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Everything You Need to Know About Grand Theft Auto

Get the low-down on this action-packed, violent role-playing game.

Topics: Gaming Violence

Sex, violence, and drugs: Grand Theft Auto has it all. This role-playing game includes over a dozen titles and is one of the most controversial -- and popular -- series on the market. Its stories revolve around a criminal underworld (such as the mafia), and players are cast in the role of gang members who must commit brutal crimes to rise through the ranks. These acts are carried out without remorse or consequences -- which is why Common Sense Media recommends GTA only for adults. 

Now that many of the games have been released in app form, the price of entry -- compared with console versions -- is a lot more accessible for young players. If your kid is interested in GTA, read the full Common Sense review.

Grand Theft Auto V, Platforms: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360 (2013)
From a technical and design perspective, Grand Theft Auto V is excellent. But its mature themes -- players kill not only fellow gangsters but also police officers and innocent civilians -- make it solely for those with a clear understanding of dark fantasy.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire (2013)
This version is a direct recreation of the console hit of the same name, minus some of the content and features. It's still plenty violent, though. Players lead a life of crime, shoot police officers (as well as civilians and drug dealers), drink and drive, and have sex with prostitutes.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android (2012)
This mobile version of the console hit is slightly less expansive but just as violent as the original. The game glamorizes the drug trade and is loaded with violence, sex, and obscenities. For adults, it's a very well-made action game that deserves the praise it has received for being "interactive cinema."

Grand Theft Auto III, Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android (2011)
The original GTA III makes a smooth transition to the iOS world -- although little has changed beyond the control scheme. You're still shooting indiscriminately and behaving lawlessly. Even the songs on the radio are filled with expletives.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad (2010)
This app game depicts the world of organized crime and lets you join in the unlawfulness. Drugs and illegal acts are a regular part of the gameplay. There is also simulated sex with prostitutes.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars HD, Devices: iPad, (2010)
Violence, sex, and drugs are still alive and kicking in this app version. Positive role models -- as well as any kind of restraint -- are MIA in Chinatown Wars, where you murder others for hire and kill both civilians and police officers.

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony, Platforms: Xbox 360 (2009)
As with its predecessors, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony has lots of violence, blood, and killing (but no nudity). Adult fans of the game appreciate its memorable characters, irreverent dialogue, daring missions, and a fully interactive open world ripe for exploring.

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, Platforms: Xbox 360 (2009)
Just when you thought GTA couldn't get any more controversial, it throws in a shocker: full-frontal male nudity. Needless to say, the content is designed for mature gamers and for those who enjoy the virtual, visceral thrill offered by past GTA games.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Platforms: Nintendo DS (2009)
It might look cartoon-like, and it's available on a platform embraced by young children, but this game is just as violent as the console versions. Players use the DS touchscreen to make weapons, including a Molotov cocktail, or assemble a gun before assassinating an enemy with it.

Grand Theft Auto IV, Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (2008)
This is the first version of the series to feature high-definition graphics, making it even more immersive and realistic than previous versions. You can shoot at cops, drive into pedestrians, or request services from a prostitute and a lap dance from a stripper.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, Platforms: PSP (2006)
Though limited to the small screen of a portable system, this installment features all the violence, sex, drugs, obscenities, and criminal behavior of its console cousins. The PSP has the graphics, sound, and display capabilities to create an immersive experience -- and GTA: LCS puts those capabilities to work for a decidedly adult game.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, Platforms: PSP, PlayStation 2 (2006)
Despite the game's amazing depth and detail, Vice City Stories is another unabashedly adult game that revels in explicit content. Players are involved in contract killings, gang wars, torture, and drive-by shootings, and ethnic caricatures abound.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Platforms: Windows, Xbox (2004)
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas boasts an exceptional soundtrack, a well-written story line, and a slew of plot twists and other surprises. It also portrays just about every illegal act that a criminal could think of in full, living 3-D graphics, including murder, theft -- and much worse.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox (2002)
Although clever pop-culture references to the 1980s make this game creative and appealing, the graphic nature of its story line makes it shocking. Players pimp women, sell drugs, and strong-arm rivals with the help of shotguns, AK-47s, Molotov cocktails, and a deadly chain saw (among other weapons).

Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.