How GTA started the first modern gaming controversy

Tomorrow’s release of the mega-violent top-down shooter Hotline: Miami won’t generate much controversy, and the reason why is Grand Theft Auto. I’m not talking about Hot Coffee. Before CJ and before Tommy Vercetti, there was the manic bird’s-eye joyride of the first GTA, and the storm-of-the-century of outrage it brought with it. 

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This was no accident. As the Sunday Times reports (paywwall), BMG Interactive hired the British spin master Max Clifford to make sure the game landed on the desks of tabloid editors and prominent conservative politicians.

“He told us how he would play it, who he would target, what those people targeted would say.” [GTA developer David Jones] adds, “every word he said came true”.

Family groups and newspapers howled, which only raised awareness of the game.Fifteen years later, the series has sold more than 100 million games, and the idea of a controversy started by a cartoonish top-down shooter, even one as gruesome as Hotline, now seems quaint.

For more on Clifford and the history of GTA and Rock Star, check out David Samuel’s book Jacked