April/May 2003 (v5 i6)
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New game encourages kiddie mischief
Rockstar Games to introduce Petty Theft for children's market
by Elizabeth Barksdale, Staff Writer

Responding to protests from parents and others concerned with the scenarios in the popular Playstation 2 game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Rockstar Games has released a related game designed for younger players. Petty Theft: Delinquent Suburbia has received a Kids (K) rating because it involves criminal situations more suitable for seven- to twelve-year-olds. "Grand Theft Auto is for players who know that the game is fantasy," explains Phil Jorgeson, a designer for Rockstar Games. "While not intended for children, it provides excellent entertainment for its audience: serious, mature, adult gamers. And I mean, really, it's not like most of them could ever tear themselves away from their game system long enough to venture into the outside world to try to steal a car anyway. Petty Theft, on the other hand, relates directly to the lives of younger players and allows them to virtually progress through acts of angsty pre-teen rebellion to committing minor misdemeanors."

The story line of Petty Theft involves a junior high crime ring led by a character named Bobby Malone, a thirteen-year-old thug with a bad attitude and a lot of temporary tattoos. Players choose a character and progress through a series of missions to rise in Malone's ranks and possibly take over the whole operation, becoming a crime mogul who has the power to command his peers and to control an empire worth almost a $100 of stolen lunch money.

Players rack up points by completing missions such as shoplifting donuts, loitering outside convenience stores, and jaywalking across busy intersections. "I passed the first couple levels really quick," says eleven-year-old Jeremy Loocherp, a veteran gamer. "There was like this sign on someone's lawn, right? That said "Don't Walk on the Grass"? And so you walk around on the grass for a while and hide behind these bushes if any grown-up comes around. If they catch you, they make you mow the lawn, which takes forever and sucks. But if you walk around on the grass long enough, you pass the level and it just kind of ends. Other parts are cooler though. Like there's this one mission where you get to roll somebody's house, then smoke cigarettes behind the high school."

Instead of the life meter used in Grand Theft Auto and many other popular video games that's used to measure a character's level of health or power, Petty Theft uses a self-esteem meter. If their self-esteem becomes too low, the characters lose power and are more likely to suffer fatal wedgie injuries from other characters. To recharge their self-esteem, players must locate a junior high school, find a member of the opposite sex to engage in a public display of affection (PDA) without being caught. "That part's harder than it sounds," says Loocherp. "You get more self-esteem if the girl is really hot and stuff, but sometimes you try to hug a really popular girl or snap her, you know, bra strap, and she gets mad, then her friends start calling you a loser and pushing you around. Then the vice principal comes and it's hard to outrun that butthead. If you get stuck with D-Hall, it's usually game over."

Reviewers have praised Petty Theft's technical aspects, especially game designers' attention to detail. "The food fight level in the school cafeteria is really a work of art," writes Bob Parkwencher, a reviewer for Unhealthy Playstation Fixiation magazine. "The designers manage to capture the various splatter patterns of tapioca pudding accurately, and that's not easy."
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