Grand Theft Auto is one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. While the first two games were moderate hits, the release of Grand Theft Auto III for PlayStation 2 was a monumental success and changed the video game industry on a fundamental level.
People couldn’t believe not only what they were seeing, but also what they could do and get away with doing within the game. Vice City and San Andreas only continued to push those boundaries before the series was reimagined for next-generation platforms with Grand Theft Auto IV. However, this success obviously comes with its own price.
It’s only natural that a franchise this violent and this popular would be no stranger to controversy. There have been so many hidden secrets involving this series that even die-hard fans of the games haven’t been able to catch all of them.
In a history spanning over twenty years, Grand Theft Auto has suffered backlash from lawyers and celebrities, has been recalled in numerous countries, and even blamed for real-life murders and crime sprees. For this list, we’re counting all of that and more.
Here are the 16 Dark Secrets About Grand Theft Auto That Even Die-Hard Fans Don't Know About.
16 Grand Theft Auto III Was Forced to Make Changes Following 9/11
Grand Theft Auto III was the game that truly put this franchise on the map and cemented it as a part of mainstream culture. However, even before the controversies it suffered post-release, it was forced to undergo extensive changes following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001.
A mission in the game that involved terrorists was trimmed in order to remove the word. The flight path of one plane was also changed so that it did not appear to fly into or behind a skyscraper.
There was also an effort taken to make Liberty City stand out as its own city rather than an obvious copy of New York. However, Rockstar executive Dan Houser has said that the changes were not as extreme as they were made out to be.
“Some people believe we removed an entire strand of missions because they found some reference in the code to a character called Darkel, but he had been cut months before [the release] and the missions were never completed."
15 Hip Hop Artist Daz Dillinger Claimed a Song Was Used Without His Permission
Producer/rapper/member of Tha Dogg Pound Daz Dillinger filed a cease-and-desist letter against Rockstar Games in the wake of Grand Theft Auto V, as he noticed that the game used samples of his music without his permission; in particular, the songs “C-Walk” and “Nothin’ But the Cavi Hit.”
The game studio had apparently approached him to use his music, but offered him roughly $4,000, a sum that Dillinger claimed “offensively low.” Dillinger demanded a better offer or demanded that Take-Two and Rockstar recall and destroy all unsold copies of the game.
By the point this cease-and-desist went into effect, of course, Grand Theft Auto V had already sold more than 15 million copies. The chances of them willingly accepting a recall were obviously slim, and clearly that’s not what wound up happening.
Eventually, the matter was settled and the game continued to be a record-breaking success, though this would not be the last controversy surrounding its release. At the same time as Dillinger’s cease-and-desist, two gamers also sued Rockstar over false advertising for the game’s online multiplayer component with far less successful results.
14 Grand Theft Auto V Was Recalled in Australia Due to Depictions of Violence Against Women
Grand Theft Auto games have always had a rocky relationship with Australia’s slightly stricter regulations on video game content, made obvious by the fact that GTA V was pulled from shelves in Australian Targets because of the game’s depiction of violence against women.
After a “significant level of concern” about the content and subject matter of the game, it was pulled from all of Target’s roughly 300 Australian stores. Concerns mainly seemed to stem from the fact that players were able to attack women and kill them, although it’s often pointed out that the game allows players to attack anyone, with more reasonable complaints being leveled at the fact that women barely factor into the narrative of Grand Theft Auto V at all.
Target’s Jim Cooper did say that he believed the Grand Theft Auto to be “appropriate products to sell to adult customers” but the backlash against this game in particular made them realize that it was not a product that customers wanted them to sell.
13 Rockstar Confirmed No Censored Version of Grand Theft Auto IV, Then Released One
After the backlash against Grand Theft Auto III in Australia, Rockstar promised in February of 2008 that the Australian release of Grand Theft Auto IV would be completely uncensored and would not be edited in any way, shape or form.
Later on, they went back on their initial statement and said that some features would be edited after all. The censored version of the game was produced in order to comply with the Australian classification system.
The edited features included the inability to select a service when hiring a prostitute and several restricted camera angles, as well as removing the pools of blood that typically form after a person has been killed. New Zealand also wound up receiving an identical censored version of the game, although the unedited version was eventually cleared for sale in the country.
12 A Teenager in Thailand Killed a Taxi Driver In Attempt to Recreate a Scene from Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV was outright banned in Thailand in 2008 after a disturbing copycat murder. A high school student was arrested after killing a cab driver and attempting to recreate one of the scenes from the game.
The boy admitted that killing someone was much harder in real life than in a video game, but also noted that he had initially only planned to rob the driver. After the incident, Thai police officially banned the game on grounds of obscene content.
Authorities noted that “the police are empowered to immediately arrest shopkeepers if they find any GTA [Grand Theft Auto] games on sale.” Selling the game illegally could find retailers facing up to three years in prison.
Officials were convinced that, by banning the game, they were stopping a larger threat. “This time-bomb has already exploded and the situation could get worse. Today it is a cab driver, but tomorrow it could be a video game shop owner.”
11 Vice City Was Blamed for New Mexico Teen Murdering His Entire Family
In 2004, a 14-year-old boy by the name of Cody Posey shot and killed his entire family at their farm in New Mexico. Posey did not blame the game for his own actions, but cited years of abuse at the hands of his father for the reason why he did what he did.
Relative Verlin Posey, acting on behalf of the estate of Cody’s father, filed a $600 million lawsuit claiming that the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was directly responsible for the crime, as it was a game that Cody often played. He was represented by a lawyer named Jack Thompson.
Over the years, Jack Thompson has been one of the most outspoken voices— if not the most outspoken voice— against the Grand Theft Auto franchise. He has repeatedly blamed the games for real-life violence, has tried to get the games removed from stores, and even attempted to have the developers jailed.
This particular lawsuit directly stated that, if Posey had not been so obsessed with the game, “he would not have killed.”
10 Lindsay Lohan Filed a Lawsuit Claiming Her Likeness Was Used Without Her Permission
Mean Girls star Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit claiming that the game used her likeness without her permission. The star’s lawsuit noted that the character of Lacey Jonas was an obvious reference to Lohan.
There are missions in which players need to rescue her from a swarm of paparazzi and a mission at a hotel that resembles Chateau Marmont, where Lohan lived at one point, strongly hint at this connection. Grand Theft Auto parent company Take-Two insisted that the lawsuit was “filed for publicity purposes” and that there was no real truth to it.
Despite this, the lawsuit moved forward in 2016. Lohan’s legal team brought in several photos that they claimed were used as reference, including moments in the game that they claimed mimicked or parodied events from Lohan’s own life.
However, the suit claimed that it was not simply parody (which would be protected under the 1st Amendment) because it was done with the intent of exploiting her image, noting that the character was used extensively in marketing. Eventually, the case was thrown out.
9 Florida Lawyer Jack Thompson Repeatedly Tried to Stop Release of the Games
As already mentioned, Jack Thompson is an extremely outspoken advocate against the Grand Theft Auto series. Thompson repeatedly attacked the franchise and blamed it for several instances of real-life violence.
In 2003, he blamed Grand Theft Auto III for two separate instances of homicide. In 2005, he tried the same thing in Alabama with a case that was eventually thrown out of court and led to Thompson being forbid from practicing law within the state. The same year, he set up Best Buy with a makeshift sting operation, videotaping the store selling a copy of Vice City to his ten-year-old son.
In 2007, Thompson was disbarred by the Supreme Court of Florida. Ironically, he had nearly as many problems with the Florida Bar as the Grand Theft Auto franchise, claiming it was “unconstitutional” and that it supported a “pro-gay” and “liberal” agenda. In 2009, he declared his intention to practice law again, daring the Florida Bar to stop him.
8 NYC Mayor Bloomberg Spoke Out Against Use of the City for the Backdrop of Grand Theft Auto IV
In 2008, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed that he was appalled by the game’s choice of city. He stated that “setting Grand Theft Auto in the safest big city in America would be like setting Halo in Disneyland.”
In addition, Jason Post— a spokesperson for the mayor— commented that “the mayor does not support any video game where you earn points for injuring or killing police officers.” Ironically, of course, Grand Theft Auto IV simply returns the setting to Liberty City, which had been used as the backdrop in Grand Theft Auto III.
Previously to this, Bloomberg had respected Take-Two as a New York-based company and even complimented their decision to alter offensive content in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City—a game that shifted away from the faux New York Liberty City to riff on Miami instead.
Bloomberg’s view on the game’s setting was criticized as a double standard, with gamers pointing out that the argument was not used for violent films or television shows.
7 Grand Theft Auto III Was Banned in Australia Because It Wasn’t Submitted to the Censorship Board
Australia has had a rocky history with the Grand Theft Auto games. Both Grand Theft Auto IV and V came under heavy fire from the country’s stricter censorship board, but the trouble really began with Grand Theft Auto III.
The game was initially released uncut, but was later banned due to its sexual violence involving prostitutes. Initially, the game was not submitted to the censorship board, which means the developers were likely aware that it would not pass. Once the game was banned, all sales of it were deemed illegal.
All remaining copies were pulled from retail at that point until Rockstar and Take-Two would release a censored version to remove some of the more explicit and hard-hitting violence from the game. Eventually, a censored version was released. At a later point, the PC version of the game was released uncut.
6 Common Sense Media Issued a Public Warning Against Grand Theft Auto IV’s Male Nudity
Even after the insane amount of backlash surrounding Grand Theft Auto IV, the first DLC expansion only furthered the controversy. Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and the Damned, an episodic continuation of Grand Theft Auto IV, was condemned by Common Sense Media for a sequence featuring male nudity. The parents group claimed that the appearance of male nudity made this game “more controversial than its predecessors.”
They also added that “the game is laden with mature content and should be kept away— far away— from children.” Rockstar president Dan Houser noted that the moment was clearly played for comedy and thought that the intention was clear, hoping that the fans would recognize that and not take it seriously.
Still, the parents group took issue with the brief instance of male nudity, considering it a step too far, even though the game series had featured its share of female nudity by that point.
5 MADD Took A Stand Against Grand Theft Auto IV’s Depiction of Drunk Driving
One of the additions to Grand Theft Auto IV was the ability to let players become intoxicated, enter cars, and even attempt to drive. Mothers Against Drunk Driving obviously took an issue with this feature.
The nonprofit organization stated that it was extremely disappointed that players could get behind the wheel in a (virtual) drunk state. “Drunk driving is not a game, it is not a joke,” said MADD.
They requested the rating be changed from the 17+ Mature rating to the 18+ Adults Only rating, which would effectively remove the game from almost all retailers. They even asked Take-Two and Rockstar to halt distribution of the game altogether out of respect for victims of drunk driving.
Rockstar later issued a statement in which they said, “we have a great deal of respect for MADD's mission, but we believe the mature audience for Grand Theft Auto IV is more than sophisticated enough to understand the game's content.”
4 The Grand Theft Auto Franchise Was Blamed for a UK Teen’s Sexual Assault Charges
In 2008, 19-year-old Ryan Chinnery admitted to two instances of sexual assault and was accused of even more. He had apparently gone out late at night, stalking the streets for vulnerable women that he would simply attempt to force himself on.
When arrested, it was discovered that he had a large amount of alcohol and pot in his system. The focus of the court, however, was on the fact that Chinnery played the Grand Theft Auto games. This case is notable for being one of the few times that the court actually agreed with allegations of the game directly causing violent behavior.
The judge noted that the games “seem to show scant respect for women” and added that “it cannot have helped him in all the circumstances of this case.” Both of the offences required “planning and premeditation” on Chinnery’s part, ruled the judge, who also claimed that Chinnery’s “unhealthy addiction” to pornography was a factor in the young man’s crime.
3 An Eight-Year-Old Boy in Louisiana Killed His Grandmother After Playing Grand Theft Auto IV
In 2013, 87-year-old Marie Smothers was shot and killed by her grandson after the boy played Grand Theft Auto IV. According to the local sheriff’s department, “by accounts of relatives of the victim, as well as friends of the family, the victim and the juvenile had a normal, loving, relationship and even shared the same bedroom.”
While the boy initially told investigators that he did not know what he was doing and that he shot her unintentionally, authorities believed that the crime had to be intentional.
Smothers was shot in the back of the head while watching television. The boy was not charged for the crime as, under Louisiana law, any child under 10 is exempt from criminal responsibility.
Neighbors were quick to point out how the child even had such easy access to the gun, which belonged to Smothers, in the first place. The sheriff’s department, instead, pointed a finger at Grand Theft Auto, saying that the game had a history of “encouraging violence.”
2 Miami Transit Pulled Ads for Grand Theft Auto IV
In yet another attempt from former attorney Jack Thompson to combat the franchise, Miami transit removed ads for Grand Theft Auto IV from local bus shelters. Thompson was, of course, unsatisfied with simply removing ads from Miami bus stations and viewed this as the first step in ensuring that all ads for the Grand Theft Auto games be pulled from all US transit systems.
Immediately after the ads were pulled, Thompson released a letter to the media, congratulating himself by saying “Jack Thompson has today persuaded the Miami-Dade Transit System to pull all advertisements for the Grand Theft Auto IV cop-killing simulation game from its bus stops.”
Thompson claimed that his reasoning lied in ESRB promises not to place ads for mature games in venues regularly seen by teens, but the ESRB commented back, saying that the largely adult population of mass transit riders would not be in violation with their own rules.
1 Idaho Teen Claimed Grand Theft Auto V Inspired Him to Kill His Brother & Father
In 2014, 14-year-old Eldon Samuel III was charged with killing his father and brother, shooting his father four times, then shooting his brother with a shotgun and attacking him with a machete.
Eldon said that his father Eldon Samuel, Jr. had been taking medication and was firing his gun in the air outside. After coming back inside, he got into an argument with Eldon, at which point the boy shot him in the chest. While insisting that his father was abusive, Eldon also admitted to an affinity for the Grand Theft Auto franchise.
He noted that he thought the character of Trevor was “kind of cool” and that he appreciated how the character would shoot people to relieve his own anger. Whatever reasoning for killing his father or whatever anger was directed there, Samuel’s reasoning for killing his brother was far less clear, as the two were not engaging in any kind of argument at the time.
Whatever the case, even so much as mentioning the Grand Theft Auto games in a case like this is enough to put another black mark on the franchise’s record and so the tragic double-murder turned into one of the series' most shocking controversies.
Can you think of any other dark secrets or events tied to the Grand Theft Auto franchise? Let us know in the comment section.