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Are Drugs Acceptable in Video Games?

/ Jan 3rd, 2013 3 Comments

GTA: San Andreas
GTA: San Andreas

Like a poster for DARE.

The topic of drugs is a sensitive subject, and due to how accessible video games are to youth, drug use and references in video games are risqué. Grand Theft Auto allowed players to commit crimes. In GTA, players can choose to follow the story or go on a citywide rampage. The player can steal a car, run over every single pedestrian on the sidewalk while traveling to the destination of choice, and kill civilians and cops using everything from a katana to a minigun to a R/C vehicle. But there are a few more laws to break, so why not pick up a prostitute. Was that more expensive than anticipated? Just kill her and get the money back. All of this is made available to the player within the world of a Grand Theft Auto title; however, drugs are not. As a matter of fact, all of GTAs main characters have been against drug use. Drugs are not available to the player, but they play a huge part in the series as a whole, as most business in every title revolves around drugs in some way. There has not been a single GTA game where the plot was not heavily influenced by drugs. Drugs are mostly tied to the characters associated with the protagonist and missions that the player goes on. Within the story, the protagonist has accidentally gotten high on a few occasions. In GTA: San Andreas, CJ accidentally gets high while helping a companion burn down marijuana plants before the cops arrive, and his driving is affected. In Vice City Stories, Victor Vance accidentally gets high on cocaine after crashing in a van filled with cocaine, affecting his driving as well. In the words of Mr. Mackey, “Drugs are bad, mkay.” Even though Grand Theft Auto struck many as controversial and “too much”, Rockstar sticks to the theme that drugs are too bad for even a drug dealing serial killer. Perhaps they should consider adding in long term drug abuse recovery programs for players to enroll with inside the game.

[adsense250itp]On the other hand, Volition decided not to just allow the player to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol in their Saints Row games, but also to give them the freedom to do so when he/she chose. In the original Saints Row the player can literally smoke until they choke, as the player starts to cough when they have smoked too much. The player had access to a blunt, pipe, or bong to smoke out of. However, in Saints Row 2 the player can choose to smoke marijuana, but it can only be smoked in the form of a blunt, and in Saints Row The Third, the character wasn’t allowed to use marijuana at all. It’s not like Saints Row got any less ridiculous throughout the series. While everything else the player did began to get raunchier, Volition decided to decrease and eliminate the players’ use of drugs. It’s almost as if drugs are acceptable, but seen as taboo by developers.

Not all games have taken to the use of drugs in such a conservative or anti-drug manner. The 2005 spin-off of the 80s classic NARC was highly criticized about the protagonist’s ability to use drugs. It wasn’t simply the fact that drugs were available to the protagonist, it was how they were available. NARC ’05 brought back the mission of shutting down drug lords and their operations. This is legit, and taking down drug lords has always been the NARC objective, but there was one huge change. When a drug lord was taken down, the protagonist had the option to send the drugs in to the Evidence Room or keep the drugs to use or sell later on. Clearly this sparked a lot of controversy due to the fact that the game’s message seemed to state that drugs are OK in moderation. There are a number of drugs for the protagonist to confiscate and potentially use, each unique with its own benefit or disadvantage. In the original game, there was a strictly anti-drug message, but the 2005 re-imaging seemed to have a conflicting theme.

It is acceptable for video games to have drugs in them as long as is made understood to the consumer that the game has “drug usage” or “drug references.” With the recent changes in laws regarding the legality of marijuana, it will be interesting to see the role it plays in GTA V and future titles from other developers.

Chad Whitney

Chad Whitney

Social Media Maven and Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Chad is a contributor to Gaming Illustrated. A part of the Editorial team, The Chad has also dabbled in Reviews and Previews. The Chad has been a gamer since he became conscious of life. He has stated on more than one occasion that The Chad doesn't wear aluminum foil on his head, thus he is vulnerable to having his mind read. Mind reading can be a strain though, so FOLLOW The Chad @ChadNorris1390 on TWITTER.
Chad Whitney
Chad Whitney

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3 responses to “Are Drugs Acceptable in Video Games?”

  1. TheDevian says:


    There are “drugs” in almost every game, what do you think med packs are and what not? You mean “Illegal Drugs” but then again in fantasy games we have potions, and all manner of other things, scifi games too. Underdog got ‘Super’ by taking a magical super pill (and he wasn’t the only one). Even soda, containing caffeine and other chemicals, that’s a drug, sugar, chocolate, they all have an effect on the mind/body and would qualify as a drug. I mean we advertize more harmful (than booze and pot) drugs on TV every night, just look at the possible side effects of those things, they are down right dangerous!

    If you are going to complain about one kind of drug in a game, then you have to complain about all of them. Creating a video game is art, like any other (it just tends to take a team rather than one person), and art should not be censored. People should be able to make any kind of game they want to make, it’s harmful to the whole industry if people are censored and pushed into making games that only fit one kind of mold. If you don’t like that in your game, don’t buy it, simple as that.

  2. PoN says:

    Are parents capable of reading and understanding a rating system for games. I guess not cause topics like this keep coming up. maybe all children should just be raised by the state so we can avoid all this.

  3. PoN says:

    Also the recent changes in marijuana law only apply in 2 out of 50 states. so thats not really enough to change the gaming industry overall.

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