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For Young Fans, the Name Of the Video Game Is Gore

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Grand Theft Auto III Asked about reaction to the violence in "GTA3," Rockstar spokesman Bill Linn would say only, "Seven million copies worldwide doesn't seem like much negative feedback." (Rockstar Games)


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By Stephen A. Crockett Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 24, 2002; Page A01

On a pleasant Sunday afternoon a little after church had let out, Kimothy Wilson Jr., aka KJ, 16, picked up his 2000 Lamborghini Diablo at the garage where he had stashed it, then drove to the back entrance of the AmmuNation gun shop and retrieved a 9mm automatic. He chased down a pimp who had been giving his boss problems, and within seconds, he pinned the pimp's ride between his car and a storefront, killing three pedestrians.

A bloody shootout killed two more. They all died screaming.

Game Over.

"Next time, I'm going to just run them over," said Kimothy as he selected a new "Grand Theft Auto 3" mission on his PlayStation 2. "I can't go to Portland. I killed their boss, and now everyone in Portland is trying to kill me."

The Germantown teenager loves the game. "What you can't do in real life, you can do in the game, like carjack people and shoot police," he said.

This is the life of a low-level hit man working his way up through the Mafia in "GTA3." This is the life of a modern-day video game fan.

A young streetwise crew of Mafia-style video and PC games is threatening to strong-arm the turf once dominated by magical dragons and power potions. The growing trend is bloody, violently graphic games in which users play bad guys.

In today's virtual mean streets, Pac-Man wouldn't last a day. The yellow sphere with the slanted pie-hole that gobbled up pellets back in the '80s probably would get carjacked and beaten to a yellow wad of pulp.

Also gone are the days when it was cool to simply behead opponents in games like "Mortal Kombat." Blasting aliens' intestines onto digital walls, as in "Doom," is about as hip as a mullet haircut.

Despite the concerns of groups fighting violence marketed to children, software developers are scrambling to compete with the wild success of "Grand Theft Auto 3."

Coming out later this year is "Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven," a PC game developed by Illusion Softworks. In the game, set in the 1930s, players work their way up the ranks in the fictional Salieri mob family. They steal cars, crack safes and kill rivals.

Sony is working up "The Getaway," an interactive crime movie inspired by gangster shoot-'em-ups "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch." Players are jewel thieves.

And due out next spring: Activision's "True Crime: Streets of LA," packed with lawless car chases and bloody shootouts. The leading man is Nick Kang, a renegade cop who gives players the chance to "dispense their own brand of justice through a variety of rib-cracking martial arts moves and the business end of dual .45s."

Leader of the Pack

Since it hit the streets in October last year, "Grand Theft Auto 3" has been the hottest game for PlayStation 2. "GTA3" is mostly a driving game that takes place in the virtual criminal playground Liberty City. It has sold 7 million copies worldwide at 50 bucks a pop. For one week this June, it was second in software sales only to Norton AntiVirus 2002.

"It's awesome," said James Parker, 27, a Washington computer network administrator. "You can carjack any car, go to the seedy part of town, beep the horn and pick up a prostitute. Then you take her to a dark street and the car starts shaking. When the prostitute jumps out, your money is down but your energy is full."

Players can get their money back by killing the woman.

"GTA3" was released by Rockstar Games, the bad-boy alter ego of Take Two Interactive Software, a mainstream company that offers such wholesome titles as "Wheel of Fortune" and "Action Bass." Rockstar earned street cred a couple of years ago with anti-establishment games like "State of Emergency," in which an underground resistance movement tries to liberate the oppressed. Players smash store windows, shoot security guards and chop off people's heads with an ax. The head then can be used as a weapon.

In "Smuggler's Run 2," players join a gang known as the Forgotten and prove themselves worthy to potential clients by smuggling contraband while dodging rival gangs and police. And "Max Payne" is about a vigilante ex-cop with nothing to lose and enough bullets to kill everyone in his path -- which he does.

Rockstar, based in New York, built its gangsta empire by buying game rights from independent developers, then spiking the games with urban twists, such as illegal street racing in "Midnight Club." It even added music from rappers Royce Da 5'9 and Black Rob. Sound clips from both "State of Emergency" and "GTA3" have appeared on underground hip-hop mix tapes by DJ Clue.

Rockstar had noticed something that many other game companies hadn't realized: The generation that grew up playing Atari 2600 and Colecovision still loves playing video games. The average age of the game player is 28, and 72 percent of people playing console games are male, according to Interactive Digital Software Association, which follows trends in the $6 billion computer and video-game industry.

Last year, according to IDSA, games rated M (mature) made up only 9.9 percent of the gaming market, and games rated E (everyone), 62.3 percent.

Even when the games are rated M, anyone can buy them.

"There are no official age requirements placed on the games, and since there aren't, we don't stop kids from buying the games," said Donna Beadle, spokeswoman for Best Buy.

But look for that M segment to increase. Andy Reiner, executive editor of GameInformer magazine, devoted to PC and console video games, thinks it's going to dominate the market.

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