Take Two on Take Two

Jan 6, 2004

I’ve been trying to read the NY Post’s assessment of Take Two‘s stock. Take Two, for those who aren’t gaming inclined, publishes the Grand Theft Auto games. The article blasts the company for the content of its games in a great display of fire and brimstone and, in doing so, is both more than a little self-serving and quite incorrect in the process. Much of the gaming world is up in arms about this piece. I’m still trying to wrestle it down like a moldy sandwich. There are bits of bread that aren’t entirely green, but meat is most definitely rotten and, Lord, how did a rat tail get in here?

It all starts well enough. Christopher Byron, the author of the piece, begins by talking about stock prices. He tells us that Take Two’s stock has been a hot ticket. I agree. Any stock that goes up 500% in a couple of years should be watched with a wary eye. He talks a little, and eventually wraps up with, some recent problems they’ve had with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Again, I share his fears. Any company that gets that many visits from suited men from the Federal government must be held under a certain amount of suspicion.

But then things go to hell. Christopher Byron gets to leave the intended subject — I’m guessing stock prices from the title — behind and launch into a personal tirade, a tirade that is as silly as it is littered with inaccuracies.

He takes Take Two to task for its products:

Some long-overdue questions are also being raised about the nature of Take-Two’s unusual product line, which is coming under attack by local and state legislators around the country.

Unusual? They have a couple of runaway hits (the aforementioned Grand Theft Auto games), a couple of great games (Mafia, Age of Wonders), some good games (Railroad Tycoon, Serious Sam), a bunch of other stuff, and — get this — a good helping of children’s games (Dora, Piglet’s BIG Game). This sounds like a great resume for a publisher. Oh, and yes I said publisher; Take Two doesn’t even make these games. They only market and distribute them (“produce”, as Mr. Byron says, is a bit misleading). Maybe Mr. Byron should cast that evil stare at Rockstar North, whose games are almost exclusively violent in one way or another (they are indeed the creators of the Grand Theft Auto games). Then again, that may require him to do some research, click on a link or two, and have a clue about which he speaks.

He then discusses the real sand in his underwear: one particular game published by Take Two, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

And when you do, everything will look incredibly and shockingly real, with blood spewing everywhere.

You can kill a cop, steal his gun, and then use it to shoot someone else. Or you can pick up a prostitute and have sex with her in the back of your stolen car, then beat her to death – or shoot her, bludgeon her, whatever you want.

First of all, GTA does not look “incredibly and shockingly” real. Here’s a screenshot and here’s another. What do you think? It’s almost cartoon-like in its appearance. Of course, these are just my eyes. My Byron may classify Pac Man as incredibly realistic depiction of circular construction paper consuming electrified food and colored bed coverings at enormous rate.

Second, sure you can steal a gun and shoot the police. You can entertain a prostitute and kill her. But you don’t have to so. It’s an open world; that’s really the beauty of the whole game. You do what you want. Nobody is stopping you and the punishments aren’t very harsh when you cross the very faded line. Mr. Byron, I suggest you spend your playtime doing other things, like furthering the story. Really, you should be ashamed. There is much more to do than watching the back of old Chevy bop up and down.

Finally, he gives us his speech. These are the lines to make them tremble. These are the lines to get people to read his article. This is his chance to step up on the soapbox.

People, this is insane. This is 10,000 times worse than the worst thing anybody thinks Michael Jackson ever did to a little boy – or than any lie the feds think Martha Stewart ever told them, or any line in any song that Bruce Springsteen ever sang that rankled a cop in the Meadowlands.

People, and I say this with much more respect than he, this is insane. He can’t be serious. He simply cannot believe that playing a game — and let’s not forget that’s what this is — can even compare to pedophilia or stealing from folks for personal gain. The only plausible reason for making a statement such as this is to preach to the morally superior choir. He understands his intended audience. He wants to sing along, solidify their fears and misguided opinions.

It matters not that most lack a proper frame a reference. Not everyone has a copy of Vice City on their shelf. Not everyone has the initiative to witness its assured banality. That’s unnecessary. Opinions are formulated from the news media — this news media.

It’s a prostitution simulator despite the fact that you need to actively seek them out. It’s a killing simulator even though half the games I play have a higher causality count (including Super Mario Bros. — those poor turtles). It’s controversia; it must be evil.

They forget for a second that this game is an interactive version of any great mob movie (in fact the voice of the main character, Ray Liotta, is famous for his movie work). These things are for our kids, despite the fact that most studies or surveys say the average age of the modern gamer is somewhere between 24 and 27. I certainly don’t need Mr. Byron to look after the content that crosses my television and I don’t appreciate his efforts.

This whole age-cutoff thing is simply garbage – just like “Grand Theft Auto” itself – and sooner or later, I would imagine, we’ll come to our senses and ban these games from public commerce, just like we ban child pornography and entertainment spectacles such as cock fighting and dwarf throwing.

I also have no need for incredibly stupid suggestions such as this. This is a game and, it seems that I again must make this point for Mr. Byron’s sake, just a game. Comparing Grand Theft Auto to such morally reprehensible acts add flair to his argument. It also reveals him to not be of right mind.

Maybe I should be thankful. His public display of ignorance provides a safe passage into a discussion that leads back to actual financials. He worries that the Grand Theft Auto games encompass too much of Take Two’s paycheck:

The company’s latest three-month and nine-month financial results, covering the period through July 31, show “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and an earlier version of the same ghastly program (“Grand Theft Auto III”) to have accounted for just under half the company’s sales.

Well, duh. Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City have been the biggest selling videogames of the last couple of years. The competition hasn’t even been close. For a while, they could barely make them fast enough. These sales numbers would impress even EA or Sony, a couple of big boys of the gaming business. I wonder how much of New Line Cinema‘s bottom line was padded with The Lord of the Rings. Having a runaway hit is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, this should breed excitement. Each Grand Theft Auto has been better than the last. A well established franchise keeps improving with age. Talk about bread and butter.

Mr. Byron blatherings are made all the more obscene by the fact that I’m not entirely convinced that he’s actually played the game. Ok, maybe he picked up a controller for a couple of minutes. Maybe he once witnessed a friend play from across the room. Maybe he peered through a store window. Maybe he once saw a commercial.

I can give no other explanation for his goofy talk. His separation of fantasy and reality is misaligned. I have trouble trying to swallow his arguments. I have more trouble trying to digest what his intolerant views of gaming have to do with his day job. It sounds to me that he’s simply cruising the mean streets of the information superhighway, just looking for trouble. Some of us Vice City game players know exactly how he feels.

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