In September of 2019, Roger started a series looking at the “rights and wrongs” of fanservice in anime. Today, we continue that tradition with Violence in Video Games. Today’s focus… Grand Theft Auto.
What’s the Deal?
All the way back in 1997, Grand Theft Auto was introduced. It went through a number of iterations over the years but hit a level of popularity (read: notoriety) somewhere around Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008. By the time Grand Theft Auto V came out in 2013, everyone was talking about it. I remember someone telling me you could do anything in the game. The example I was given stuck with me, involving a car being driven off a cliff to get to a plane for the sake of hijacking it. I never had the opportunity to see this in action. Rockstar Games admittedly release a visually stunning game but I admit I did not complete the game. I will also admit that it played very well and the gun play was some of the best I’d ever seen in a game. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to keep me holding on. But I am definitely in the minority here and I recognize that. I know how popular the game is! In fact, it might interest you to know it earned some $800 million in sales on its first day! Anyway, in game V, you get to play three characters in the single player mode. One was a bank robber, one was a drug dealer and one was a thug. If that doesn’t give you all you need to know, I wasn’t very far into the game when I saw their lives starting to fall apart. But I’m not looking at if the game was good or not but whether the violence could be justified.
Why it’s not ok
It’s rare for me to stop playing a game but the sheer amount of vulgarity and racial slurs throughout made me feel like I should only play after the rest of the family went to bed. I’m not a prude nor are my kids too young to hear it, but it just felt wrong. There was no need for it. It wasn’t advancing a story having it. Maybe it was too close to things that really happen – something that you don’t get with most video games. When I played it, it was summertime and I had the windows open but the language got so bad that I dropped the volume so no one started thinking I’d changed careers! The game revels in violence and while you can say the same about a lot of games, this one actually rewards it. Prostitution, drug deals, murder… it’s all on tap. And while getting pulled over might place the local constabulary under our skin, killing them is the farthest thing from most of our minds, but this game is only too happy to have the player killing cops. There’s a line between killing out of necessity and killing for fun or reward. There’s that point where a game crosses a line and as detailed as this game was, I can’t really justify the events depicted.
Why it’s ok
I was tempted to put a picture of tumbleweed here. I can’t say there’s really any justification for the level of violence in this game. Perhaps the one thing I can come up with is that if you have even a mild hankering to do some of the things GTA allows, you’re better off doing them in a game! It sure beats trying it in real life. Maybe it allows you to live out a fantasy without ever having to pick up a gun, jack a car, steal, beat, kill or rape. If it helps let off a little steam, sure… maybe that’s ok. There are probably better alternatives, but have at it.
So anyone who knows games probably anticipated that this was coming and I wanted to build a bit to get here. So how does this differ from the other games we’ve talked about? What about those other games we have yet to look at? It’s about intent. Violence in gaming may be an intrinsic part of the formula but if you look at it, it’s a numbers game, coming down to the basis of paper and pen games like Dungeons and Dragons. It’s about the hit points. When you’re fighting a villain in a game, gussy it up however you want with graphics and blood spatter, it still comes down to you bringing their numbers down before yours go down. Diablo, Batman, Assassin’s Creed… they all come down to a meter that shows the enemy’s hit points. I’ll delve deeper into this in the coming weeks.
Grand Theft Auto creates an experience. Rockstar Games did the same with Red Dead Redemption; they create an environment to experience what it would be like in a setting, and they do it well! It’s visually amazing, incredibly designed, and utterly over the top. As I said, as a stress relief, it might have merit, but I did not feel this was a battle of numbers. Beating the Joker’s henchmen into unconsciousness is a cartoonish joy ride with hit points and the idea that they are only ever knocked out. Even a more violent game like Assassin’s Creed threatens you with “desynchronization” if you kill an innocent bystander. GTA applauds the violence in a way that is uncomfortable and does nothing but give the uneducated ammunition to blame games when someone does something violent in real life.
I’m on record for saying that I do not believe games create monsters but I think even Rockstar Games should think twice with this series because it will give people ammo. “I can’t believe Billy Joe Jim Bob Dix killed that guy!” “Well, he was really into GTA!” My guess is Billy Joe Jim Bob Dix had some personal issues and the game was just ancillary to that but why give people cause to suspect?
No, it may be a great game with a good story, terrific graphics, and plenty of open world fun, but I could not justify this game. There’s got to be a limit. Sometimes, the price is too high. I don’t deny the skill that went in to crafting the game, and I’m not knocking those who love it. That said, it’s not for me and I think it’s a clear indicator of what game companies should avoid. ML