negative coverage, we peeked into the future (by which we mean "compared what we know about the game with what we know about mainstream news organizations") for a look at some of the crimes that will foreseeably be linked to GTA IV in the coming months. And to save the media time, we've even started their stories for them. You're welcome, the media.
Whether it's a recurring task or a one-time thing, we know from watching its last official trailer that GTA IV will feature at least one major, Michael Mann-style heist, with protagonist Niko Bellic and his ski-masked pals robbing a place at gunpoint. Successfully pulling off a job like this in real life requires considerable planning, resources and crowd-control expertise, but - as everyone who doesn't play videogames knows - games are a powerful teaching tool that can magically impart these skills. (They can also magically impart high-caliber firearms, apparently.) With that in mind, it's hard to imagine that someone won't strain to make a "disturbing correlation" between GTA IV and any similar incidents in the future.
Cultivating relationships with the people you meet is a big part of GTA IV, and a big part of cultivating those relationships is going out drinking. Once you've gotten absolutely shit-faced at the end of a successful evening, though, you're not done yet; no, that's when it's time to stumble half-blindly toward the car and - assuming you can avoid passing out in the street - drive your friend home. While overtly silly, the pervasive blurring and nausea-inducing camera that take over during these sequences make them more than a little scary - which probably won't even register with the people who'll start crowing about how GTA IV glorifies drunk driving and "trains" children to think they can drive drunk.
Above: Cell phones - the less-than-silent killer
Holding a cell phone up to your face while behind the wheel isn't just distracting and dangerous - in 51 countries (including parts of the US), it's a crime, usually punishable by fines. Being a career criminal, however, Niko refuses to play it safe, repeatedly busting out his cell phone to make and answer calls while driving at high speeds. Assuming certain people can stop fretting about the violence long enough to even notice that fact, expect to see the following before the year is out: