Grand Theft Auto V, one of the year's most eagerly awaited video games, released today for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A GameStop spokesperson told ABC News that more than 4,000 of its stores had midnight releases, with 1,500 of them going so far as to have a midnight launch party with prizes and food trucks.
Even before the latest game came out, the series had already sold more than 125 million total copies worldwide.
But other than being the latest entry in a successful video game series, what does GTAV bring to the table that's new? Players will see the improvements in the gameplay, like how a gun shoots or how a car handles. But perhaps the biggest change is that players are given not one but three characters to wreak havoc in the fictional city of Los Santos.
Jim Sterling, the reviews editor for video game news outlet Destructoid.com, said that developer Rockstar Games also put more emphasis on the playable characters themselves, rather than have them passively or stoically react to the world around them. "It's more like the supporting characters react to the heroes than the other way around," he said.
One of those characters, Trevor, will certainly elicit reactions from both the denizens of Los Santos and activists in the real world critical of video game violence. According to Sterling, he epitomizes every negative thing that anti-video game activists see in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. "He's a depraved, psychotic, omnisexual sociopath," he said. "I'll be surprised if he doesn't ruffle a few feathers."
Sterling sees it as reflective of pop culture today. "There is a real flavor of 'The Sopranos' or 'Mad Men' in this game," he said. "In American television, there are a lot of shady characters with questionable motivations." However, plenty of pop culture references are explicitly made within Los Santos itself. "There is also a meth cook named Chef that looks like Walter White from 'Breaking Bad,'" said Sterling.
Video games and other forms of media have come under criticism for being too violent and possibly contributing to shooting incidents across the country. Psychologists who specialize in the research of aggression said that it is a much more nuanced topic than a simple question of asking if video games cause violent behaviors.
The Media Violence Commission, a branch of the International Society for Research on Aggression, released a report in June 2012 that characterized the findings of more than 800 different studies on the link between violent media and violent behavior. According to the report, any commentator who says that there is no good evidence for the harmful effects of violent media or, conversely, that violent media is the primary cause of school shootings, does not have the science to back it up.
"Neither extreme is supported by the vast body of research in this domain," the report said in its concluding comments. "What is clear is that exposure to media violence is one risk factor for increased aggression in both the short run and the long run."
Rockstar Games did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.
Sterling acknowledged that video games can be violent, but he put the onus on the people buying the games. "The emphasis is on the responsibility of the parents to determine what's appropriate for their child," he said. "I would say, just be conscious of who you are buying the game for."