The immersive world that games like GTA 5 offer is the appeal, not the violence

Grand Theft Auto is a razor sharp satire of modern American culture

Share
Related Topics

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you’ll know the latest instalment of Grand Theft Auto has hit the shelves.

After earning over £500 million, it’s well on the way to becoming another global smash. However, the only thing more predictable than the glut of near perfect review scores has been the accompanying debate over video game violence. Yet scapegoating the franchise demonstrates little knowledge of today’s gaming market, and misunderstands what consumers are looking for.

The title Grand Theft Auto - a term describing vehicle theft - not only foreshadows the crime based nature of the series, but also its revolutionary open world approach.  Upon release in 1997, the original GTA changed the outlook of gaming: for the first time, the player dictated the game, rather than the other way around. The ability to steal cars, escape the police and vicariously live the life of a crime boss underlined this sense of liberty.

The boundaries and depth of this underworld evolved with the technology, so by its 3D incarnation, the ability to pick up prostitutes and mow down civilians took on a whole new level of realism.  Parents used to the innocence of Pacman expressed shock at this pioneering approach, outraged by the violent possibilities presented in the game: despite the clear 18 rating. 

Developer, Rockstar, continues to pay the price for this innovation. Concerns over video game links to anti-social behaviour saw David Cameron lead a high profile charge against mature gaming. During a speech on social order, he spoke of the “responsibility” games held in “choosing not to promote casual violence”, because we need to “think of the context in which people are growing up.“

GTA V does not heed these remarks, because it sees itself as an adult game – a razor sharp satire of modern American culture. Controversy has surrounded a particularly graphic torture episode which cannot be skipped. But consider that the player is in fact carrying out the act on an alleged terrorist, under the instruction of the FBI, and the perspective changes.  For the record, you then help the innocent suspect escape.

Another mission sees you assassinate the founder of LifeInvader, the in game Facebook parody, at the launch of the company’s venture into the mobile phone market. Given that a recent study found the average UK gamer is 35 years old, with their American counterpart two years older, these themes fit with the demographic.

Critics should recognise that computer games now operate on the same plane as Hollywood blockbusters, in budget, concept and emotional impact. Over recent years there have been a number of acclaimed games, from Heavy Rain to Bioshock and Deadspace, which incorporate heavy violence, but do so justifiably within their narrative. 

Take this summer’s universally praised The Last Of Us. The player is required to escort Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, across plague ridden, post-apocalyptic America - fighting off infected humans in the process. Apparently immune to the virus, Ellie represents humanity’s best chance of a cure and   must safely re-join the resistance so that a vaccine can be engineered. Grittily realistic, the player eventually controls the girl, as she carries a gun, killing humans and animals to survive. A spiky character, she also swears frequently. Free from GTA’s infamy, the game dodged simplistic mass media criticism. Just imagine the outcry if young teens carried guns in GTA.

But the factor which really sets these games apart and acts as the main selling point - are the immersive worlds they offer, not the violence itself. In The Last Of Us, it is the surrogate father/daughter bond which evolves between Ellie and her protector, Joel, which makes the game memorable. In Deadspace, it is the tension of staying alive in a climate that makes Alien seem like ET.

In GTA V, it is the thrill of speeding down the Los Santos highway, thinking about what you will do next in the bustling vibrant city. Because you can. For the most part, you can choose how to approach missions – violence or stealth? The choice is yours. 

Perhaps GTA V is causing so much controversy because it so accurately satirises society. And some don’t like what they see.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A royal serving the nation

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003