Echo of Sniper Has Little Effect on Violent Video Game's Sales

Less than a week after two suspects were arrested in connection with the sniper attacks that killed 10 people and wounded three, a video game with eerily similar sniper capabilities is flying off the shelves of local stores.

Crowds of people waited outside area stores Tuesday for the release of  "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," a video game that includes a sniper rifle with a scope that lets players kill people in parks, on street corners and at gas stations.

"That game is very hot," said Bill Cimino,a spokesman for Circuit City stores. "There was a lot of anticipation for the game and we're very happy with the sales."

But some parents and activists said releasing the game only days after the arrest of two sniper suspects was inappropriate.

"It's a video game simulator that trains snipers. It's sick," said Martha Kleder, policy analyst for the Culture and Family Institute.

Kleder said the game could cause children to relive memories about the sniper. She noted that producers of the movie Phonebooth -- which centers on a sniper -- postponed its release because of the attacks in this area, and that the producers of the video game should have done the same.

"They probably didn't even think of holding the game," Kleder said. "The video game industry is the industry least concerned about citizen reaction."

Rockstar Games, which publishes the "Grand Theft Auto" series of video games, would not say if it had received any complaints about the game's release date. But the company's attorney, Bill Linn, said the game is clearly marked with a "mature" rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board and that the company "makes every effort to market its games responsibly."

The board rated the game "mature" for blood and gore, strong language, strong sexual content and violence.

This is the fourth in the Grand Theft Auto series of games, all of which have been noted for their graphic violence.

Rockstar Games said Grand Theft Auto 3 sold more than 6 million copies since its October 2001 release, earning more than $250 million and making it the highest-grossing game for PlayStation 2.

The new game revolves around Tommy Vercetti, a fictional gangster who tries to re-establish his reputation in 1980s Miami after his release from jail by running drugs and then hunting down men who cross him. In addition to traditional mob assignments, players can roam the city shooting police officers, picking up prostitutes and getting into high-speed car chases.

The new game adds brass knuckles, machetes annd chainsaws to the handguns, sniper rifles and flame-throwers available to players in version 3. New vehicles were also added, including motorcycles, helicopters and boats.

When the player uses the sniper rifle, the screen image becomes a working scope with crosshairs, allowing the player to target people from hundreds of yards away. The rifle recoils as the shot rings out, and the target falls to the ground or has body parts blown off.

Middletown resident William Smith, 16, said he planned to buy a copy after testing it out at the Best Buy in Frederick. "I just love the game. I try to run people over," he said. "You can steal helicopters and push people off their motorcycles."

Smith's mother, Teresa, said she did not plan to stop her son from buying the game. But she said Rockstar Games should have delayed the release of the game out of respect for families of the sniper victims.

"There are people who lost their family. They probably should have held it," she said. "There are people who are really sensitive to that type of thing."

David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, called Rockstar Games "insensitive" and said the game "glamorizes the kind of predator" that haunted the area for nearly a month.

"To be released within days of the sniper trauma is disrespectful, "Walsh said. "They're putting profits ahead of respect and responsibility. For this game to so closely mimic the type of trauma millions of people just went through and make light of it is horrific."

William Smith said that although the game "could bring out the worst in people," he would continue to play and is already hoping for a fifth version  next year.

"All games breed violence if you look at it. Brothers watching those Barbie video games -- that'll get them fighting with their sisters," he said. "The important thing is to know it's just a game, a game and nothing more."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.