Grand Theft Auto V is finally upon the general public. After months of titbits and trailers, waiting and watching, the fifth instalment of the Grand Theft Auto franchise has been released. In the first week, early reports suggest that this game might ascend to the tenth best selling game ever and could potentially be the game of the year. To be considered the best in a year that included Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Final Fantasy XIV, Metal Gear Rising: Revengence and Last Of Us is no easy feat. And even if none of those games tickled your fancy GTA5 will still face stiff competition from upcoming games such as Beyond: Two Souls, Batman: Arkham Origins, Pokemon X & Y and Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Call of Duty may outsell Grand Theft Auto when all is said and done but it is doubtful that it will garner the same praise. Critics across the internet and other media have given GTA5 consistently high marks in all categories. There is no denying that the game is not only popular but well made. Rockstar haven’t made a franchise game and expected to sell on name alone but they have put in the effort to make the game enjoyable and entertaining. The same cannot be said for Call of Duty. Aside from graphics and setting, improvements to the COD franchise have been trivial and only polish what already exists. Grand Theft Auto 5 is innovative and different.
This wouldn’t be Grand Theft Auto if the game wasn’t surrounded by controversy. The original GTA caused concerns for simply allowing the player to take part in crimes such as robbing banks and doled out points for killing civilians. The controversy heated up with San Andreas and the now infamous Hot Coffee mod, which allowed players to take part in a crude and laughable simulation of sex. What was left for Rockstar after drugs, sex and violence? The answer is torture.
That is correct. Ramping the controversy up to eleven, Rockstar has given the player the opportunity to torture an informant during a mission. The characters themselves are being forced to torture the victim and yet, similarly to the original GTA games, players are given more points for using various torture methods and utilising different tools. Comparisons to Heavy Rain spring to mind, wherein the main character was coerced into cutting off his own finger to retrieve his son. In the scene the player could also choose the method, such as a blunt saw, and could decided whether or not to medicate the character beforehand.
The question is whether games have gone too far in allowing people to take an active part in self mutilation and torture. But it feels like a biased question. No one would be asking these questions if this were Homeland or 24. If this were a television show or a film then the viewer would accept this event as just part of the character development or the story arc. It may not make for enjoyable viewing but that isn’t the point. Not every scene on television is meant to be enjoyable, especially if you are trying to tell a story.
Recently on Breaking Bad, Walter White begged for his brother-in-law’s life, to no avail, before disclosing Jessie Pinkman’s location to the Nazi brotherhood, threatening his wife and child and almost abducting his daughter. If anyone were to come out and suggest that Breaking Bad was encouraging child abduction, they would be laughed at. And, realistically that is the same approach that gamers need to take to anyone who thinks that Grand Theft Auto is going to encourage torture.
The only reason that anyone would be upset with the torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V is because don’t hold video games to the same artistic standard as television and movies. That is a perception that needs to change, and not just because games were already legally defined as art over two years ago. Something about interactivity tends to make moral guardians and social groups degrade video games. In reality, the obligation to press a button to pour petrol over another person heightens the severity of the situation. When watching a TV programme, we might see a character do something despicable or morally reprehensible and feel sickened but it only makes us dislike the character, or at least question their motives. After the episode is over, the viewer can walk away guilt free. The same cannot be said for video games. Whatever happens in the game is on the player. Even if the character doesn’t feel bad, even if the victim isn’t real and the situation is fictional, every action is the result of your input.
Understandably, some people are concerned that children and young teenagers might not be able to separate fiction from reality. The kind of kids who kill in video games and see no immediate consequences and therefore think the same would be cool in real life. I might share their concerns if this game was marketed for kids, but it has a mature rating in the states and an 18 rating in most of Europe. So if your kid is younger than 17 and has a copy of Grand Theft Auto 5 then that’s on you as a parent and it’s up to you to make sure they know the difference between a video game and real life. Secondly, I’m of the mindset that serial killers don’t simply wake up one day and decide to murder people. These things grow and fester over time. A lot of murderers seem to play video games but that doesn’t make every player a potential killer.
Regardless of sales figures and critics approval, Grand Theft Auto V is art. It bridges the gap between story driven titles such as Last of Us or Beyond: Two Souls and mainstream action series’ such as Call of Duty and Max Payne. And if anyone says it isn’t art, just remember that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho shocked audiences at the time and Stanley Kubrick’s ultra-violent film A Clockwork Orange was once nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. Art isn’t always nice but is it always great.