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August 21, 2014

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political memo:

Should tax dollars be spent to draw maker of violent video games to Las Vegas?

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Paul Sakuma, file / AP

In this April 29, 2008 file photo, a customer pays cash to purchase the game Grand Theft Auto IV at a Best Buy store in Mountain View, Calif.

Grand Theft Auto Game

In this photo released by Rockstar Games shows a scene from Launch slideshow »

Last month, the Nevada Economic Development Board signed off on a plan to invest $600,000 in tax dollars in a video game development company looking to relocate to Las Vegas.

The decision to approve the money for Take-Two Interactive garnered little notice at the time and won unanimous support from the board. In fact, the decision dovetailed perfectly with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s economic development plan of attracting more high-tech firms — and specifically entertainment technology firms — to Nevada.

But within the roster of video games developed by Take-Two Interactive is "Grand Theft Auto" and its sequels — games that have become poster children for the violent video games at the center of a debate in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In an ugly irony, the board approved the money for the game developer the same day the shooting took place — a fact that most board members weren’t even aware of during the meeting or that was mentioned in the discussion.

The full details of the horror at Sandy Hook were just emerging as the board considered the tax incentive for Take-Two Interactive.

“I personally didn’t hear about it until after we adjourned and my chief of staff said to me, ‘My God, did you see what happened?’” said board member and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

"Grand Theft Auto" is a critically acclaimed video game upon which Take-Two Interactive depends heavily for its revenue. It’s also decried by many who believe video game violence is at the root of societal violence today.

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre mentioned the game specifically while arguing that curtailing violent video games is more important than gun control.

In "Grand Theft Auto," players steal cars — often violently. They can also participate in all manner of virtual mayhem, including rape and clubbing to death a prostitute to avoid paying for sex. (Some critics dispute that what is depicted in the video game is actually rape.)

“It’s disgusting. It’s repugnant,” former state Sen. Sheila Leslie said.

“I’m troubled by much of what we’re doing here,” Leslie said, referring generally to the use of tax dollars to draw private companies to the state. “But I didn’t know we could stoop to this level. It is unbelievable to me that we would invest in a business like this.”

A spokesman for Take-Two Interactive said the company has not become involved in the recent debate over video game violence and directed questions to the industry’s trade association. Calls to the Entertainment Software Association were not returned.

The decision to invest tax dollars in Take-Two raises the question of whether social issues should be part of deciding which companies should earn tax incentives.

In addition to fitting into Nevada’s economic development plan, Take-Two will become a business tenant in redeveloping downtown Las Vegas, bringing with it 150 quality-assurance jobs paying an average of $18 an hour.

"We're happy that Take-Two chose Nevada and is bringing 150 really good jobs. We are happy to have them here," said Sandoval's economic development director Steve Hill.

He added it's unfair to draw a nexus between the types of games Take-Two creates and violence such as occurred in Newtown.

"It's unfair to imply a correlation between such a horrible tragedy without any evidence there is a correlation," he said.

Studies into the effect of video game violence are mixed. The video game industry holds no correlation exists between societal violence and video games. The American Psychological Association, however, finds violent video games can lead to an increase in aggression and hostility in some youth.

Many legislative leaders said the fact the company has violent video games in a library that includes sports games and others for a younger audience shouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker.

Miller said he doesn’t believe violent video games play a role in atrocities such as the Sandy Hook mass shooting and would have voted to approve the money even if he had known what was taking place.

Democratic Sens. Debbie Smith and Mo Denis said a decency test would be difficult to administer in economic development.

“I personally have concerns about violent games, having raised three children, but on the economic development side, it’s a bit of a slippery slope once you start making judgments on companies based on whether or not you approve of the product,” Smith said.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, admitted he’s troubled by violent video games. But he sees another potential upside to bringing Take-Two to Nevada.

“The Legislature may want to invite their CEO to be a part of any discussion we have regarding the influences of video game violence on the young. Who knows, instead of "Grand Theft Auto," we might influence them to do an interactive version of 'Little House on the Prairie.'”

It’s perhaps a silly question to ask in Las Vegas, where the economy is driven by vice.

“Nevada is too moral?” Hickey scoffed. “I mean, please, with all of our institutionalized vices, I don’t think we are in position to make that call.”

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  1. This is why the government should NOT be involved in private business. Perhaps a "better" firm would move in and do good business if they didn't have this competition.

  2. "...Take-Two will become a business tenant in redeveloping downtown Las Vegas, bringing with it 150 quality-assurance jobs paying an average of $18 an hour."

    The Nevada Economic Development made the right decision. It appears to have been based on the correct priority -- jobs. The critics seem to ignore the fact those 150 jobs are going to land somewhere. Instead they're urging censorship based on that same vague and absurd "morality" that has caused so much suffering through the ages.

    "Perhaps a "better" firm would move in and do good business if they didn't have this competition."

    Roslenda -- what do you mean by "a better firm"?

    "With morality the individual is led into being a function of the herd and to ascribing value to himself only as a function. . .Morality is the herd instinct in the individual." -- Frederich Nietzsche 1882 "The Gay Science"

  3. continued...

    3. Who in the world is the "The American Psychological Association"? You know what I could do? I could register a non-profit right now and use Super PAC laws to conceal my funding of it. I could call it the "American Association for Periodical and Historical Accuracy", and then release a press statement about how this article is inaccurate. Suddenly I'm an expert too. I could release ANY kind of a press statement, and it suddenly carries authority simply because I comes rubber-stamped with an official title.

    But please, let's offer a challenge to this study. You know what also makes children antisocial and violent? A lack of proper socialization which comes from abandoning your kids and letting TV and Video games babysit them! Did this study take into account parental interaction and proper parenting skills? I don't even see any information listing the particular paper with this info. Speaking of authorities...

    4. If you want to cite someone with expertise about violent video games, how about Jack Thompson? He's a lawyer that clogged up the legal system for years with lawsuits that failed to link violent behavior to video games. So much so that he was DISBARRED by Florida for misconduct for the very types of allegations that your cited references in this article provided!

    5. Finally, keep the politicians out of this. No politician is "troubled" by violent video games. They're only "troubled" about what to say to keep favor with ignorant voters who have no idea what's going on in a giant game of tag, where being "it" simply means getting randomly targeted. So you've got to distract the voter to go and tag someone else. Which brings me to...

    6. The NRA. If we're talking constitutional rights, then we have to enforce them ALL EQUALLY! Don't try and sacrifice my 1st Amendment to protect your 2nd!

  4. Well, let's break this down piece by piece.

    1. Bringing Take-Two interactive to Las Vegas isn't suddenly going to cause an increase in crime, nor is it going to be tax dollars funding violent crime elsewhere. No one who has ever played any GTA or Take-Two game has ever say, checked into Circus-Circus and randomly grabbed a child to rape like that Saudi national on New Years Day. And he was allowed here by the government. Of course I don't see any articles stating we should stop the military from funding pederast rapists which apparently DOES happen. Speaking of rape...

    2. I WILL DONATE $100 TO THE SHADE TREE IF YOU CAN PRODUCE REAL PROOF THAT ANY GTA GAME CONTAINS A RAPE SCENE! That is real money on the table. Connecticut Senator, Gayle Slossberg (D) already made this accusation once and failed to provide proof. You know why? BECAUSE NO SUCH THING EXISTS! There are thousands, and I mean THOUSANDS of hours of gameplay footage of the GTA series on YouTube recorded by people who have played the game from start to finish. Show us all an unaltered original clip from the game featuring a rape scene, or post a redaction to this article along with an apology! Hack-journalism leads me to the next thing.

  5. The fundamental issue is government involvement in encouraging or discouraging any type of private enterprise. If the principle is established that the state can invest in some type of enterprise then who decides what type and what enterprise, what type of investment and how much influence or control will be exercised. Government investment ranges from Solyndra to Rockwell to the BPA....some failures, some successes, some mixed.

    I think that the biggest issue is that these companies often do not provide the benefits that are touted to the decision making bodies. The number of employees often falls short, the average pay does not match up, the jobs are seasonal or part-time. The state might be better off acting like a venture capitalist....we invest X and get a big part of the nut. If there are secondary benefits that's great but we want ours first in line.

    Insofar as the morality of this type of investment....it's a little late in the game for Nevada to consider morality as a filter in any kind of decision making process.

  6. Las Vegas shouldn't even pretend to be the worlds moral arbiters. If it's not illegal then don't let a small group of puritans push business away.

    Second, the article is misleading in the "$600,000 in tax dollars" - the state did not write them a $600,000 check. This company has to provide a LOT of value and revenue to the state in order to get any benefit of that, far more than the "investment". This is a huge net-win for Nevada.

  7. Attacking Violent Video Games and Movies is just a distraction brought to you by the NRA. From the first day of a child watching Wile E. Coyote running over a cliff, they know it's make believe. This does not excuse a Mentally Unstable Person nor Mass Murderer, Nor the NRA for their opposition to Military Weaponry firing up to 100 Bullet Drums.

    As far as Economic Development - Las Vegas/Nevada needs to attract High Paying Jobs (even if it includes the making of Porn Videos) to generate taxes to counterbalance Casinos and the pillaging Low Taxed Mining Industry. Just Hopefully the Taxes are used to Educate Las Vegans who are the lowest educated population of any large city in the U.S.

  8. Ridiculous. The video game "Command and Conquer" was *born* in Las Vegas, from a Las Vegas-based company. Further, Las Vegas has spent tax dollars to attract (oft-violent) film productions to Las Vegas. I doubt if Quentin Tarantino wanted to film here or open a studio here, we'd be having this discussion. Parents, raise your children. And enough with the social engineering and political correctness, please.

  9. As a professional who spent 40 years in family medicine and pediatrics/adolescent medicine, I assure all you "experts" that violence in the media absolutely affects children growing up with it as being "normal". While parents have the primary responsibility for raising their kids, I find it disgusting that companies will produce anything to make a buck, even if it is not good for children (games, movies, foods, etc). The almighty dollar has become our god and to hell with the consequences of those things, our mantra.

  10. Any self-proclaimed "expert" who chooses to remain anonymous has a suspect agenda and should be overlooked.

  11. @ DrJCA1 (Joel)

    Allow me to share a story...

    When I was a small child, my father didn't want me to suffer from nightmares. So he sat down with me and we watched a collection of behind the scenes videos for Michael Jackson's Thriller music video, An American Werewolf in London, Poltergeist, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. We sat down and watched as the actors got into character and observed the whole process of applying makeup, latex appendages, bladder bags, squid packs, and everything. We also saw how they accomplished the special effects, and he told me to ask him any questions that I might have and we'd look them up. My father took the time to explain to me the difference between fantasy and reality. When I play a video game it's all fantasy that stops once the program ends. I don't go out and shoot people obviously since there haven't been any stories on me going on a homicidal rampage.

    When you say "media" is a problem, I will agree with you on one specific extent, and that being the news media, but only because of people like you. People don't take the time to explain to their children, let alone realize themselves, that people in the media sensationalize nonsense constantly and profit off of not just scaring people but frustrating them. Want proof? Look at the entire history of YOUR posts on here alone. In fact, I would invite everyone to do so. You yourself do nothing but spout-off constant fear about every subject under the sun, and impose your bias under the guise of authority as a "Doctor of 40 years". If you knew more than anyone else about psychology, why didn't you just give up your non-profitable family practice (as cited in your other posts), and become a well-compensated expert?

    When you don't guide a child with a proper upbringing, that will cause emotional and social problems. You have to teach them right from wrong as much as you do fantasy from reality, and play from work. Johnny Cash sang about shooting a man in Reno, "Just to watch him die...", and no one ever complained. And I seriously doubt Washoe county homicide rates ever spiked because of it. Far more violent than any video game is the Bible itself. Yet we don't call for access to it to be removed from kids. Hey, we even raise kids on it and base entire educational institutions around it. And let me tell you, it's a VERY violent and INFLUENTIAL piece of literature.

    Just because you don't understand or even like something doesn't automatically mean that it's bad for everyone.

  12. Did Nancy Lanza play Grand Theft Auto? She's the one who bought the guns. Was she unstable?