IF THERE was one thing I was certain of six weeks ago, it was that Grand Theft Auto V would not be wangling its way into my house in the way so many other games I refused to countenance had done before it.
Having tutted my way through several features on gratuitous violence in the GTA series, and having once walked into a room where it was being played to find the image of a dead prostitute splayed across the screen, I girded myself to withstand the onslaught of whining and emotional blackmail I knew was heading my way, courtesy of my eldest. I would be on guard against any good deeds aimed at buttering me up. No sob story about being the only one in his year group not to own it would weaken my defences. But if there’s one thing I should have learned by now, it’s that I am no match for a 16-year-old who is hell-bent on getting his own way.
Like all major conflicts, this one began with a phoney war, a half-hearted exchange of fire that was never going to gain us any ground, but which lulled me into a sense of false security. Whenever the pair of us passed each other in the hall, he would ask: “Have you changed your mind about GTA V?” and I would answer, “No, and I’m not going to,” with a smug smile which was supposed to suggest invincibility, but I suspect merely betrayed the extent to which I had underestimated my opponent.
By week two, his single-minded pursuit of his goal was getting a bit wearing, but so long as I kept my nerve, I was confident I could outlast him. The following week, however, he changed tack, swapping nagging for rhetoric and humour. Knowing I’m a sucker for a well-presented argument, he also downloaded a meme containing three images. The first showed a computer game set in a courtroom, with the words, “this doesn’t make me a lawyer”, the next showed a computer game involving an operation, with the words: “this doesn’t make me a surgeon” and the last showed a shooting game with the words, “so why would this make me a murderer?” OK, he might have won the battle, but he’d not yet won the war.
In week four, however, he pulled a masterstroke. Quoting from the pages of this very newspaper – thank you so much, Martyn McLaughlin – he informed me that GTA V was not the unremitting orgy of destruction I claimed, but a “dark Scots vision of the American way of life” and a “satirical recreation of southern California”. Well, I couldn’t argue with that, even if the bit where you get to pull out a man’s teeth with a pair of pliers seems to fit my interpretation of the game better than his.
The last week it was pretty much a done deal as we sat and read the witty captions which accompanied a preview of the investment opportunities and leisure activities available in the fictional Los Santos. I could have told him he had me at “Bawsaq” (the GTA V name for the US stock exchange), but I ploughed on through the description of hiking as “the sport preferred by lonely psychopaths and aspiring sexual offenders” and tennis as “an obsession of angry, upper class swingers who like to sit in the stands, drink wine and complain about diversity”.
So I capitulated and let him pre-order the game online, but my humiliation was not yet complete because such was the scale of his disappointment when it did not arrive on launch-day, that I went out to buy it for him. Yes, in less time than Brian Clough spent managing Leeds United, I had gone from putting my foot down to frantically stalking the aisles of games stores, in search of what must surely have been the last unsold copy in the country.
Having successfully located it, I abandoned the self-styled Persuasion King to the front room, catching glimpses of him only when he emerged to fetch new batteries. I turned the radio up to drown out the stream of expletives and invested in an It’s The Wolf-style shepherd’s crook to yank back any younger children who sneaked down the corridor in the hopes of catching a piece of the action.
Hopefully the novelty will soon wear off. Until then, would I rather my son didn’t own it? Of course, I would. GTA V may be clever, with in-jokes about the ill-fated Edinburgh tram system, but there’s no question the universe it creates is cruel and misogynistic, with even male reviewers admitting women exist only to be rescued or mistreated. If, when he was toddler, I had pressed a fast-forward button and seen him holed up in a darkened room shooting virtual enemies at point-blank range, I would have handed him over to social services in the hopes they could do a better job. But I reckon parenting is as much about adaptability as asserting your authority. And things you imagine will be the end of the world turn out to be just part and parcel of the experience of raising a child. Either that is an epiphany or it’s a lie I’ve told myself to cope with the sense of failure.
Mostly, though, I try to see the glass as half full; when my eldest isn’t on his X-Box, he’s volunteering with the local Beavers group or off on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Also on the plus side, GTA V may bring out his sadistic streak and corrode his moral fibre, but the effort he invested in persuading me to let him have it has sharpened his debating skills. If he doesn’t get a job at Rockstar North, perhaps he’ll make a lawyer after all.