In 2006, Spike Lee dropped his new joint Inside Man. In this film, the only child hostage, a young black boy, is playing a overly violent video game that has the typical ‘black thug’ as the main character. I think that this is meant to be an indictment of the hugely popular 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
San Andreas begins with the main character Carl Johnson (CJ) coming back home to the state of San Andreas as a result of his mother being murdered. IGN.com, a leading video game website, lists San Andreas as a video game among “the best”, giving it a 9.9/10 rating for its portrayal of CJ’s story as he attempts to “save his family and to take control of the streets” (http://www.ign.com/games/grand-theft-auto-san-andreas/ps2-611957).
The young boy in Inside Man explains, “You get points for doing dirt. Like jacking a car or selling crack” (53:30). This is similar to San Andreas, where you can steal a car, earn money by killing the civilians that inhabit the game – with prostitutes holding a significant amount of petty cash – , or participate in the main story missions that often involve seizing gang territory for your Grove Street crew (I didn’t realize till a few years later that Samuel L. Jackson played the crooked Officer Tenpenny). San Andreas became so massive that even Dave Chappelle had to give CJ a shout out in his Chappelle’s Show Tupac rap.
Personally, I was probably around 10 years old when I first got to play San Andreas. If Spike Lee’s critique is that video games such as this will influence the behavior of black children, then I must respectfully disagree. This is mainly because, after playing the game, I was not thinking about ‘jacking’ my next-door neighbor’s car, and neither did any of the other black kids I knew who also played the game. But, when I think back to those numerous hours spent on the beloved Playstation 2, I also realize that CJ is the only black protagonist I can think of from a video game. So San Andreas may be a damning piece of evidence that video game companies have been misrepresenting African-Americans.