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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Gamers stationed overseas may have to wait — but they won’t have to wait long — to get their hands on the new “Grand Theft Auto” video game.

“Grand Theft Auto IV,” the latest in the hugely popular and sometimes controversial video game series, is being released Tuesday in stores across the United States.

Game sales are expected to be huge, with some industry analysts predicting sales to top $400 million in the first week, according to an April 15 report in Variety.

In an e-mail, Robin Cloud, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service entertainment buyer, said AAFES will be carrying the game in its stores.

Cloud said the manufacturer held onto copies of “GTA IV” and shipped them to retailers on Thursday to make an early release less likely.

“Our AAFES (stateside) stores will have the game on the street date,” she said. “And overseas stores will receive it as soon as possible, but it will probably be a day or two later.”

Cloud added that shipments to overseas stores are being expedited by air from the AAFES distribution center in Atlanta.

The game, which has players assuming the role of Niko Bellic, a European immigrant dragged into the violent criminal underworld of the New York-esque Liberty City, will be available for both the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 video-game consoles with the standard version of the game costing $59.99.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, which gives a video game a rating based on its content, has given “Grand Theft Auto IV” an M — or Mature rating — for “Intense Violence, Blood, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Partial Nudity and Use of Drugs and Alcohol.” This rating means the game is intended for audiences 17 and older.

M-rated games are assigned an alert code, called a register prompt, to prevent sales to customers under the age of 17, Cloud said.

“A notice on the register screen will alert a central check-out store associate to check a customers [identification card] to be sure he or she is 17 or older,” she said.

Navy Exchanges worldwide have similar policies. Both retailers have signs posted throughout stores, stating sales policies to underage customers.

“AAFES uses a sign kit placed in video game sales areas that explains the [ESRB] system to our customers,” Cloud said.

Because the ESRB does not have the legal authority to implement or enforce a retailer’s sales policies, much of the responsibility of ensuring mature-rated games are kept out of the hands of children falls on parents.

Gamer and parent Staff Sgt. Mark Gonzalez said he’s a fan of military-themed shooter games and does not see anything wrong with violent content in games “as long as you remember it’s just a game.”

However, Gonzalez added, he makes sure to keep away inappropriate content from his son, even though he isn’t yet old enough to play video games.

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rush, a father of two boys who play video games, agreed.

“I don’t let my kids play anything too violent, mainly just cartoon games,” he said.

Rush said he thinks it’s important for a parent to be the one monitoring and controlling what types of content their children are being exposed to.

“It’s really important to me,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re not being a good parent.”

What those rating letters meanThe ESRB, or Entertainment Software Rating Board, operates the rating system for computer and video games.

Rating symbols

Early childhood: Titles rated EC (Early Childhood) have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Should contain no material parents would find inappropriate.Everyone: Titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.Everyone 10+: Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.Teen: Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.Mature: Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.Adults only: Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should be played only by persons 18 and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.Rating pending: Titles listed as RP (Rating Pending) have been submitted to the ESRB and await final rating. (This symbol appears only in advertising prior to a game’s release.)Source: Entertainment Software Rating Board (www.esrb.org)

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