"Grand Theft Auto IV" is more than 2008's Game of the Year. It's also America's touchstone, the game that continues to inspire -- inspire the awe and ire of violent deadbeats, washed-up lawyers, dumb gangs, sexual predators and news-hungry journalists fearful of gaming's effects on the poor wee tots. And once in a while, it inspires a little bit of good, too.

In preparation for the "GTA IV: The Lost and Damned" download, there's no better time to take a look back on "GTA"'s considerable rap sheet. After reviewing the evidence, we believe you'll agree that "GTA" is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the world's most notorious video game.

Grand Theft Auto Inspired Crimes

    GRAND THEFT COWARDICE
    2004: Good news, your old PS2 copy of GTA can fight crime! Bad news is, it only works with feeble burglars. A Houston-reported story of a break-in while children were home was thwarted when the copy of Vice City they were enjoying yelled out "This is the police! You're surrounded!" This, it seems, was enough for those would-be thieves to turn tail and run. And then it became a TV story. So, while leaving your children alone at home playing a M-rated game may seem irresponsible, it does have one or two merits.

    GRAND THEFT GRAND THEFT AUTO, PART ONE
    2008: During the midnight launch of GTA IV, overexcited gamers crossed paths with the poor and desperate across the world, with middling but headline-grabbing results. In the UK, a passerby was stabbed while just passing by a line of people waiting for GTA IV. In less exciting news, someone else was robbed of their game in an unrelated mugging. Good news: the other 99.999 of the population returned home with their games just fine.

    GRAND THEFT GRAND THEFT AUTO, PART TWO: THE CAR CHASE
    2008: The best way to live out GTA IV for real is to steal something, and what better to nick than a copy of GTA IV itself? In San Diego, a Mira Mesa robbery of three copies of GTA IV-assisted with a little spray of mace-resulted in a cop-car chase that was probably a lot more exciting than the ones in Liberty City. But the final arrest, outside a Japanese BBQ restaurant, had to be a lot more humiliating.

    GRAND THEFT THAILAND
    2008: In Bangkok, people don't own games: they just pay to play them in arcades. According to Polwat Chino, his lack of funds-and inability to play more of the game-drove him to attack a taxi driver, murdering him in the process. Thai police claimed he "wanted to find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game." It turns out, the murdering part was easy. The driving a car part, for Mr. Chino, was hard. As he ran aground in a chase and was arrested, he said, "I needed money to play the game every day. My parents give me only 100 baht a day, which is not enough. I am also fed up with them fighting. They are civil servants and do not make good money." Since then, the game was removed from arcades, at least in Thailand.

    HOOKER-BEATERS LIKE TO BLAME THE JOYSTICK, TOO
    2008: Ryan Chinnery, Kent, England native and resident misogynist/sexual deviant, went looking for local prostitutes around his town of Ashford. When he found them, he didn't employ them-he simply beat them up, in a way he claimed was based on the GTA games. While it's true that you can attack a streetwalker in the Grand Theft Auto series, it's not generally the best thing you can do in the game. And, last we checked, pummeling helpless sex workers on cold English streets doesn't earn any achievements. Perhaps if poor Ryan had spent more time talking to actual women instead of pounding his D-pad, he wouldn't have gotten his fantasies and realities confused.

    THE LONG ISLAND GANG THAT LOVED NIKO BELLIC:
    2008: Outside a New Hyde Park Stop-N-Shop, teenagers who claimed they were imitating Rockstar's latest game laid a vicious beating on innocent old people using sticks and bats they found in a shed. Indeed, it was just like Grand Theft Auto IV-if Grand Theft Auto IV mainly involved running around a supermarket parking lot with a broomstick. Once their spree descended to stealing cigarettes from a woman driving a BMW, someone should have properly embarrassed. Niko Bellic, should he have seen this, would have smacked them with a broomstick right back.

    MOLOTOVS: IT'S IN THE GAME
    2008: Hotlanta, indeed. Three ATL-area teens were arrested after blowing up Hondas with homemade Molotov cocktails made out of Sprite bottles from Wal-Mart. The 15- and 16-year-olds' response: "GTA taught me how." Molotov cocktails are in Grand Theft Auto, but last we checked, no one's telling you how to buy the equipment. We just pressed the right trigger button. But considering the police tracked down the culprits thanks to Wal-Mart receipts and surveillance tape, it's clear they did not, however, learn the art of stealth from GTA.

    JACK THOMPSON'S GAMING CRUSADE
    2005: One lawyer became so obsessed with Grand Theft Auto's damage to America's values that his face became a dart board for gamers everywhere. Jack Thompson tried to pin car thief-committed murders on GTA and the entertainment industry, pointing to Devin Moore, an 18-year-old who killed police officers in 2003, whose family claimed Grand Theft Auto "trained" him to kill. Last we checked, the average PS2 controller was about as effective a murder simulator as one of those novelty switchblade combs.

    JACK THOMPSON STRIKES AGAIN
    2006: More stupidity from Thompson, as he files a lawsuit claiming a New Mexico teen killed his family in 2004 because GTA "taught him to use a gun." While his crime, which involved shooting his father, stepmother and stepsister, then burying them in a manure pile on a ranch owned by TV anchor Sam Donaldson, doesn't sound like something we've encountered in the games so far, Thompson was convinced otherwise. Even though Cody Posey, the offending teenager, lived on a ranch, a place where animals are sometimes shot when their legs are broken, Thompson remained convinced that GTA was the death-trainer. And thus, once again, sociopaths were defended by morons wielding game boxes.

    JACK THOMPSON: GRAND THEFT DISBARRED
    See, video games do cause violence. After rampantly crusading for years against video games in general (and Grand Theft Auto in particular), anti-gaming crusader Jack Thompson was summarily disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for his crimes against the legal system, including the distribution of sexual materials and harassing clients. Maybe Grand Theft Auto made him do it. He referred to his disbarment with the email header "Now The Fun Begins." You bet it does-after that $43,675 in fines is paid back to the court.