My Four-Year-Old Son Plays Grand Theft Auto

At the very impressionable age of four, my son loved Grand Theft Auto.

More specifically, the version he played was the Hot Coffee moddable, San Andreas. Before Child Protective Services bestows upon me the prestigious honour of father of the year, allow me to explain. 

Gaming has been a part of my sons' life since the moment he was born, so I was not surprised when he showed an interest in video games as early as the age of two. I started him off where I began my gaming career: the original Nintendo Entertainment System. He built up his hand-eye coordination and took the bridge out from under Bowser in no time. Then, one day, he got a glimpse of me playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and asked if he could play. What happened next was quite the eye-opener.

With a DualShock controller in hand, he started to press each button individually as he tried to figure out what their functions were. Soon he asked, "How do I get in a car?" I pointed and told him, "The one with the green triangle on it." 

I egged him on to take the car in front of him which was waiting at the red light. He quickly looked up at me with disgust and refused, stating that the car was already owned by the person driving it. His response absolutely amazed me, so I decided to sit back and observe how he chose to interact with this highly controversial game without the aid of a rotten-minded adult.

He finally entered an unoccupied car and began driving. He was very mindful of the other cars and pedestrians. He didn't know the rules of the road, so he ran red lights and turned down one-way streets in the wrong direction. However, he did stop at intersections if a group of cars gathered waiting for the light to turn green. 

At one such intersection he attempted to brake, but he was travelling too fast. Instead of ploughing into the rear of the car ahead of him, he swerved to the right and popped up onto to footpath. In doing so, he accidentally ran over a woman walking towards his oncoming car. He was incredibly ashamed of himself and profusely apologised.

"It's OK. It's only a game. It's not real", I reassured him. After a few minutes of me explaining the difference between a game and real life, he felt comfortable enough to continue playing. 

Stop! Or my mum will shoot!

Only seconds later, he witnessed a policeman jump out of his patrol car to pursue a criminal of San Andreas.  His eyes lit up as he asked if he could drive the police car. I reminded him that it was only a game, and it was fine to take the car. As he drove the squad car, I pressed L3 to turn on the lights and siren.  He asked very excitedly if he could get the bad guys too. With a huge smile I pressed R3 to initiate the Vigilante Missions.  It was as if his imagination had come to life. He was taking down delinquents left and right. As expected, the dangerous work of an officer brought an ambulance. 

At this point my son was familiar with the game's mechanics and hopped into the ambulance. As he put the crime fighting behind him, he wondered aloud if it was possible to take people to the hospital. I instruct him to press R3, and then he was off to save a few lives. He was having a blast racing from point to point, picking up people in need, and then speeding off to Las Venturas Hospital. During one of his life saving adventures, he passed a fire house with a big, red, shiny fire truck parked out front. He didn't want to let his passengers down, so he took them to the hospital and then asked if I could guide him back to the fire truck.

Getting behind the driver's seat of the fire truck awarded him with the most fun he had while playing Grand Theft Auto.  With sirens blaring, he chased down the first red dot on the map. As he approached a car engulfed in flames he began showering it with the truck's water cannon. Fire after fire, he extinguished them all.

Joe Lieberman's worst nightmare.

In all his time with Grand Theft Auto he never once encountered any of the controversy surrounding this notorious title. He didn't beat any hookers with a baseball bat.  He didn't deal drugs. He didn't go on a murderous rampage. He certainly never once had a cup of hot coffee. He didn't avoid these things because I told him he couldn't try them. It just never occurred to him to commit these acts. 

The ESRB rating found on every game cover is a great tool for parents who are not familiar with games and their content, but I strongly disagree with using it as a tool to raise our kids. Every child is different and, as parents, it is our responsibility to cater to their individual needs. I understand not every kid is like mine, so I wouldn't recommend that every parent allow their child to play Grand Theft Auto. But I would recommend that you listen and pay attention to your little ones to determine what they are capable of handling and what they are not ready for yet. They might even surprise you and find the light in something thought to have been so dark.  

This article is reprinted with the permission of

After a couple decades of following the games industry from the outside in, Matthew Orona has noticed the lack of one important point-of-view...his. An aspiring games journalist from the southwest city of El Paso, Texas, he's found it much easier to get his word out with the help of Bitmob.


    What an absolute load of shit. So little Johnny liked driving the pretty police car with sirens. Did the author explain to his young son
    what the words "fuck", "motherfucker", or "shit" means when he heard a bystander or other game character say it? Or the phrase "cheesy vagina" which appears in that game? Did his young son enjoy the gang wars in GTA:SA where you have to kill rival gangs? Or the drug use? This article is like saying that other parents should let their kids watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre because I let MY kid watch the scene with the beautiful sunset. How clueless is this author? Gamers here in Australia are fighting hard to get an R18+ classification to protect kids from clueless parents and this guy is telling them to let their kids have a go of adult rated games?!?!? Games are rated for a reason. If you teach kids that those ratings are negotiable because SOME scenes are OK then you are BEING A BAD PARENT and shouldn't be surprised when they are witnessing the full range of adult material in the game at far too young an age. Grow up and separate your adult video game playing from your parenting.

      All I have to say is this: Matt, your son is awesome!

      Also, Kato, if you're going to go on a rant, at least try and sound intelligent. By your account children shouldn't be allowed to view kotaku based on the foul language they find in the comments thanks to you. I grew up playing violent video games, watching R rated movies (Like Scareface, which is a classic by the way) and I can at least form proper arguments. Maybe you should look to your own parents for an example of bad parenting because they surely deprived you of a proper education.

      Matt supervised his child's play time. He used it as a learning tool. His son spent his time free-roaming, not doing missions, so your point of gang wars and drug use is void. Video games provide a choice, and he chose to obey they law in game and help people. Movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre do not give you a choice to by-pass the violence so there is another void point.

      Like you said; "Gamers here in Australia are fighting hard to get an R18+ classification to protect kids from clueless parents and this guy is telling them to let their kids have a go of adult rated games?!?!?" Poor punctuation aside, you nullify your own argument: Matt is clearly not a clueless parent when it comes to video games.

      While I'm writing this, I'm noticing more people condemning the author and if I stay on any longer I'll be defending him all day so I'll summarise now: Matt is clearly not a bad parent. He is spending time with his son, undertaking an activity that, while may contain inappropriate material, is done under supervision to avoid it. I see no harm or foul in that.

        Lol scareface. Also, I agree with you 100%

        I agree 100% with you Benjamin. when I saw the title my first thought was "Oh god, another moron" but was pleasently surprised by the maturity shown both by parent and child. I can't say I would be letting any children of mine play it, I can't say I won't, especially if they're as mature and well developed as Mathews.

        I'm going to assume by the wording "He caught a glimpse of me playing GTA" that the child doesn't usually see his fathers (more adult) gaming habits, another good move by the father.

      Actually I think the phrase 'cheesy vagina' is from GTA 4.

    What an absolute moron!!

    It's people like you that give us gamers that are parents a bad name.

    I sincerely hope you are reprimanded for your stupidity.

      I concur. A gamer parent that is well versed in the content of a specific video game supervising his own childs usage of it.. Terrible. Informed, independent decision making and personal responsibility? Are these the things 'gamer parents' want to be associate with!?

      Matthew, you should have done with every other parent does and ignore your child and their interests, relying solely on government regulation to raise your children and then blaming everyone but yourself the moment it backfires. Shameful.

    great read, and kato is an idiot

    I feel quite the opposite... This is the sort of parental supervision that is missing from households with young children. This article shows a parent taking responsibility for what his child is doing. Would you rather the child see what his dad was playing and then go and play the game behind his back? Of course not!

    This controlled environment is the only way that a game like this should be experienced by children not old enough to play it. Don't take that as me saying that I approve of kids playing GTA in it's entirety, that's just silly... But as a game to drive cars, ambulances and put out fires, Why not? Just turn the sound down if you're concerned about the language in the game. That's why you would be SUPERVISING after all...


      Ack, this was supposed to be in reply to Kato...

    Hmmmm. This will certainly stir up debate! I actually think the kids actions are very interesting quite heroic in a way in fact. I myself would not let my kids try it at that age, they were too busy washing my hair when I was nodding on the couch. Except, they had used fish food as shampoo... True story. But as my kids got older I realised the world is much different these days. The schoolyard sounds like a prison these days, they hear everything in the schoolyard, whilst I'm not a big swearer myself, I dont mind if my kids drop the occasional "Grrr Dad, I got another BSOD, this computers shit". Language continues to develop over time, so language in a game is not really a biggie in my book.

    My girls (9 and 11) dont like GTA, but they love Borderlands and have got pretty good at it too! They know a real world and a CGI fantasy world, they still enjoy the odd bratz doll and their gaming has not made them violent. Messanger and facebook though...grrrr... I think they are leagues more damaging than squishing an old lady on the footpath. (in game that is)

    You have to adjust your game parenting to keep young minds engaged, being carefull not use it as a baby-sitter. We don't know this kid (except he likes to play the moral hero) and I'm sure (and hope) his dad is always there keeping an eye on things to avoid the ugly side of GTA.

    I'd not let mine play GTA at that age though, mainly cause I dont think they would act so heroicly :D

      To clarify, when I said my girls don't like gta, that did not mean I have let them play it. They had seen me (headphones on) killing some pedestrians with the tank for fun and remarked how mean I was to them :D

    I can't believe how many people are defending this guy.

    So playing violent games and watching violent movies is ok as long as it's supervised?

    Ok then, I'll sit down with my son tonight and let him play GTA, Silent Hill, and Saints Row and then we'll watch Scarface, Pulp Fiction and Saw. That will be absolutely fine because I will be there to supervise and explain things to him.

    What a crock!

      Heya Old_School :) I'm not saying movies are ok, movies are a railway rigid experience. Games on the other hand can be experienced in many different ways, this kids actions in GTA-SA show how a kid wants to interact with the in game world. Not as a drug dealer mo-fo, but as a city hero, catching crooks, hospital runs and putting out fires. Like I said, I'd not let my kids go there at that age, but if and all he did was whats in this article I think it could be used to show developers what type of a game a kid wants to interact with perhaps?

      As a kid, we played some down right dangerous games with toy guns, shooting each other off the roof and falling down into bushes. We even played a torture game, and I was tied up by the bady. He came at me with a drill to my stomach, and then WHIRRRR the drill started, we both shit outselves not knowing it was on. I was very lucky, the drill-bit tangled up into my jumper (and destroyed it) but otherwise it could have sank through to my guts.

      It is a fine line between cotton wooling your kids and giving them a real tangible world to be aware of. Part of that would be accustomising them to the digital future.

      We are certainly all going to have a different mindset on what it is to raise a kid these days and I think thats great. I think your side of the argument is perfectly valid as well, I'm not having a go at you at all. It will be interesting to see what parenting styles evolve to be like in another 20 years or so as we learn the effects of this generations actions. :D

      You missed the point entirely. There was no acts of violence being performed by the child, and if there were, then the parent would have stepped in and stopped the session.

      The point that this article is trying to make is that the child DID NOT WANT to do anything other than drive around and put out fires, not that it's OK for kids to play violent games and do whatever the hell they want as long as they have adult supervision...

      I feel sorry for the people that are missing this articles point... It's not about letting children play/watch gratuitous acts of violence, it's about controlling their gaming experience and performing Active Supervision rather than allowing games to babysit them.

        Hey Qumulys, that comment wasn't directed at you specifically.

        I totally get that the child didn't want to commit any acts of violence, and I applaud him for that. (although he did unintentionally by running over that person).

        My point is that there's violence and profane language in games like that, even when you're not doing it yourself or actively looking for it.

        For example

        - Walk into a Burger Shot to innocently buy a hamburger and you can be greeted with "Welcome to Burger Shot motherfucker".
        - A gang fight can break out at any time.
        - NPCs run people over.
        - NPCs walking down the street will say profane things. and
        - you can be propositioned by a hooker by just walking past one at night.

        There are plenty of other games out there that are more appropriate for a child of that age.

          Yeah, I totally get that, gta is not a world kids that age should be in. As I've said somewhere in my replies here a gta type game with no instructions, minus drugs and language, and say some petty crime going on by npc's which you can go and arrest would be awesome for kids! I would have loved that.
          I loved playing police quest as a kid, set in a realistic world like gta would have been ultimate fun!

          As reported, the seedy side of gta did not come up. That is either falsely reported by the author, or just plain lucky. Far too big of a risk for me to take myself, but I do find the outcome of the kids actions really interesting. :)

    Im mixed on this. Its a good experiment and it came with a good response from the child, but I guess but you shouldnt let him continue playing it.

    I'm sorry, but I have to agree with Old Skool Gamer and Kato. This game was designed specifically for adults, there's been a massive amount of controversy over kids playing it, and now we have a parent proudly boasting about how he let his four year old son play a game that is rife with murder, swearing and sex. I live in Australia, where we don't even have an 18+ rating because everyone is concerned about games getting into the hands of kids. With parents like this around you can't exactly blame them. I remember queuing for GTA4 (which I think is a work of art, just like I think loads of R18+ movies are works of art which are NOT DESIGNED FOR CHILDREN) and there was a dad behind me in the queue buying GTA4 for his whiny, ten-year old son. I really wanted to turn around and say: "Hey man, YOU are the reason a lot of games that are designed for ME are banned in Australia. Because you are a shitty parent who doesn't know why we have ratings and you are curtailing my freedoms by your actions. Thanks a fucking lot, asshole." And so now I say that to this author.

    I get that some kids are old before their time and can handle more than the rating system recognizes. And those kids can and will subvert the system to see things the law says they shouldn't. All kids do that and all kids should (I did!) But GTA, at four years old? That's fucking insane.

      I certainly agree with you Destructor on some points, you've put forth some good arguaments. Parents buying gta for their kids in line have no clue what content is going to be in the game, a R18 would certainly help stop a lot of the clueless parents and I think thats utter stupidity.

      This case however is somewhat different, the parent knew what the game was like from his experience with it. He made a judgement call (One, I would not allow of course) which happened to turn out with highly interesting results.

      A game where you can be the hero (police/fire/ambo's) in a free roaming world, minus the drugs and language, would make an awesome game for kids. I think a cluey developer could make a bucketload along those lines. Realism is lacking in kid games, not every kid gets excited by playschool characters. This kids brain was put to work, he thought about the world he was in. How should I behave in a real world type game? he thought to himself. I'll be good, I dont want to cause trouble here.
      Had gta been 'skinned' so the people looked like cartoon rabbits, I bet carnage would have ensued!

      You need a license to go fishing but any prick can have a kid. So your going to have parents who are clueless, your going to have free thinking parents, your going to have great parents. I dont 100% agree with this parent, but it was his kid and his call on how he raises his kid.
      He is going to cop a shit load of hate for this and I think he was very lucky it turned out well but its an experiment I hope doesn't catch on because it could have gone much worse.

      Do you at least find it interesting (putting aside morals) how the kid behaved in the gta world left to his own choices?

    Didn't the kid spend some time killing crims as the policeman? Or did I read that wrong.
    If there was a way in GTAIV to turn off the swearing and kill options, then I can see how this would be okay - but not with a four year old.
    It is pretty well documented that under the age of five, kids cannot properly process the difference between imagination and reality, or between fantasy and reality. They just aren't fully wired for it yet. Sandbox games, even benign ones at this age can be problematic for kids of such a young age.
    The child was disturbed by seeing the imagery *and being in control* of a car that ran over a woman and quite graphically killed her. That simply isn't healthy with a 4yr old, no matter how much explaining goes on.
    It was an interesting article, but it probably isn't wise to use your children as psychological experiments, or to back up your beliefs about gaming etc.

    And I gotta say, I find it hard to believe that no other seedy issues came up during the gaming session.

    But, hey, developers, make the violence free sandbox world where kids can put out fires and drive an ambulance and a bus and I reckon you'll sell a couple of mill.

    I think the kid is gonna want to play GTA a lot. I think he really enjoyed it but the more he plays GTA the more of the real game he'll see. Now will be the hard part of explaining why the kid can't keep playing such a fun game.

    obviously there is a difference between playing the game missions (which aren't suitable for children) and just driving around in the game (which is reasonably fine, bar the swearing).
    My little brother plays GTA4, but all he does is try to climb buildings and the most violent he's ever got is when I showed him he could pick up cups and throw them at people. I would still ask him to leave the room though if I decided to play a mission.

    The comments on the article are interesting. A number have the implicit assumption that it is inherently bad for a child to witness swearing or violence. I don't know enough about child psychology to agree or disagree with certainty - perhaps one of you guys can.

    Still, eventually, a child will have to confront the corruption of this world. I guess the real questions are, "When should this occur?" and "In what environment and with what supervision should this occur?"

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