Disturbing trend: 'Grand Theft Auto V' obliterates sales records

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

A screen shot from "Grand Theft Auto V."

Rockstargames.com

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Seventy-two hours.

That’s all the time “Grand Theft Auto V” needed to move approximately 16.5 million units last week and eclipse $1 billion in global sales.

And for those of you scoring at home, that timeframe easily destroyed the unofficial record for “fastest to $1 billion in sales.”

“The last major release to make that claim, ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 2,’ took 15 days to reach the milestone,” Sean Buckley wrote for the tech website Engadget. “It's an impressive accomplishment, but it's potentially only the tip of the iceberg: ‘GTA V’ is rumored to be ported to PC and next generation consoles.”

Rest assured, this is the opposite of a family-friendly game. "GTA V" offends sensibilities by glamorizing drug use, exotic dancing and cold-blooded murder. The latest game even incorporates a new unsavory element into its toxic stew: torturing a prisoner. It should surprise nobody, then, that “GTA V” is rated M for Mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board due to intense violence, blood and gore, strong language, mature humor, strong sexual content, nudity, and use of drugs and alcohol.

In 2001, “Grand Theft Auto III” catapulted the GTA franchise to iconic status and, in so doing, shocked and appalled mainstream America. What’s essentially new now is that “Grand Theft Auto” games have been a staple of popular culture for so long that some parents are blithely snapping up copies of “GTA V” for their young children with minimal regard for how all that heavy content could affect their kids.

For example, on Monday the gaming website Kotaku published an open letter to parents from a video game retailer who wrote, “Last week my store sold over a thousand copies of ‘GTA V,’ at least a hundred of which were sold to parents for children who could barely even see over my counter. … When I recite the phrases from the ESRB ratings box on the back cover of an M-rated game and it just goes right over your head I feel the need to be more specific. So I mention things like a game having a first-person view of half-naked strippers or that the game has a mission that forces you to torture another human being. …

“I don't tell you these things because I don't like your parenting style. It is because, when I look at little Timmy there in my store, I can't help but picture him as the little boy sitting across the table from my daughter in her first grade class.”

The sheer scope of "GTA V" sets it apart from past iterations. With five years of development under its belt and a bigger budget than any video game ever — multiple published reports peg development and marketing costs at $260 million — "GTA V" seamlessly packages the franchise’s signature brand of graphic content into a glittering fictional world so sprawling and vast that it’s never been easier to get lost in it.

“While the franchise has lost the ability to shock, it remains the most immersive spectacle in interactive entertainment,” the New York Times’ Chris Suellentrop reported. “And with the profane … 'Grand Theft Auto V,' Rockstar Games has produced the best plotted, most playable, character-driven, fictionally coherent entry in this 16-year-old series.”

The Guardian’s Keith Stuart opined, “The bigger heists … subtly add to the feeling that what we're all doing here is acting in our own version of Michael Mann's film ‘Heat.’ While certain ideas are repackaged and chucked straight back at you several times, you're carried along on a rush of euphoric action and shock — mostly because the world looks and behaves as though all this makes sense.”

“ ‘GTA V’ has an abundance of (moments), big and small, that make (the game) feel like a living world where anything can happen,” Keza McDonald wrote for the gaming website IGN. “It both gives you tremendous freedom to explore an astonishingly well-realized world and tells a story that’s gripping. … It is a leap forward in narrative sophistication for the series, and there’s no mechanical element of the gameplay that hasn’t been improved over 'Grand Theft Auto IV.’ ”

The ability of "GTA V" to so painstakingly realize its reality isn’t merely the consequence of millions of man-hours and a huge budget. Rather, it’s also a function of the fact the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gaming consoles both teeter on the cusp of technological obsolescence.

“In less than two months, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will start replacing the increasingly obsolete current crop of consoles,” Jesse Brukman reported for Rolling Stone. “The greatest games tend to come at the end of any system's lifespan, when developers have explored every nook and cranny and learned to exploit the hardware for everything it can possibly do. 'GTA V' looks like it will push the Xbox 360 and PS3 as far as either system can possibly reach.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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