Wow, check out the mind-blowing hysteria surrounding Grand Theft Auto IV. I haven’t seen so many people worked up about a videogame since…well, since the last Grand Theft Auto game came out.
Remember the Hot Coffee hack which unlocked a sex minigame in GTA: San Andreas? It wasn’t accessible to everyone, only those who knew about the hack and made the effort to apply it, but the resulting media explosion guaranteed that everyone playing the game knew about the hack. The result was a tame and unerotic sex scene between your character and a girlfriend. Hardly what I’d call “porn” (no naughty bits were visible), but OH did the Protect Our Children folks go apeshit. They attacked the game’s violence too, but they paid far more attention to the hidden sex stuff. How American: demonize the sex, because blowing someone’s head off with a shotgun from your car window isn’t nearly as bad.
And, of course, the sleazebag lawyers slithered out from under their cow patties to help parents sue for whatever they could. Jack Thompson in particular made a lot of money ranting against the game company, but he also made himself out to be a complete crazy-eyed ass over the following years as he crusaded against anything that he personally found offensive. The man is a nutjob, no doubt about it.
So this week we see the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, and peoples’ heads are already exploding. The random violence, the sex, the booze, the crime syndicates and strip clubs — it’s the perfect recipe for a moral and ethical conniption, at least for those who take videogames with such deadly seriousness.
I tell ya, watching this kind of meltdown is becoming its own form of entertainment! The thing that really set people off this week was a certain YouTube video showing what kinds of sexual shenanigans you can get up to in GTA IV. Basically it amounts to (minimally clothed) lapdances in strip clubs and some at-a-distance views of a prostitute servicing you in your car. And, of course, the player chose to run over the prostitute with his car afterwards. Predictably, Jack Thompson is completely losing his shit over it:
Grand Theft Auto IV is the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio. We now have vaccines for that virus… The ‘vaccine’ that must be administered by the United States government to deal with this virtual virus of violence and sexual depravity is criminal prosecutions of those who have conspired to do this. If you doubt me, look at the aforementioned streaming audio/video. It will make you sick.
Or horny, if you’re part of the game’s target demographic. But really — polio? If you say so, drama queen.
In another fit of outrage, MADD has condemned the game for allowing players to drive drunk: “Drunk driving is a choice, a violent crime and it is also 100 percent preventable.” Well, no shit — it’s a choice and 100% preventable in the game, too. It’s not like you have to drive drunk to win. They’re also asking the game’s publisher to stop selling the game “out of respect for the millions of victims/survivors of drunk driving.” Have these people completely lost touch with reality? Then again, I’ve read that MADD has a tendency to demonize alcohol in general, not just drunk driving…
Last but not least, all this business about killing prostitutes in the game (business…get it? Ha?) has pissed off some feminists big time. This is where it gets interesting. Feministing.com posted this little rant:
…many young men are going to have their first (or already have, as this is not new content for GTA) sexual experiences via GTA and then they are going to kill the women they are sleeping with. The implications of that are mind-blowing.
It is no question that GTA is merely reflective of the bigger misogyny embedded in capitalist patriarchy, but the question is why is a game that depicts such violence towards women so popular? How is that acceptable? I think this has two consequences in the land of no child left behind where standardized educational systems have led to a cutback in the teaching of metacognition in elementary schools.
My, such adorably earnest analysis. I’m especially tickled by that “bigger misogyny embedded in capitalist patriarchy” bit. She must be proud of that one! What I want to know is how playing a videogame with simulated sex can be someone’s “first sexual experience.” It’s hardly the same as real intercourse, but…fight on, sister! (I’m not even sure the game has nudity in it. If it doesn’t, her statement is doubly stupid.) One blogger in particular slammed the feminist rant with amusing vigor: “Jesus Christ, if this is what degrees in gender studies hath wrought, polysyllabic bloggers still carping about the patriarchy, please fucking stop handing them out.” Ouch.
What fascinates me is how all these different groups are defining this game according to their own agenda. For instance, the feminist blogger took two unrelated aspects of the game — random sex and random violence — and combined them into a single anti-woman theme for the entire game simply because the player in the video chose to do one and then the other. To me this says more about the player than the game, how about you? The MADD folks did this as well: you can drink in the game, and you can drive in the game. So when a player gets drunk and starts driving around, suddenly this is a “drunk-driving game” and we all should be outraged? What the hell? I suppose that if the player kicks a cat, the PeTA folks will be screaming about banning this “animal cruelty game.”
Games like this have an incredibly detailed and interactive world. This allows the player the freedom to do many different things to innocent bystanders, some of which are shitty and cruel. But it’s not a requirement to do these in order to play the game. You don’t have to kill random bystanders, it’s all up to the player — and the player eventually pays a price for doing these things. One commenter finally brought all this up on the aforementioned Reverse Cowgirl blog‘s follow-up post:
As a 25 year old educated male feminist working for the police I find the amount of hysteria that these games raise amongst people absolutely ridiculous… It isn’t that the game is about killing prostitutes or visiting stripclubs that makes it appealing, it’s that those things are possible along with a plethora of other things including: becoming a vigilante, putting out fires, driving ambulance, driving taxi, repossessing vehicles, watching tv, surfing Rockstars own parody of the internet, flying a helicopter, jumping 2 buses on a motorcylce while tossing molotov cocktails at a hummer, play darts, play pool, go bowling, get drunk, rough up criminals, eat a hamburger, buy a nice suit, take a girlfriend out on the boardwalk, watch a really really lame cabaret and comedy club… the list goes on and on. Killing is an integeral game mechanic and sleeping with prostitutes is just window dressing, don’t construe the IGN video as some sort of overarching example of the game.
So what do I think about the sex stuff? Well, I watched the video in question and thought, “This is kind of lame. Is this supposed to be entertaining or arousing?” I showed it to Critter and he thought the same thing. Visiting strip clubs and picking up hookers for lame videogame sex isn’t my idea of fun…it looked boring and silly, and to me it’s easier to downplay since it’s just a tiny fraction of the overall game waiting for the player. Of course, we’re both gay queer homosexuals so naturally we’d find all this lame and boring, but we’d think the same thing if there were virtual guys gettin’ it on in the game. Yawn. But I do know for a fact that there a lot of douchebag straight guys playing this game who are very impressed by the sex bits. They’re practically drooling about it on the YouTube comments. It’s a game made by men, marketed at men, played by men. Really, what can you expect? The guys who are impressed by videogame boobies are the same ones who wear their baseball caps backwards, flip their collars up, and read Maxim magazine. Well, not all of them…some are hardcore gaming übernerds holed up in their aparments with their Playstations, eating chicken wings by the bucket and bickering online about which Commander Adama could kick the other’s ass. (God, I love generalizing about ze heteros…) Is the sex stuff demeaning? I think so, to a degree…but I find it more silly and lame than anything. However, I also find it a bit demeaning that you, a male character in the game, must steal and weasel and kill your way to the top of a crime syndicate. If we’re to take this game so seriously, why isn’t anyone complaining that this is a shitty way of setting good career goals for young males? (Maybe they are…I just can’t hear them through the shrieking about everything else.)
As for the violence, I’m a little torn. I’ve played a lot of videogames which involve shooting things, and I’ve found that the more realistic the graphics are, the more disturbing it is to me when killing a person in the game. They’re very lifelike nowadays, right down to the death-twitch. My geek side says, “Wow, look at those graphics!” but on another level I’m thinking, “Um, violence this realistic really necessary? T.V. and movies are bad enough…do people really need virtual participation in it?” But remember Carmageddon, where you race your car around and get points for running people down? (In some countries the people were changed to zombies with green blood because of the gore.) The graphics were awful and hardly realistic, but I had a blast mowing people down and the splattery sound effects made me giggle. It was just stupid fantasy, nothing more — and I haven’t run anyone over with the car yet. And let’s not forget The Simpsons: Hit & Run, which borrowed its gameplay directly from the GTA games, letting you drive around hitting people (if you choose) or beat/kick the shit out of them as you complete your tasks. It’s a lot of fun. Where was the outrage about that? I mean, “hit and run” is right there in the title! Somebody think of the friggin’ children!! Oh, that’s right…it’s a cartoon, so it’s not as bad. Gotta love that fairweather outrage.
In GTA IV, you can run people innocent down with your car, beat them up, chase them down the street and blow them away with your shotgun. The graphics look pretty damn good in the videos, so I sort of get that feeling: “Do we need this level of detail, do people enjoy this?” I know that the game gives you complete freedom of choice about these things, and yet there’s something about the realism that sort of puts me off. But I don’t want to ban it or keep others from enjoying it, because I’m not convinced that videogames make people into crazy murdering psychotics. (On the contrary, several studies have found that videogames can release stress, even the violent ones.) I’ve blasted zillions of people and creatures into bloody chunks in videogames, and again, I’ve never had the urge to kill in real life. So I’m not quite sure where this leaves me with the violence thing. Am I being wishy-washy about it? Regardless of how you feel about it, let’s not forget that if your kid is playing these games and you don’t approve…maybe you’d like to step in and do some parenting.
At any rate, it’s a fascinating debate to watch, because people are crazy passionate about it. What do y’all think about games like this? Does it offend you or do you blow it off as an unnecessary moral panic?