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Gary Younge
'Kill the Haitians' game in the dock

A US federal court is about to decide whether a popular video game in which the players can kick a prostitute to death and get extra points for killing Haitians should be removed from the shelves.

Haitian civil rights groups brought the case to get the game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, taken out of circulation because it instructs players to "Kill the Haitians".

Rockstar Games, the New York company which has sold 11m copies of the award-winning video, in which an ex-convict is hired to recover stolen drug money in Miami, agreed to remove the line from future versions. Unimpressed, the Haitians took the makers to the state circuit court last week. On Tuesday, it was agreed to move the case to the federal court.

The game concerns a cocaine dealer, Tommy Vercetti, who loses money in a drug deal and has to get his drugs and his money back, but "the biker gangs, Cuban gangsters, and corrupt politicians stand in his way". Vercetti embarks on in a journey which involves stealing cars, and committing endless violent and murderous crimes.

"You're gonna find out who took our cocaine, and we're going to kill them," his boss says at the outset.

Among the many options in the game, a player can shoot people, beat them with baseball bats, carve them with a machete or run them over with stolen cars.

They may pick up a prostitute, have sex with her in the back of a stolen car, and then beat her to death. They can kill a policeman, steal his gun, and then shoot someone else with it. And of course, they can go after Haitians.

After the Haitian groups complained, the company released a statement saying: "We are aware of the hurt and anger in the Haitian community and have listened to the community's objections to statements made in the game.

"We trust that our actions and our formal apologies can help to mend our relationship with the Haitian community. Accordingly, we will remove the objectionable statements from future copies."

But Haitian advocacy groups say this does not go nearly far enough to stop demonstrations outside outlets selling the game across the country.

Fred Fabien, a spokesman for the Haitian Centres Council in Brooklyn, said: "We are demanding a total recall of the game, and we are holding a demonstration to show our outrage and to protest against the violence and racism in the game.

"It's an insult to us that they are not recalling the game. It's not [sufficient] to just revise the future production of the game."

Religious groups and the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, have also complained. Criticism has come Haiti itself.

"American society is racist, even though there are anti-racist laws," Lesly Voltaire, minister for Haitians living abroad, told the Miami Herald. "It's based on a formerly slave-owning society, which has left its mark, and there are people who think they can make money on that racism."

Daphne White, executive director of The Lion & Lamb Project, a organisation in Maryland dedicated to stopping "the marketing of violence to children", says the offer to Haitians only touches on the broader problem.

"You can still beat up anyone, a black person, a white person, a prostitute," she told the Boston Globe. "It's a drop in the bucket for that game."

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