Throwback: “How Grand Theft Auto III Put Games on the Media Map”

Originally written for Dr. Hazel Atkins ENG 1100 Class / Dated: Monday, October-01- 12

Released in October of 2001, Video Game “Grand Theft Auto III” by Scottish developer Rockstar North came into worldwide infamy. It was banned and censored in one country, and was the subject of two court cases in another and was the highest selling game of its year. Its pioneering design has influenced hundreds of copycats since and it brought mature content games to the forefront of a worldwide media storm by opening the door to the debate on how violent video games affect our children. It is a multi-cultural phenomenon.

Unlike any other game that came before it, “GTA III” employed an open-world ‘sandbox’ design that was set in a fictional east coast America. <1> The player could go anywhere and do anything within the gaming world at any time. The player didn’t have to unlock features as they played. The style allowed the user an unprecedented level of freedom built on encouraging the destruction of property, committing crimes, evading police and causing violence.

Released one month after 9/11 on October 22nd, 2001 many people were feeling extra sensitive to violent influence. Developer Rockstar true to its name stood out for its unwillingness to alter its product.

Upon its release, the game received universal praise for its innovative design and non-restricting gameplay mechanics. It won several Game of the Year awards from various media outlets and holds a ’97’ rating on review aggregate MetaCritic. <2> The title became the number one selling game of 2001 creating the ‘sandbox’ genre that has produced several other franchises since; “Dead Rising” and “Saints Row” to name a few all have this game to thank.

The mature subject matter; in conjunction with rewarding players for bad behaviour linked the game to two lawsuits, as well as a ban and subsequent censoring in Australia. Publisher “Take-Two Interactive” was sued after two teens shot off a .22 caliber rifle onto a highway which killed a man and injured a woman. The children in testimony had admitted to playing Grand Theft Auto prior to the incident. <3> The case was eventually dropped as Video Games were covered under free speech laws. This led to a second Supreme Court case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. Wherein it was discussed whether video games like other sources of media should be even considered part of free speech. The case eventually ruled in favour of EMA. <4> Various discussions have been held since the about the effect violent video games have on children with “GTA III” often coming up as a prime example due to its worldwide status.

Drawing international attention for its landmark design and simulation of violence, GTA III pushed the boundaries of what video games could say and do. It contributed to a myriad of discussion surrounding the effect of video game violence on children and games as a form ofexpression in our globalized culture. Eleven years since its release the franchise has sold 114 million copies, <5> spawned countless knockoffs and captured several headlines. With a new iteration in development expect the whirlwind of controversy and media attention to roll through once again.


  1. Miller, G. (2011, October 18). Dan Houser Talks Grand Theft Auto III. In IGN. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from talks-grand- theft-auto- iii?page=1
  2. theft-auto- iii
    THE COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE AT KNOXVILLE. Knoxville, Tennessee: Circuit Court for Cocke County, 2009. 9.
    CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY v. WAYNE BUCKNER, ET AL. Appeal from the Circuit Court for Cocke County . Web.
    1 Oct. 2012.
  4. Methenitis, M. (2011, July 4). LGJ: On Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn. In Joystiq. Retrieved October 1, 2012,
    from LGJ: On Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn.
  5. Orland, K. (2011, September 14). Grand Theft Auto IV Passes 22M Shipped, Franchise Above 114M . In Gamasutra.
    Retrieved October 1, 2012, from Grand Theft Auto IV Passes 22M Shipped, Franchise Above 114M





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