Joystick Jihad: Was Grand Theft Auto IV Inspired by Al-Qaida?

By Yassin Musharbash

Islamist forums are abuzz with a new theory: The designers of the video game Grand Theft Auto IV, they say, were inspired by killing methods developed by al-Qaida. But did the idea for the car bombs and suicide attacks in the game really come from Osama bin Laden?

Inspired by al-Qaida?
AP

Inspired by al-Qaida?

For user "Abd al-Wahhab," it is obvious. It isn't just military men all over the world who are studying the murderous methods employed by the terror group al-Qaida. Rather, designers, developers and graphic artists in the video game world, he argues, have realized that "al-Qaida is a killing school."

His theory: The wildly successful video game Grand Theft Auto IV was inspired by the tactics used by Osama bin Laden's terror group. It is an idea "Abd al-Wahhab" first posted on a large discussion forum used by cyber-jihadists and al-Qaida sympathizers not long ago. He is convinced of his theory, arguing that the video game "shows the power and effectiveness of these tactics."

His proof is built directly into the posting: five links to YouTube videos showing scenes out of Grand Theft Auto IV:

Video #1: An exploding bus

Video #2: A helicopter flies into a building

Video #3: A suicide attacker kills police

Video #4: A car bomb is detonated

Video #5: A suicide bomber in a café

They show, "Abd al-Wahhab" is convinced, that programmers have been watching al-Qaida closely.

Absurd as the theory may sound -- is such a thing really possible? SPIEGEL ONLINE gaming expert Christian Stöcker isn't convinced. "To say that al-Qaida influenced Grand Theft Auto IV is just as absurd as claiming that al-Qaida invented violence," he said.

He also doubts that programmers were subliminally inspired by the amount of media attention devoted to terrorism in recent years. "No way," Stöcker says. "You can carry out a suicide attack in almost every video game that contains bombs and grenades, simply by not running away."

Plus, he points out, such tactics are counter to the internal logic of GTA IV. It is, of course, possible to kill anyone and everyone who crosses your path in the game. But doing so puts you at a disadvantage. The character one plays in the game is certainly no Mr. Nice Guy. But the more people Nico -- as the main character is called -- kills, the more cops come after him.

Still, it would be naïve to say that the designers of GTA IV completely ignored the issue of terrorism in designing the game. Weazel News, the news radio station in the game (Motto: "Your station for sports, weather and the war on terror") serves to reflect our society's ongoing obsession with terrorism. In fact, you could say that the game's designers have incorporated terrorism-related paranoia into the game's atmosphere.

It isn't difficult to see Weazel News for what it is: a caricature of the US television channel Fox News. Which closes the circle: After all, al-Qaida sympathizers on the Web are also wont to see the terror group as being behind everything, everywhere -- even behind a simple video game.

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