Most Offensive: Grand Theft Auto 3
In the games I've played, I've killed enemy soldiers by the thousands. I've worked hard to practice special martial arts moves that snap necks and break backs. I've used a plethora of rocket launchers, poison gas and nuclear weapons.
But my jaw hit the floor when I saw Grand Theft Auto 3. Here, finally, was a game that went out its way to earn that "M for Mature" ESRB rating. Here's a game that when I heard it was being banned in certain countries, my only thought was, "I can certainly see their point."
Does that automatically make me a religious zealot?
I think this is a technically marvelous game that at the same time is absolutely reprehensible. This is a game that rewards you for causing mayhem. This is a game that is about causing mayhem. It's a game that rewards you for killing innocent people by the dozen. In Grand Theft Auto 3, I can hijack a car, kill the driver, run someone down on the street, commit drive-by shootings, and score points for doing all of it. In some scripted sequences, I'm tasked to kill people at random. In one, the identities of the victims don't even matter. The goal is merely to kill a certain amount of people within the allotted time. There are no significant penalties for offing bystanders.
At least the Half-Life Marines were trying to kill me.
There's sex and drugs in this game. Big deal. Which is the real ugliness to you -- prostitutes and heroin, or amorality and flamethrowers?
But wait, you say, what about movies? Movies that glorify violent, amoral criminals are a dime a dozen, and several (e.g. GoodFellas, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather series) are considered among the greatest films of all time. So what's the big deal?
Games aren't movies. Movies are non-interactive entertainment. Movies are mirrors we hold up to reality to get a different perspective, to tell stories, to entertain.
A game is interactive entertainment with a goal for which you are rewarded (either by money, points, special features or story-based goals, such as "Get out of Black Mesa" or "Defeat the Zerg Horde"). The primary goal of Grand Theft Auto 3 is indeed money. But the road to money is mayhem. Cause mayhem, get money.
Is GTA 3 different, than, say, Counter-Strike? Half of the Counter-Strike coin is a group of terrorists bent on any number of destructive goals. You're rewarded with money, with which you can buy bigger guns.
But Counter-Strike is merely Cowboys and Indians writ large. When you get right down to it, deathmatches are just elaborate games of Tag. GTA 3 is a Thug Simulator.
It's got the Mature rating. And most reviews go out of their way to say that GTA 3 isn't for kids. That's fine; I'm sure we're all firm believers both in strong parental control and the rights of adults to do whatever the hell they want if it doesn't hurt anyone else.
So, we know the game isn't for kids. But who is it really for, anyway? Is this game appropriate for anyone?
It's a tough question. The answer, if it exists, certainly isn't going to be found in a 500-word essay. But GTA 3 is the hands-down winner of the "Most Offensive Game of the Year" award.
Super Monkey Ball
So it's a game about four monkeys in semi-transparent plastic balls. You, the player, guide your primate proxies through various games -- rolling, bowling, hang-gliding, smacking other monkeys around. Every now and again, your monkey picks up a banana. It's fun. If we stop right there, it's just goofy and entertaining.
But the kicker is what happens to these cute little monkeys when the player screws up. When the ghosts caught Pac-Man, he shriveled up and died. Screw up in Monkey Ball, however, and suddenly you've got ringside seats to the Theater of Pain.
Fall out of bounds, and you suddenly realize that your playing field is apparently 30,000 feet in the air, and now your monkey is screaming toward terra firma without a parachute. You can almost hear the monkey screaming inside his little plastic ball.
I just can't get one particular image out of my mind … I had missed the floating drop point for my monkey hang glider, and in a flash, he had slipped beneath the waves. Poor little Gongon. His formerly cute face was now wrenched into a silent scream. His adorable little fists beat helplessly at the walls of his spherical prison. Another Super Monkey Ball sinking fast … heading for Davy Jones' locker.
- Monkeys getting rolled like marbles and scrambled like eggs.
- Monkey hang-gliders stalling in mid-air turns and dropping like shotgunned ducks.
- Monkeys sliding off the edges of life-saving buoys, into the water and sinking like stones.
- Monkeys coming in for a landing, opening the ball, landing face-first at 500 kilometers an hour, then slowly S-C-R-A-P-I-N-G down the sides of buildings.
There's some oxygen left in the ball, of course. Just enough to keep Gongon fully awake and conscious when the relentless pressure of the ocean depths crushes him like a beer can.
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