Trailer: Daniel Radcliffe in GTA Dramadoc The Gamechangers

The Gamechangers is a 90-minute factual drama goes behind the scenes of the hit video game Grand Theft Auto, arguably the greatest British coding success since Bletchley Park. It stars Daniel Radcliffe and Bill Paxton and is due to be broadcast on BBC2 on 15 September.

The Gamechangers tells the story of how British game designers pushed boundaries into uncharted territory, of how those fighting GTA became consumed by a battle which overwhelmed their lives, and how the subsequent fallout threatened to bring down leading players on both sides. This drama is for an adult audience and has not been authorised by the producers of Grand Theft Auto. Rather, it is based on court documents and interviews with many of those involved in the real events behind this compelling story.

“The nature of the clash between Sam Houser and Jack Thompson threw up so many interesting contemporary issues that it was irresistible as a project,” says writer James Woods. “Amongst others, the story is about the tension between freedom of speech and a need to protect kids; it’s about the clash between an older generation and the young; and about the difference between European attitudes to sex and violence as opposed to American ones. It’s a story that asks whether these violent video games can affect people’s minds and behaviour – and that’s not a question I think we’ve fully answered as a society.”

In Autumn 2013, the game’s latest iteration – GTA: V – earned $1bn in just three days, becoming the fastest-selling entertainment product in history. But this drama goes back to 2002, to tell the story of a three-year period of intense controversy in the history of this iconic game’s development. It happened when two passionate men on either side of a high-stakes cultural divide clashed. This conflict, between the creative genius behind the game and a self-styled crusader for American morality, escalated into a fight for the hearts, minds and freedoms of an entire gaming generation.

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By 2002, Sam Houser and his creative team have constructed for their fans a vast virtual world, teeming with a high-octane mix of criminal characters, lethal weapons and outrageous storylines. You can even shape and sculpt your avatar, crafting their character and appearance to your personal preference.

Within this fantasy landscape, some players choose to take part in a series of dangerous missions, while others become immersed in a sprawling criminal underworld, killing cops, hijacking cars and running over pedestrians. And it’s this that increasingly drives opposition to GTA. Because the game’s violent gameplay leads to fierce opposition: from parents worried about its impact on children; from politicians, fearful of its influence; and, above all, from campaigners fighting to prevent the game being played by minors.

At the vanguard of this crusade is the formidable Christian lawyer Jack Thompson, a man determined to do whatever he can to stop the relentless rise of the game and its influence on children.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Sam Houser, and Bill Paxton plays Jack Thompson. The drama is written by James Wood (Rev, Ambassadors) and directed by Owen Harris (Kill Your Friends, Black Mirror).

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