When It's OK to Play Grand Theft Auto With a Toddler

Posted by | April 28, 2015 | Opinion | 6 Comments
grand theft auto V

If you have ever outlawed a game at your house, chances are high that it was Grand Theft Auto. Some kids get exposed to the Grand Theft Auto games because their parents will buy them any game they want without doing any research beforehand. Other parents will ban their children outright from playing games like Grand Theft Auto. However, most kids are likely to go on YouTube or Twitch to watch others play the game. Like it or not, your children are probably going to be exposed to Grand Theft Auto one way or another. You might be surprised to hear that one friend of mine allows his 4-year-old daughter to play.

The first time I learned of this I was at Anthony’s (the father’s) birthday party. A bunch of us were gathered around his TV and consoles. We noticed that he owned a copy of Grand Theft Auto V. Then out of nowhere his daughter ran in asking “Daddy, can we play Man in the Car?” Seeing the confusion on everyone’s face, Anthony explained that Man in The Car was his daughter’s name for Grand Theft Auto V.

Obviously, the question on everyone’s lips was, “Do you let her play it?”

Anthony’s girlfriend answered, “She doesn’t play it properly, she just drives around and looks at the houses.” Several guests laughed at this. But it raised the question of whether it’s acceptable for a 4-year-old to play Grand Theft Auto in any capacity.

After most of the guests had left, I got to witness Anthony and his daughter play the game first hand. To start, Anthony muted the sound on the TV to protect his daughter from random blasts of profanity in the game. Then the game loaded, allowing the player to take the role of Michael. At that point, Anthony passed the controller to his daughter. At her age, it’s not possible for her to have a good level of control over the game, so when she gets stuck she passes the controller back to her dad and asks him to carry out a certain action.

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Tracey is the girl Anthony’s daughter was looking for.

The first thing she asked him to do was to find “the girl.” The girl she was referring to is Michael’s in-game daughter, Tracey. Anthony made Michael walk into Tracey’s bedroom to see if she was there (she’s sometimes in her room lying on the bed) but the room was vacant. Anthony told his daughter that Tracey must have gone out with her friends. Then his daughter asked if he could get in the car and find her. He walked out to the front of the house and got into one of Michael’s cars. At that point he passed the controller back to her so she could try driving.

Driving is probably the safest way to play this game without running into any content potentially harmful to a minor. However, there are instances when even driving can lead to violence. At one point, she crashed into someone’s car and the characters in the other car got out to fight. They pulled Michael from his vehicle, ready to start punching him. This is when Anthony stepped in to remove his daughter from the situation. He made Michael run back to the car and drive away like nothing happened. His daughter didn’t question it. She then asked to go back to the house to check if “the girl” was home yet.

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One of the things Anthony and his daughter do together is drive around the city.

This method of play went on for at least 30 minutes, after which Anthony’s girlfriend stepped in to say Anthony’s daughter needed to get ready for bed.

Even though that’s considered a quick session in a game such as Grand Theft Auto V, it was long enough. I sat amazed at how my friend was able to bond with his toddler over a violent video game such as Grand Theft Auto V, without initiating any of the content that makes the game mature. They had turned Grand Theft Auto V into a virtual dollhouse.

This made me think. Is it okay to allow your children to play a video game intended for adults, as long as you play with them and protect them from the content every step of the way?

I personally see no issue with how Anthony played the game with his daughter. As soon as any situation occurred that might affect her, he took control and made sure it didn’t happen. At his daughter’s age she’s easily entertained, to the point that the subtle mechanics that we rarely appreciate in Grand Theft Auto were enough to amuse her.

She enjoys playing Grand Theft Auto V more than she enjoys playing her Disney Princess game on the Wii, or LEGO Marvel Superheroes. The lifelike visuals of Grand Theft Auto give her a more realistic visual than her dollhouse toys. Toys don’t animate and interact with their surroundings like controlling a video game character does, so it’s understandable that she prefers the experience.

I don’t believe minors should be playing a game like Grand Theft Auto V on their own. But the game isn’t hers; it’s her father’s game and he’s choosing to share the experience with her in a limited capacity that she can appreciate.

There are times where Anthony will play with his daughter’s dollhouse to please her. But besides seeing his daughter happy, Anthony doesn’t really get much enjoyment out of playing with a Barbie. However, they can both fully enjoy playing a video game together, and it allows them to bond in a way they can’t with traditional toys.

There may come a day when Anthony’s daughter asks why there’s no sound or un-mutes the TV herself. Or maybe she’ll learn how to boot the console herself and play the game while he’s at work. And that is when good parenting will determine whether it was a good or bad idea to allow her to play the game in the first place.

Gary Swaby

About Gary Swaby

Gary hails from a town called Luton in the United Kingdom. Due to growing up with an illness, he attached himself to the most accessible mediums in his life. These happened to be gaming and information technology. After graduating from the University of Bedfordshire with a degree in Internet Computing, Gary has gone on to start up a number of websites and media projects. Today Gary enjoys nothing more than covering video games, creating e-books, and writing blog posts. Follow Gary on Twitter @GarySwaby.