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Queens gets dangerous rap in new video game: Vallone

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Queens may be one of the stars in the hottest selling video game, but City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) said the borough should have no place in it.

"Grand Theft Auto IV" broke video game records, grossing more than a half billion dollars in sales in its first week, according to Take Two Interactive Software, the game's publisher.

The game, rated M for mature audiences 17 and up, was given positive reviews by game critics, but many parents groups and leaders, particularly those in New York where the game is implied to be set, blasted it for its glorification of urban crime.

"It crosses the line when it comes to violence," said the councilman, the City Council's Public Safety Committee chairman.

In the game, the player takes control of a character named Niko Bellic, a Serbian immigrant who comes to Liberty City in search of the American dream and gets involved in underground crime. The character is given missions by crime lords, including selling heroin, stealing cars and acting as a hitman.

Bellic has the ability to roam freely throughout the city, made up of fictionalized versions of Manhattan, (Algonquin), Brooklyn (Broker), the Bronx (Bohan), eastern New Jersey (Alderney) and Queens (Dukes). Due to the computing power of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles, Liberty City looks almost photorealistic, sporting several landmarks such as the Unisphere and John F. Kennedy International Airport, named Francis International Airport in the game.

Vallone said this game sends the wrong message to gamers across the world, since overall crime has dropped in the last couple of years especially auto theft, which has plummeted 90 percent since 1986, according to the councilman.

"If the game were based in New York City today, it would have two levels," he said. "One where you steal a car and another where you go to jail."

A spokeswoman from Take Two Interactive did not return calls for comment before press time.

Vallone said there is no way to stop publishers from making such violent games due to the First Amendment, but he would support legislation, such as a bill in Congress that would help deter younger players from purchasing them from stores without proper identification.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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