“Appa, there’s no game like GTA, and I want to play it now.” This has been the refrain from my 12-year-old son all of last week. “GTA lets you customize everything, even the clothes you wear. You have the choice of big cities or lonely deserts. There’s no other open-world game like it.” And he’s right. No other game offers such a true-to-life immersive experience. The problem, of course, is that GTA is rated “Mature,” only to be played by those 17 or over.
Older cousins installed Vice City on his PC without my knowledge. Not that it’d have mattered even if I knew; Vice City tripped no alarms. But a couple of snatches of dialogue I heard while they were playing gave me pause, and I looked up the game online. I was in for a nasty surprise. ESRB rated it “Mature,” its description of the content reading “Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Violence.” I lost no time in explaining the position to my son; the game was rated Mature by ESRB, I said, which meant he’d have to wait until he turned 17 to play it. My son is nothing if not logical; he made no protest.
However, he then roped me in as an assistant in his online hunt for an immersive open-world game that was like Vice City but rated Teen (13 and above). It was a fruitless search, we finally concluded; no such game existed. It was then that my son gave vent to the exclamation that begins this piece. Before that, however, he tried every trick in the book to allow me to play the game.
There was the plaintive “Appa, why doesn’t Rockstar make a GTA version for kids? It’ll sell very well.” He’s right; I’ve often wondered myself. I told him I’d write to Rockstar with his suggestion. “Or better still,” I said, “you can write to them yourself. Write up your letter, and I’ll email it.” He sensed that while this would allow him let some steam off, the chances of Rockstar following his advice were slim.
There was the practical (and persuasive) “Appa, GTA will be out of stock in shops or obsolete by the time I become 17. So buy GTA now and keep it with you until I’m 17.” (I actually did succumb to this suggestion. My son would gaze lovingly at the DVD and the cover. One day, however, my wife threw the whole thing out.)
The next attempt was supremely logical: “Appa, GTA has adult language, and I’m a kid. I don’t understand adult language, so what harm can it do me?” I didn’t know how to counter this, so I fell back on a time-honored parental last resort: a dismissive wave of the hand.
On similar lines as the previous attempt was this: “Appa, all my classmates play GTA, and they use the bad language in GTA in class. I hear it every day. So what difference does it make if I play GTA?”
But the one that I had to admire for sheer creativity was this: “Appa, I’ll play the game in Italian. Then I won’t understand a thing.”