'Grand Theft Auto 5' — The Game Isn't the Real Problem, You Are

Beyond "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past," a deep love of "Katamari," and an obsession with "Lego Batman," I’m not much of a gamer. Still big -ticket games like "Grand Theft Auto 5" are so embedded in our pop culture collective-consciousness, I've been hearing about the game and its release since the beginning of September.

Friends have sent me articles, surprised that sites like Grantland are actually covering the treatment of women in the latest installment of the "GTA" franchise. But the problem isn't violence in video games — neither that it exists, nor that it is prevalent. For me, the problem is the sheer joy that people have expressed over being able to beat a sex worker with a baseball bat and witness naked cannibalism.

It's creepy.  

Over dinner this week, a friend of mine told me that he asked his co-workers, all male, if anyone had played "GTA-5" yet and the normally silent room erupted with conversations. There were gleeful recollections of ways the game allows you to abuse and mistreat women.

He eventually had to put on his headphones to drown it out.

I’m not advocating censorship, nor am I saying that violence shouldn't be included in cultural artifacts. I think we just need to acknowledge that the way game-play happens can be a little unsettling.

It isn’t the game that is the problem — it’s the people playing it.

Ian Miles Cheong, games journalist and editor-in-chief at Gameranx agrees. “For me, what's creepy about the game isn't the freedom it offers players. The onus is on the player to behave rationally and not like a spree killer, as the game doesn't (in general, anyway) reward players for killing civilians and brutalizing women.”

Earlier this week, Rockstar Games came out with a strange clarification about *spoiler alert* a scene that looks like an attempted rape but turns out just to be just no-big-deal naked cannibalism.

Kyle Prahl on Play Station Universe takes this as a bizarre opportunity to write about how “rape happens” sometimes. What? Like you're really bearing the brunt of that, Prahl. “In a game," he muses, rape "can be shown tastefully — with a fully clothed victim, a flaccid aggressor, and the opportunity for the player to intervene.”

Yes, dear reader, you too can sign up to stop an imaginary rape that turns out to actually just be cannibalism. “What comes next,” Prahl prattles on, “is introspection and thought-provoking conversation about the medium of video games and the merits of such an occurrence.” He doesn’t end the post with a link to resources for rape victims or a reflection on the importance of ending violence against women, however, so it's easy to doubt his sincerity.

I concede that Prahl is right about one thing: rape does happen, and it does need to be talked about. I like the way Alexandra at Feministing explored the violence in games like "GTA-5" a lot more. She suggests we recognize the harm of rape in art in order to stop it, not ignore it all together. For my part, let’s add “tasteful rape” to the list of things I never ever want to hear again.  

Journalist Cheong explains the rape attempt as “a randomized event that players can run into.” He says that other "randomized events" include carjackings, robberies, and muggings that the player can stop.

"The player's actions are further incentivized by a reward system that provides players with a permanent boost to their skill," he says. "So the rape attempt is treated, within the game mechanics, as an opportunity for a reward. That's pretty gross.”

Indeed.

If you want to blow off some steam by driving around and shooting things in a video game, fine. The proliferation of violent video games hasn’t correlated with an increase in violent youth crime. Still, before you begin to dig into a conversation where you recollect the violence you are able to inflict on people, you could do better than give yourself a pat on the back for sparing a moment to recognize that rape happens.

You could think about how to stop it.