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Grand Theft Auto IV

Looking from certain corners of the internet today you’d be forgiven for thinking that the launch of Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) had caused all other events in the world to pause. There has, simply put, been an avalanche of press for the video game. Apparently it might just clock upwards of $US400 million in it’s opening week (yes, that’s a lot of money). And to keep commentators on violence in the media (and specifically videogames) happy, somebody in London obligingly stabbed someone else in the line to buy one of the first copies of GTA IV. If you prefer something equally silly but a whole lot less violent (except, perhaps, to themselves) someone in the US is trying to set a record for continuous gameplay by enduring more than 25 hours in a row of GTA IV (and, yes, it is of course being streamed live across the net, complete with Twitter updates).

However, one of the more interesting subjects to emerge in the press frenzy surrounding the game’s launch is the revival of the synthespian (or synthetic thespian) debate, which last raged seriously when Gollum and his contemporaries proved CGI folks could give their flesh and blood companions a run for their money. Nowadays, it’s videogame (anti-)heroes getting the limelight. As Asher Moses reports for The Age:

He’s the biggest name in entertainment but you won’t find him striding down the red carpet or cavorting with Hollywood starlets under the watchful eye of the paparazzi. No, Niko Bellic, set to become the most high profile Slav in entertainment since Borat Sagdiyev took the box office by storm 18 months ago. He is among the new breed of entertainment personalities who, rather than being cast, are built from scratch by a team of programmers and graphic designers. He’s the protagonist in Grand Theft Auto IV and, just days after hitting the streets, is already giving flesh-and-blood Hollywood stars a run for their money. Launched around the world at midnight on Monday, Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) is on track to become the biggest entertainment launch in history. Analysts have predicted the title, which has inspired near-perfect reviews from most gaming magazines, will sell at least 6 million copies in its first week.

Sure, the synthespian issue is wedged amongst hype about sales and violence, but it’s certainly an interesting question: to what extent do gamers ‘inhabit’ the characters they play and to what extent will they idolize these characters (provoking some interesting notions about the changing nature of celebrity culture … do we actually need celebrities to even have a supposedly ‘real’ version to idolize?).

For Australians, one of the other notable features of GTA IV is that, thanks to the fact that we still don’t have an R18+ category for games, our version of GTA IV has been toned down to get rating approval.

Update: Australian Game Pro reports that Australians attempting to import the international version of GTA IV (which doesn’t meet Australia’s MA15+ game rating limit) would be guilty of importing prohibited goods and could be fined up to $110,000!

[Photo by Rappzula CC BY NC SA]

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