Taking a Stand Against Virtual Violence

Even among shoot-em-up video games sold today, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" stands out.
by | February 2004

Even among shoot-em-up video games sold today, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" stands out. The list of morally dubious activities that players simulate as they pretend to be cocaine dealers includes bludgeoning a thug with a baseball bat and having sex with a prostitute in the back of a stolen car. But it's three words uttered toward gangsters in the game--"Kill the Haitians"--that have some state and local leaders incensed.

In the wake of Haitian-American protests against the game last year in several cities around the country, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared the game "disgraceful" and "vulgar," and North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin is trying to banish the game from store shelves in his city using a local hate crimes law. Celestin, who was born in Haiti, says he doesn't have a problem with most of the game. "I take exception with it saying to kill Haitians. That's the point of this game. You get bonus points for doing that."

Rockstar Games, which manufactures Vice City, has agreed to pull the phrase about Haitians, along with a similar line about Cubans, from its next version of the game (11 million copies of the original version have already sold). But controversy over the game, which has been banned in New Zealand, has ignited a broader debate. Should state and local governments get into the messy business of regulating video games, or should the industry decide matters of taste on its own, the way the film industry does? Washington State and the city of St. Louis have passed bans on selling violent video games to minors, but federal courts ruled against both of them.