A bizarre anti-gaming story emerged out of Australia last week, as New South Wales Police Minister Troy Grant appeared in a report on 7 News Sydney complaining about a mod for GTA IV. The report used footage from a two-year-old YouTube video from Australian gaming channel radcliffegames as well as additional scenes from GTA V to highlight what it called 'disturbing' gameplay from a mod which allows players to role play as the emergency services in Grand Theft Auto. Comments from the minister, Grant, referred to footage he had seen as 'offensive' and 'perverse' and were interspersed in a report which was rife with inaccuracy and deliberately provocative imagery. The piece originally appeared on Sydney's channel 7 evening news and the online version can be viewed on their facebook page.
It's hard to overstate the lack of fact checking and blatant editorial bias that went into the 7 News report, which started out by describing a 237,000 strong modding community as 'underground geeks.' Firstly, we should clarify that the footage in the report actually features several separate mods including texture packs and vehicle packs but it seems the gameplay that the report describes as offensive actually comes from the LSPDFR (or LSPD first response) mod. Ironically, the purpose of the mod (which is available for GTA IV and GTA V and has existed in various forms for several years) is to allow players to role-play as the emergency services personnel that make up part of Grand Theft Auto's open world. The mod allows players to play as a police officer and adds features like high-speed pursuits and the ability to apprehend criminals. Add NSW police uniforms and vehicles from the clan nswpolicegaming that radcliffefames featured in their video and you have the footage that 7 News finds 'disturbing'.
In fairness to the minister, his comments were less acerbic than the general tone of the news report. The full quote about the footage he had seen ran,
The game that I've seen, where they've arrested somebody, and then shoot them, that doesn't happen, that's perverse. There's a fear that this desensitizes people to the real risk the police face and I find it offensive.
The comments suggest at the very least that the 'game' the minister had seen may have been shown out of context, ignoring as it does the fact that the gameplay in the LSPDFR mod is a great deal more sympathetic to the police than the general gameplay found in the base games of both GTA IV and V.
Channel 7 news weren't content to leave it at misplaced outrage, though, not only did they end the report with the claim that NSW police would 'take action' against the modders, they followed with a second piece the next day which included further wildly inaccurate claims that in fact border on slander. The report refers to the perfectly legal mod as both 'black market' and 'a hack' and the modders as 'hackers.' It also suggests, though doesn't explicitly state, that this mod is somehow an illegally modified and distributed version of the base game. It's hard to make sense of some of what the report suggests. They re-iterate that NSW police plan to take action, though now say against 'the makers of the game' confusing the role of modders and potentially dragging developer Rockstar's name into proceedings. It only serves to highlight the frightening lack of knowledge and fact-checking that went into the report from one of Australia's main news networks.
Comments from modding group Emergency Australia member Gaz (who's work was also featured in the report) in response to questions from Kotaku gives their side of the argument,
It's a harmless mod designed for those enthusiastic about emergency services based in Australia who would like to role play it out as officers, firefighters and medical personnel performing good deeds.
Over the years individual polices officers have actually helped with the mod getting to where it is by showing support and providing reference pictures and encouraging the creation of the mod because they supported the harmless effects that it has, and as well as that it inspired kids to think of a career in the emergency services field. It put emergency services members in a positive light and gave kids somewhat an insight into our emergency services and encourage and inspired them to want to join them when they were older.
In contrast, a response from an NSW police spokesperson on what action they planned to take was less illuminating, simply saying "this could constitute offences under state and federal laws." The modding groups involved confirmed that, at the time of the report, none of their members had been contacted by NSW police, the police minister's office, or channel 7 news.
We have reached out to the NSW Police commission, Channel 7 News, the members of the modding communities implicated and Rockstar Games for further comment and will update you with any forthcoming response.