Playing in the Sandbox
This isn’t some long-winded spiel about the First Amendment. Folk have long overlooked the right to free speech in proposed videogame legislation, so I won’t bother trying to appeal to something as trifling as the Constitution. It's just that most of us throw around the term “sandbox game” to describe Grand Theft Auto thatit’s lost all meaning.
A kid playing in a real-world sandbox has the tools at his or her disposal to create almost anything. Sure, most go for the enchanted castle or military fortress, but there’s nothing stopping them from re-creating their own little sand Auschwitz equipped with a drip castle Hitler.
Grand Theft Auto is only as evil as you are. Most of the complaints surrounding the game revolve around killing civilians and cops, and acts such as these aren’t necessarily required of the player to finish the game. Yes, you can indulge in a prostitute, then run her over with your car and take the money back. But you don’t have to. You can do that in real-world as well, and having done both, I far prefer Liberty City.
The only thing keeping you from caving in a paramedic’s skull is your own conscience and your awareness of the consequences. Kill a civilian, you gotta deal with the cops. Keep killing cops and you’ll eventually deal with the GTA’s version of swat teams, the FBI and a heavily armed military. Then it’s usually Game Over. Most of the any GTA game involves missions that focus the brutality on other criminals, and any collateral carnage tends to make your objective harder.
One should also take notice how little fan art we see of Tommy Vercetti and CJ Johnson. Is it possible that no one wants to be these characters - that gamers recognize that these people aren’t in enviable positions and aren’t worth emulating? Niko looks to have a little more dimension, but I think GTA’s level of optional interaction makes the protagonists feel more like extensions of ourselves. There’s no reason CJ would throw a Molotov cocktail into a crowded shopping center. But I would - it’s fun!