Rockstar Games are used to media frenzy about new titles but the fifteenth edition to the Grand Theft Auto series GTA V has sparked unprecedented controversy due to the level of violence in the game. Rockstar’s latest title has become victim to some sensationalist commentary in response to GTA V being the quickest game to reach the £1bn mark and game critics giving the game near perfect scores.
Richard Hitchens rightly raised concerns about the effect of violent games on people in vulnerable mental states drawing upon instances such as the Sandy Hook Massacre. It would however, be wrong to imply that violent video games are responsible for violence in real life because no statistics exist to prove this. Video games undergo censorship by PEGI who rated GTA V an 18+ which clearly implies adult content is part of the game, thus it is the responsibility of the adult playing the game to establish that the game is just that and not a training exercise for a trip to the supermarket.
The Hitchens’ article is hilariously titled ’If the Devil Had to invent a game it would be this one’ and implies that violent video games have caused murders as well as referencing Hitchens’ decision to protect children under his authority (he should do anyway). This decision was taken when he ‘saw a boy of about 11 or 12 in a grubby cafe, ceaselessly feeding coins into a crude gaming machine’. This sensationalist response to a piece of media is stifling the debate about violence.
GTA V has improved significantly from the previous release GTA IV. The driving feels like a racing game, the weapon combat is more realistic than previous games and the smart-phones each character possesses make the world more immersive and interactive. Elements such as these have seen GTA V register an astonishing 10/10 rating on IGN (International Gaming Network) and 97/100 on Metacritic which make it the best game of all time based on reviews.
The in-game intelligence makes GTA V a cut above competitors. Rockstar Games have a history of tackling issues of the time with a satirical tone, this release takes the bold step of taking on everyday issues in a serious way. One of the characters has to look after the interests of his children and protect them from the porn industry, reality TV and debt collectors as well as having to react his wife’s affairs. The violent approach is seen to have negative consequences and thus the overriding message is that family life and violence are not compatible.
The game is clearly smarter. Each playable character has to tackle topical issues of our time ranging from legalisation of cannabis to rural isolation. The radio stations will talk about these actions in a satirical way which emphasises that the game is not preaching morality and is only a form of entertainment. This model leads to a very immersive storyline with the added bonus of being able to switch between three characters with very different circumstances and attributes.
Rampage mode has made a return with characters having to kill a set amount of targets in an allotted time but this is not a key element of the storyline and is simply for the purpose of fun. This is made clear by the nature of the targets that can be as ridiculous as laser beam shooting aliens and chainsaw-wielding rednecks. The main criticism GTA V has received for it’s use of violence is a torture scene in which various devices are used to inflict pain on a character to extort information.
The torture is part of the storyline and makes the user actively remove teeth, electrocute and inflict pain on a civilian. This in order to get information about the appearance of a suspected terrorist. Meanwhile, another playable character looks through a sniper lens towards a building with multiple targets in view ready to assassinate the suspect. This element of the game needs to be criticised because although the use of torture is clearly mocking anti-terror legislation that has lead to torture of innocent people, encouraging people to take part in torture in a game is uncharted ground and should be monitored more closely.
It is the responsibility of government to research the effects of games on children and young adults independently of the interests of game companies and sensationalist media. Games are becoming more realistic; with the release of the next generation of consoles when combined with 3D TVs, perhaps scenes like the torture scene in GTA V could have a very negative effect on a malleable mind.
The PEGI rating is sufficient at 18+ and consumers should know that GTA V is part of the GTA Series and they should be expecting adult content.