Grand Theft Auto steals innocence of our children
I may be the mother of young children – a phrase frequently employed as a precursor to furrowing a frowny brow and furiously penning a "Down with this sort of thing" diatribe – but I have nothing but admiration for the creators of ultraviolent sex 'n' gore video game classic Grand Theft Auto.
You might not have played Grand Theft Auto, but you can't have escaped the news stories about the launch of its fifth instalment last week.
GTA5 didn't just break the old games sales records, it snapped them like twigs, made them into dolls, set fire to them and danced on their pathetic puny little corpses.
Within three days it had earned its makers, Edinburgh-based Rockstar, $1billion. In the UK last week nine out of every 10 games sold were GTA5.
The fastest-earning film in history, Avatar, took six times as long to make as much money. If you're reading this on the bus, the chances are you're sitting near someone who bought GTA last week. Unless you're on a coach trip to Lough Derg.
GTA hasn't sold like this because of its marketing campaign, brilliant as it is. It is quite simply a work of imaginative genius. The game creates a fully believable world in which almost infinite possibilities are presented, all of which lead to richly-illustrated parallel stories.
It is witty, thrilling, exhaustive. It caters to every conceivable fantasy the player might choose to indulge. You can play it 'clean' but you can also, of course, play it very dirty.
I have no problem with the children who are playing GTA. Why wouldn't they want a taste of the game everyone's raving about? I fully understand their cravings. The parents who let them near it, however, I'd like to shake. Until their teeth rattle.
Like most genuine believers in freedom of artistic expression, I rarely approve of censorship and vehemently support the strict imposition of age restrictions. One begets the other. GTA is aimed mainly at men between 18 and, say, 40. It allows them to play out the most raucous and extreme of fantasies, as defined by individual choice. These are not alleyways into which anyone still at school should be invited.
Yet it is clear that kids as young as six – including a good number in my son's class – are spending hours investigating its darkest nooks and crannies every night. Just yesterday a shop assistant spoke of his frustration at the long line of mums and dads buying the game for children who "could barely even see over my counter".'
If you're going to have kids and accept that there is some degree of responsibility involved in the job, there's just no excuse for this lazy, complacent dereliction of duty.
Do these parents know how easy it is to go online and find out the simplest way to get a GTA prostitute to perform a sex act on you in a car, or to offer you a private lap dance?
Do they give a damn that the game includes a gruesome torture scene? Or do they prefer not to seriously consider the psychological effects of what gamers call 'deep immersion' in such scenes on a child who's only been on the planet, racking up ideas about the human race, for six years?
If you hate being nagged by your children because "everyone else has it", or feel awkward about speaking to the parents of the little friend who has already given him a preview, my advice would be to wise up and get real.
Protecting your children is number one on the parent agenda. If you can't do that, you're a huge #fail!
'Kids as young as six spend hours investigating its darkest nooks and crannies each and every night'