Published on September 24th, 2013 | by Fraser Brown0
GTA V: A cure for optimism
[Minor spoilers inbound.]
There are two things that you can rest assured will occur when a new Grand Theft Auto drops: Rockstar will make oodles of money and lots of people will condemn it for corrupting our oh so innocent children. Grand Theft Auto V not only continues this tradition, it’s destroyed previous launch sales and managed to make many of the franchise’s fans exceptionally uncomfortable.
And how could it not? Not only does it contain all the brutal violence and mayhem of its predecessors, it also throws three of the most grotesque, reprehensible characters ever devised in our digital medium into the mix. There is no good in the city of Los Santos, nothing juxtaposed to the grime and cruelty. It’s all a little much to stomach.
And this is why it might very well be the best instalment in the series.
Previous GTAs have had some mixed messages. The protagonists are presented as anti-heroes, victims of circumstance, hard done buy crooks looking for revenge or, in the case of GTA IV, filled with regret, looking for a fresh start. There was something always very awkward about this, as their actions belied their true nature as homicidal maniacs, yet the narrative kept attempting to paint them as sympathetic and, failing that, at least likeable.
For some, this allowed them to overlook the marginalisation of women, the extreme violence and the constant string of crimes committed by these anti-heroes. It was okay, they presumably thought, because these men aren’t all bad. Michael, Franklin and Trevor do not allow for such compartmentalisation — they are terrible men that revel in the shockingly foul things that they do in the name of thrills and money.
Trevor encapsulates this best, and within the first minute of being introduced to him, to boot. We meet Trevor as he’s shagging a disinterested meth addict in his filthy trailer, and then we get to enjoy the sight of him beating the woman’s boyfriend to death just because he was in a bad mood. It couldn’t be clearer: Trevor is a dangerous psychopath. An excellently written, frequently amusing psychopath, but still a despicable human being.
Beneath the fast cars, the bright lights of Vinewood and the stunning vistas in the San Andrean mountains is a grimy, disgusting world filled with people just as rotten — it’s positively Dickensian. Maybe that’s a bit highfalutin, when all I’m really trying to say is that it’s a very British form of satire where you’re just as likely to end up depressed as you are to experience schadenfreude. But that’s hardly restricted to the UK, as anyone who watches It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia can attest, with its gross, ignorant characters that never learn from their equally stupid mistakes.
All of Los Santos and the surrounding San Andreas wilderness follows suit. The women are all strippers, cheating wives and bimbos. The men are all giant children, bullies and driven by greed or madness. The only living things that aren’t simply wretched are animals that exist to be hunted or, in the case of Chop the dog, used to sniff out treasure and savage enemies.
All of this goes towards building Rockstar’s uncompromising, scathing indictment of not just Los Angeles — Los Santos’ real-world counterpart — but the world’s fascination with subjects as varied as crime and social media. What do we love to watch on TV? A teacher turned sociopathic meth cook, violent biker gangs, serial killers. We tune in like voyeurs hooked on drama punctuated with horrendous violence. And where are all these unusual people who take photos of themselves holding GTA posting them? On Facebook, of course.
GTA V glorifies these things in the same way that Trainspotting glorifies heroin addiction, which is to say not at all. It gives us what we apparently want — glimpses of brutality and depravity that most of us will never really experience in our own lives, and a way for us to share these digital experiences online, through the Rockstar Social Club. And all the while, in the game, we’re being mocked. Because these obsessions probably say a lot of crappy things about our lives. I consider myself a fairly well-adjusted individual, so there’s something not quite right about the enjoyment I get out of blowing people up with sticky bombs and running over thousands of people while listening to Convoy on the radio. So maybe it’s a good thing that I’m starting to feel guilty; that GTA‘s ceaseless escalation of cruelty gives me pause.
It takes the ugly tropes so prevalent in modern media, the fearmongering of news networks, the drive for status and the accumulation of wealth and displays it like it’s airing the world’s dirty laundry. Violence and misogyny have become the focus of discussion in GTA because those are issues that are already being discussed constantly in our maturing medium. But they cannot be treated as if they are in a vacuum. The senseless slaughter and poor treatment of women in Los Santos is part of a package of satire that also includes the Facebook parody LifeInvader, the stock market and a plethora of other games and films. When looked at as a whole, it seems to be denouncing such things, not celebrating them or falling prey to them.
While clever and biting, it’s still an immensely discomforting game. It is absolutely ludicrous to get all up in arms with those that found the more disturbing scenes hard to sit through, and while I feel that ultimately my analysis of GTA ends up in a different place, the abuse that awaits them the moment they hit that publish button and the internet swarms on their article that, god forbid, says anything critical about the game reveals that many of GTA‘s so called fans have missed the point far more than any of the title’s detractors.
Never read the comments, they say, but to read the comments on Carolyn Petit’s 9/10 review on Gamespot is to see the very reason why so many are concerned by GTA‘s treatment of women and the now infamous torture scene. It’s a mostly glowing review, and Petit clearly acknowledges the game’s satirical nature, though she still found some of it problematic. Those angered by her review belong in Los Santos. They defend what Petit considers misogynistic by calling her a feminist (as if it’s an insult) and a liberal (again, apparently an insult). I have to believe that these are the sort of people who listened to Weasel News — GTA‘s answer to Fox News — nodding along, thinking that there were some good ideas being espoused.
Surely we’re all here, some commenting, some writing articles, because we think that video games are worthy of discussion. The explosive subject matter that Rockstar has saturated its game in is meant to be discussed. It needs to be discussed. Those who believe that it’s a purely satirical romp that holds up the failings of our culture to mockery and condemnation should not be afraid of the criticism. They should welcome it. The whole point of satire is to draw attention to problems, so even if an individual finds that piece of satire part of the problem, there’s a dialogue that can come out of it, a way to move forward.
And there are plenty of interesting discussions being inspired by GTA, but they are being overshadowed by the rabid, unrelenting anger of those who believe it to be above reproach. It’s a case of life imitating art, and I’m just as embarrassed to watch it unfold just as I am when I watch morally bankrupt Michael impotently admonish his family for being awful. Of course, I have no doubt that Rockstar saw this coming. If you’re contemplating writing an inane comment about a reviewer’s gender, sexuality or beliefs, just remember Michael’s son Jimmy (aka Jizzle), the obese, useless moron who spends his days lying in bed calling people fags and threatening to rape them while playing games. That is who you are, and Rockstar’s completely taking the piss out of you.