Grand Theft Auto V – It’s been out for around a week or so now and I’m continually being impressed on the sheer scale of the game. Not only is the mapped playing area vast but it’s also incredibly detailed, with an amazing attention to detail in just about every respect.
As GTA has evolved over the years, Rockstar have invested more effort into the story to the point where I’m sure it alone would rival some Vinewood Hollywood blockbusters at the box office. Just about every aspect of the real world is represented and suitably parodied in the GTA universe from the storyline with it’s nods to The Sopranos, The Godfather and Scarface, businesses you encounter in the game (Lifehacker, Burger Shot, etc) to the cars on the road that mimic the performance and handling of their real world equivalents.
So with all this undeniable detail, is there still a need for such gratuitous violence and sexual content? The game (justifiably) comes with an 18 rating in the UK but when playing the game it does feel at times that GTA goes out of it’s way to offend and shock.
GTA V: Shock tactics?
It could be argued that a game where stealing cars is at it’s very core (it’s even in the title) that controversy is sure to follow and of course controversy makes the perfect bait for media outlets around the world. The thought that there’s no such thing as bad publicity has never been truer for GTA where the latest incarnation surpassed $1 billion in the first three days of sales.
But would these sales still exist if the game didn’t facilitate visiting computer generated strip clubs and the destruction of meth labs? I wonder how many parents have been asked for GTAV by their underage children, only to have to either explain why it’s not suitable or just give in and buy it. There’s a good discussion on this at Mumsnet
It could also be said that by having the 18 rating that it makes it more appealing to an audience of under-18s looking for every opportunity to challenge authority. A shrewd move to even more sales.
Sex and violence on TV is nothing new
With an 18 certificate you could argue that children shouldn’t be exposed to media such as GTA in the first place and rightly so. Many episodes of The Sopranos are explicit and I wouldn’t expect a parent to let their child watch that. The subject of parents that do let their children play 18-rated titles might be a topic for another day…
I think crucially the problem many GTA critics have is being able to distinguish an 18-rated game from a family friendly one, in the sense that the Xbox or Playstation medium somehow dilutes the adult nature of the content. So when Rockstar and other games publishers go above and beyond what is “normally” expected from an adult-themed game, pushing the limits of a violent and explicit title, a debate ensues.
Human nature and GTA V
With the online aspect of GTA (cunningly titled GTA Online) due to be launched in the next few days, it’s easy to make comparisons with MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) and virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life where players are pretty much left to their own devices, doing whatever they want in the online environment, but where GTA differs (aside from it not being an MMO) is that the lawlessness is ingrained from day one.
Other games start off innocent and it’s only through the player’s interactions with the world where the seedy or criminal aspects come into play. GTA actively encourages it. Yes it is possibly to interact with the world “nicely” but you will struggle to complete the majority of missions in the game – but you’re still in control of making your own decisions.
A necessary evil
It would be hard for a game like GTA to exist without the player negotiating the world it’s set in and unfortunately, like the real world, relying on public transport isn’t going to cut it. Owning a car and sticking to speed limits, observing stop signals and traffic rules would completely transform the feel of the game and take a lot of the enjoyment out when simply getting from A-to-B becomes a chore. So to get things moving, the player needs to “obtain” a vehicle and taking without consent is an easy solution. As in the real world, this process is illegal and the player can expect to feel the full weight of the law. Add in a few colourful words and a firearm or two and you’re on the slippery slope to that 18 certificate.
So, in answer to my earlier question “is there still a need for such gratuitous violence and sexual content?” I think yes and no applies here: No, there’s never a need but ultimately yes in the grand scheme of things GTA as a game would not have the successes it’s had without it.
Personally, my enjoyment of GTA is as much exploring the world and taking in all that detail as it is playing through the story but if the game needs the sex, drugs and violence to get to where it is today then so be it.