Grand Theft Opportunity

He hath set water and fire before thee: stretch forth thy hand to which thou wilt. Before man is life and death, good and evil, that which he shall choose shall be given him.- Sirach Chapter 15

There is nothing so damning to the human spirit as free will. No murder so heinous as one with forethought, planning and cold execution. When choice is consciously made, the most petty of actions become greater than the sum of their results. We raise our glass to men defending their homes from invaders. We would damn them without their justifications, their lack of choice because they were just protecting their families. In games we rely on the ends justifying means that would make the cruelest of dictators cringe.

This being the day Grand Theft Auto IV slips into gaming consoles all over the world, we’re going to be faced with questions of morality again. Not just from the media or concerned parents, but more importantly - ourselves.

The Grand Theft Auto series confronts us with something few games are willing to take on. It thrusts the player into a world that demands violence on a grand scale with no more justification than personal gain. Often there is no family to save, innocent to protect or even someone in a position of moral authority offering salvation. It’s just our willingness to do the drive-by because we’re told we have to. It’s a point system, and raising those numbers is usually all the comfort we need to squash any concern over what these actions say about us. We’ve been trained for over 20 years to think in these abstracts, to view digital people as obstacles and mobile treasure chests.

What Rockstar offers us is choice – the opportunity to shuck the responsibility of moving the story forward or gaining new territory. You can simply put it all aside, collect an AK-47, stride into a hospital and start shooting. Forethought, planning and execution. This is where we cannot hide behind the constructs of mission, points or saving the Presidents daughter. It’s just our guns and a lot of innocent treasure chests. Or people, depending on your viewpoint. We’re offered a chance to execute what society considers to be the worst kind of murder.

In those quiet moments when there are no friends to urge us on, we have an opportunity to see which side of the line we fall on. Sitting alone in the living room and gripping the controller lets us play out some of our basest fantasies. It’s an interactive opportunity that no other medium can claim to offer. Just how much is too much? How do we feel while we’re driving through crowds of innocents with the police hot on our tail? Are we still having fun, or just exorcising demons?

The answers are intrinsically personal because we all internalize things differently. It’s for this very reason that non-gamers are horrified at the prospect of having this kind of choice laid before them. There is no goal abstraction for them to get behind – there’s just people being gunned down. They cannot easily confront this aspect of themselves through a safe, interactive experience. It's an avenue largely unexplored by the older generation.

For gamers, Grand Theft Auto IV affords an opportunity to do more than just shock and titillate. By giving us the tools to plan and execute carnage on a grand scale we can learn something about the human experience. We can push further and find out where our primitive, club wielding aggression ends and our reason and compassion begins. We can make choices without the safety blanket of justification or righteous goals.

The freedom of choice, however limited it may be, is a rare opportunity in the gaming landscape. To cast story aside, pick up a gun and see what shakes out is another step toward learning about ourselves. Even better, we can explore these experiences and possibilities without hurting anyone in the real world.

What an opportunity!

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

Pages

After playing the first couple of hours of it I can say that there is nothing super different between this one and previous games in the franchise. The first thing I did was punch some one in the face, steal a car, drive the car into the water, land in a restricted zone and then get mowed down by the cops. Then I continued on to the story. Basically its the same as the old ones except a lot more polished, but I don't think its quite as amazing as the 10s and A+s might lead you to believe it will be.

When people mention GTA, I like to talk about my early experience playing GTA3, my entry point into the series.

For the first couple of hours, I followed traffic laws. That is, I drove through traffic like any normal person would, waiting my turn at lights and so on. (for the record, if nobody noticed: the traffic simulation in GTA3 is actually pretty good, and you can do this with a pretty good feeling of reality.) It was only after I started to get into the race missions that it even occurred to me that I could drive on the wrong side of the street, at any speed I wanted; there were no repercussions whatsoever for doing so.

Even realizing that traffic laws didn't really apply, for at least half of the game, I still reset the console every time I accidentally killed a civilian. I'm not kidding; I literally did that. For a very long time, my civilian death count in game was zero. Eventually, I figured out that this was not necessary, that you would, again, face no repercussions whatsoever for killing them... and, eventually, after some brutally hard mission where I accidentally killed someone, I shrugged and saved instead of resetting. GTA became much less real for me that day.

I don't see it as being even vaguely real anymore, but I'll still avoid killing the civilian-shaped pixels whenever possible... it's part of my own suspension of disbelief. If I were really there, there's no way I would run anyone over on purpose, and avoiding doing so as much as possible helps maintain my immersion. Every time I splat someone, it jars me out of the game, so I try not to do it.... but I no longer reset if one dies.

Then I read about people who literally went out and killed large swaths of civlians for fun, which, again, had never occurred to me. I did try it once, just to see what they were on about... not much fun, really, so once was plenty.

And then I heard about killing prostitutes to get your money back, which genuinely did horrify me; that's a line I wouldn't cross, even though it's just pixels on a computer screen.

I enjoy the GTA games, but the total lack of all repercussions and penalties for this behavior means that people will do more of it. And that's not because everyone is a lurking sociopath, but rather because the game reveals that it's a toy, not real, by failing to impose consequences for antisocial behavior.

It's perfectly okay to break toys, particularly ones that don't stay broken.

I totally agree with the article. Games in general can give you great opportunities. Like the first time you make Lara Croft jump off that high cliff, with that *crack* when you reach the bottom. The first time where you ran those people over in Carmageddon to generate points and up the timer. The first time you used that execution button in Postal 1, to stop that asshole from moaning all the time. The first time you grab that child, and suck the adam right out of her.

And now, it will be the first time I will walk into a hospital and shoot everybody in there. The though does make my stomach turn, and I hope to actually not enjoy the experiment when I will play it out. And after that, I will have learned another thing about me. Can't wait.

Again, great article!

We can push further and find out where our primitive, club wielding aggression ends and our reason and compassion begins.

I believe you are trying to make GTA more than what it is. In think you're searching in vain for some deeper meaning in a very contained experience. The choices you make affect a very small, semi-open world. So small and tiny, that a bad day at work can change all you play that day.

The lack of real consequences allows you to follow your will, unhindered by any moral values.

How can you truly learn anything, when there is nothing to lose?

I'm gonna punch so many old ladies in the throat.

oMonarca wrote:
We can push further and find out where our primitive, club wielding aggression ends and our reason and compassion begins.

I believe you are trying to make GTA more than what it is. In think you're searching in vain for some deeper meaning in a very contained experience. The choices you make affect a very small, semi-open world. So small and tiny, that a bad day at work can change all you play that day.

The lack of real consequences allows you to follow your will, unhindered by any moral values.

How can you truly learn anything, when there is nothing to lose?

But IMHO that's what's amazing about GTA and about (IMHO) any narrative game with complexity: yes, it's tiny, but it's also infinite. That's why I think Certis is on the money, though I think we overlook older versions of the same kind of interactivity (epic, tragedy) to our confusion. Complex stories have infinite room for exploration, and games give us that room more effectively than any other kind of story ever has.

Fantasy has a power reality can never match, precisely because we don't have to face any consequences but the ones inside our souls.

Fantasy has a power reality can never match, precisely because we don't have to face any consequences but the ones inside our souls.

Allow me to disagree. How can you feel any kind of consequence, believing that what you see isn't real or definitive? It is to me, at it's best, amusing. Exploring the "what if's", giving inputs to a system and watching what comes out on the other side.

I don't believe you get to know for sure what happens inside you when you know beforehand that what you see is fabricated, that what you do is "make-pretend". And certainly not as long as you can play it again, and choose something different.

This is one of the reasons why I don't play the GTA games anymore. When I was younger and less wise, I did all the stuff that the game let you do. Murder, destruction and more murder. When I grew up a bit, I realized what the murder, destruction, and more murder meant about me as a person-- ie, in the absence of consequences for my actions, this was who I was. I didn't like the feeling.

I lingered for a while, just enjoying driving around, searching for hidden TACOs (Totally Arbitrary Collecitble Objects-- and a real gamer would know what that's a reference to) and playing only the vigilante, Taxi and Ambulance missions and shooting only gang bangers who shot at me first.

Eventually, I realized that I'd rather be playing other games that let me do more things within a moral region I was comfortable in (and had better play mechanics), so I played those instead. I traded in all my GTA games, except for GTA2, which Pawnstop won't accept because it's a PC game.

On the upside, I did learn something from the experience. I hold myself accountable for bad behavior. I don't exceed the speed limit anymore, I don't download "free" music or movies, and I don't tug on Superman's cape or mess around with Jim. Heck, I even returned a one dollar bill to the counter at a store because I hoped the original owner would be back looking for it (there were a lot of kids around, and one dollar is still a lot of money to a kid under 10) At the risk of getting all new-agey, I feel more centered and happier in my life now.

Thanks Rockstar! Your paean to debauchery and mayhem spurred me to improve myself.

oMonarca wrote:

I don't believe you get to know for sure what happens inside you when you know beforehand that what you see is fabricated, that what you do is "make-pretend". And certainly not as long as you can play it again, and choose something different.

I don't disagree, I guess--fantasy can't tell you what would actually, really happen inside if you were to do evil in the real world. But in my opinion it can tell you other things about who you are; indeed I believe it can help you keep yourself from actually doing evil, by allowing you to explore the psychological terrain.

I realize that you're saying that for you playing a game doesn't do that--but it does it for me, just as seeing a tragedy allows me to explore the suffering of others, suffering that hopefully I will never know myself. Your point of view actually seems to me to deny art any power to help us know ourselves. I'd argue that if art has that power, games must have it, and, as Certis points out, games have a form of it that allows for psychological exploration.

Of course, there's another question that I'm begging in the true sense here, which is the question of quality: even if GTA could do that, is it in fact able to do that, given what Rockstar have actually managed to accomplish artistically? I think everybody's mileage is simply going to vary on that score. I'm not moved at all by some things others find moving, since I see them as shoddy workmanship (the movie "Titanic" leaps to mind). That divergence is certainly going to be present with GTA.

Malor, your post was a fantastic read. That's article quality writing there! Loved it.

For myself, I think I decontextualize what's going on in these games. I've been playing GTA:LCS on the PSP lately, and there's a mission where you have to kill election campaign volunteers. Seriously. When I would stop to think about what was going on, and how horrific it would be if this happened in real life, I was...not quite appalled. I was very mildly thoughtful about it, for a moment. Then I went back to the mission at hand. I needed to shoot certain people in order to move forward in the game, so that's what I did. And they tried to shoot me as well, so even if I'd had the ability to worry myself over their digital fate, self-preservation would have overcome that.

Where I differ from what Certis and others are saying about justifying our actions in these games is that I don't justify them at all, because I seldom think about them. I've received the millionth mission of my life where some video game wants X people dead in order for me to advance. I do it in World of Warcraft every day without even reading the quest notes. Watching what I do in GTA IV won't be an interesting case study, because I'll be doing whatever the mission is, and that's all I will contemplate. I'm not doing them the honor of morally analyzing my actions, because it's a game to me, and sandbox games are some of the most "video game-y" games left, in a good way.

Now, someone might say that if I have the ability to ignore the story and context of these actions, that these games are not really immersing me in their worlds, and that their stories are not compelling me to erect a fourth wall and suspend my disbelief. I might agree with that. I would guess that the better a game's story is, and the more immersed in it I become, the more valid my actions become as a representation of my values. When I played Fable, not a fabulous narrative by any means, the marriage mechanic became more interesting to me over time. At first, it was just a possibility I had never seen in another game, to be toyed around with - I wanted to see what scenarios the programmers had foreseen. With time, though, I stopped "playing" with it and just treated my wife well, because I had begun to take it and the game in general a bit more seriously.

I think I may care about my actions more in role-playing games like that where you construct your own character, because in those cases, you have your hero whose identity you're creating. I care about that, and my character's reputation. I could never play Dark side in KOTOR; I get invested in the character, and my actions reflect upon that character and have consequences in the game. GTA, for all its sandboxy freedom, is a bit canned. The character (at least, in the games I've played) is who he is regardess of how you play. He's not you, he's not shaped by you, and he'll never be any more or less virtuous depending upon how you play the game. In that context, I don't ever worry about dirtying his hands; I'm just trying to beat the mission and move forward.

I guess my issue is that I see GTA as offering only the Wargames Global Thermonuclear War choice - the only way to win is not to play. This isn't KOTOR or Bioshock. There is no "good" choice. I think Malor's experience isn't atypical. The only choice is how bad to be, and how soon to toss civility asside in pursuit of big-swinging-dick violent orgasm.

How can you feel any kind of consequence, believing that what you see isn't real or definitive?

Something being "real" or not is irrelevent to this discussion. The discussion is whether our souls are "right."

GTA is a murder simulator. It rewards killing on a mass scale. We choose to purchase this feeling. We choose to feel like murdering. It's not so sterile as simple inputs and outputs. Your cognition chooses the action sent to the system. Is our collective cognition a right one if we feel rewarded by murder on a mass scale, whatever form it takes?

Your soul decides who lives and dies in a game just as it does in the real world. The consequences of the game are minimal on the real world. What of the consequences on your soul? You sell yourself a bit when you play a game like GTA. You validate the evolutionary past of homo sapiens when you beat a hooker to death in this game. Do we want to reward cave dwelling?

Malor, for once I agree with you. I could have written your post (except for the rebooting if I accidentally killed a civilian. ;-)).

Too funny.

Reaper81 wrote:
How can you feel any kind of consequence, believing that what you see isn't real or definitive?

Something being "real" or not is irrelevent to this discussion. The discussion is whether our souls are "right."

GTA is a murder simulator. It rewards killing on a mass scale. We choose to purchase this feeling. We choose to feel like murdering. It's not so sterile as simple inputs and outputs. Your cognition chooses the action sent to the system. Is our collective cognition a right one if we feel rewarded by murder on a mass scale, whatever form it takes?

Your soul decides who lives and dies in a game just as it does in the real world. The consequences of the game are minimal on the real world. What of the consequences on your soul? You sell yourself a bit when you play a game like GTA. You validate the evolutionary past of homo sapiens when you beat a hooker to death in this game. Do we want to reward cave dwelling?

Dang Reaper. I was gonna ramble on and on about the philosphy of self and how do you really know that anything is real? But man, you hammered that nail on the head like I could only dream of. Beautifully written.

Certis wrote:

Are we still having fun, or just exorcising demons?

What about the third possibility? That of actually creating demons?

I think I said almost everything I have to say in this matter in "Why are games like GTA IV so appealing to people?"

The consensus here seems to be that the only real moral choice involved in this or any other GTA game is the choice to play in the first place. Once that has been made, the game universe constrains you to the point where morally good decisions are, at best, irrelevant.

My question then, is this: is a person necessarily lacking in moral character if he enjoys the senseless destruction and carnage of the game? Could an intelligent, otherwise decent person simply refuse to invest the game with that sort of moral weight and play it for a larf? Or, perhaps a player who does struggle with anger/anti-social tendencies could use it as a harmless outlet for his aggression?

The root of this argument goes all the way back to Doom, the question of whether or not a gamer is capable of distinguishing between the decisions he makes within the reality of the game, and the decisions he makes within the broader reality of his day to day life. It may be for younger gamers, or for gamers with certain behavioral issues, that that distinction would be difficult or impossible to make. But to most adult gamers, the GTA games only present you with a moral dillemma if you are already the sort of gamer who approaches games as an opportunity to explore said dillemma. I can see why this would be a problem for some gamers, but I don't see it as a problem that must needs be faced by all.

I don't really like the GTA games, btw, just playing devil's advocate. The groundwork laid in discussions like this could one day be used to erect censorship laws or outright bans.

Reaper81 wrote:

GTA is a murder simulator.

I think this cheapens the game unfairly. Not that it's inaccurate, mind you, but that it's incomplete. It's also, from what I'm given to understand, a:

  • bowling sim
  • pool sim
  • driving sim
  • rudimentary relationship sim
  • rudimentary flight sim
  • traffic sim
  • spiritual representation of modern-day New York
  • satirical look at modern consumerism

Can you murder people in the game? Absolutely. Is that the point of the game? That's where it gets a bit nebulous. Just because you can doesn't mean that you should. Personally, if it's a mission, I'm generally ok with wholesale destruction (though I avoid civvies as much as possible). When you start randomly beating tai chi folk in the park, that's a different kettle of fish.

To say that you sell yourself when you play GTA not only cheapens the game, but it cheapens everyone that plays it, and I resent the hell out of that. If you want to constrain that to actions like hooker-beating or hospital rampages, I would have a tougher time naysaying you, but just playing the game? That's about 3 steps over the line and into offensive territory.

First off let me say that I find GTA boring. The context, the criminal underworld, isn't that appealing to me. Second, I tend to approach my games with a degree of pragmatism and distance. A cool head if you may. So, I only beat a hooker in the game when I haven't done it before or if serves some ulterior purpose.

I guess if you are a kid, the game is that much more meaningful, but as an already morally developed adult (always open to improvement ), I tend to choose my actions not based on my morals, but on how I wish to be entertained (played renegade in Mass Effect, because I envisioned Shepard as a badass), or if it serves me in some useful way (not killing certain characters in order to open up new missions).

In fact, moral values are constantly put to the test, and it's nice and refreshing to approach something putting them a bit aside, without fear of reprisal.

Your point of view actually seems to me to deny art any power to help us know ourselves.

Not really. In order to art help me know myself, I must relate to it. I must know intimately some sort of common ground between me and the authors. Even if GTA reaches a huge level of depth, like Planescape: Torment did in so many ways, there's still the fact that I've never been or met a gangster, nor the real street life. Neither the majority of the players. And those who did might find GTA a bit off, with all that glamour and exploding stuff.

As I said in my first reply, I think people are making GTA more than what it is. A really good blockbuster. A "Metallica". Not some indie "flick" trying to grasp the meaning of right or wrong. Not a "Tool".

And murder simulator? Sell my soul? Please. That statement implies that Pacman celebrates genocide! ... as long as I see dots as people, not as pixels or points. And speaking of Tool...

And I begged, "Angel of the Lord, what are these tortured screams?" And the angel said unto me, "These are the cries of the carrots, the cries of the carrots! You see, Reverend Maynard, tomorrow is harvest day and to them it is the holocaust."
Reaper81 wrote:

You sell yourself a bit when you play a game like GTA. You validate the evolutionary past of homo sapiens when you beat a hooker to death in this game. Do we want to reward cave dwelling?

That is wrong on so many levels. It sounds exactly like something Jack Thompson would say.
(Since I don't even believe in a soul I could easily say that this is a moot point )

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

To say that you sell yourself when you play GTA not only cheapens the game, but it cheapens everyone that plays it, and I resent the hell out of that. If you want to constrain that to actions like hooker-beating or hospital rampages, I would have a tougher time naysaying you, but just playing the game? That's about 3 steps over the line and into offensive territory.

I'd go even farther and say that even killing hookers and going on a rampage in a hospital makes nobody a worse person. You cannot judge a person by things they do in a game.

After playing the first couple of hours of it I can say that there is nothing super different between this one and previous games in the franchise.

You got that right. Playing multiplayer last night was the most fun I had since playing codename eagle multiplayer so many years back.

I beg detractors to try playing a game of cops and robbers online and tell me the game has no redeeming social value.

Andy wrote:
Reaper81 wrote:

You sell yourself a bit when you play a game like GTA. You validate the evolutionary past of homo sapiens when you beat a hooker to death in this game. Do we want to reward cave dwelling?

That is wrong on so many levels. It sounds exactly like something Jack Thompson would say.

I really, really, really hate that argument. A lot. Not only because it's a sort of ad-hominem -- "Jack Thompson stupid, hurr hurr hurr" -- but because it's completely wrong. What makes Jack Thompson's argument odious is that it is, essentially "Immoral games must be banned". That this seems to free otherwise intelligent gamers to make the equally odious argument "The morality and ethics of a specific game must not be discussed" is completely bewildering.

If you take games seriously, how can you not seriously discuss the morality of a game's narrative? Talk about GTA IV being a "bowling sim" all you want, but the truth is: if this wasn't a game that let you f*ck hookers and then kill them, it wouldn't be a megahit. That's the naked lunch at the end of the videogame spoon. I'm all for talking about whether playing games where one engages in adolescent blood-spurt fantasies might be emotionally constructive, but please don't let's lower the discourse to the point where we're going to pretend that the murder innocent bystanders game is really a spiritual representation of modern-day New York.

To clarify:
I did not say it is wrong because it sounds like something Jack Thompson would say. I said it is wrong and sounds like something he would say.
Big difference.

Malor wrote:

For the first couple of hours, I followed traffic laws.

Yeah, I did that

Malor wrote:

Even realizing that traffic laws didn't really apply, for at least half of the game, I still reset the console every time I accidentally killed a civilian.

The squelch and crunch as you ran over a civilian in Vice City was horrible. I hated it and tried to avoid it but I didn't reload.

rabbit wrote:

I guess my issue is that I see GTA as offering only the Wargames Global Thermonuclear War choice - the only way to win is not to play. This isn't KOTOR or Bioshock. There is no "good" choice.

I can never bring myself to go for the bad choices in Bioshock or KOTOR. I've tried to do it, "Ok I'll play a dark Jedi now." but I completely lose interest. A lot of the pleasure I get from the game is the satisfaction of doing the right thing. That said, I played the first two GTAs with no problem (apart from running over civilians ::shudders:: ) Partly, because (and I may be being selective in what I chose to remember) the victims in GTA are usually not innocents themselves. Also, I think the quote below from Malor is a large part of the answer. At the end of the day we do know that they are only pixels we are killing.

Malor wrote:

It's perfectly okay to break toys, particularly ones that don't stay broken.

I think the comparison to toys is very valid. One of the creators of 'Toy Story' told a funny story. He'd gone into the garden and found his son's action man naked and tightly bound to a tree. When he asked his son why he'd done it the little lad glanced over at the tree and said calmly, "Boot camp."

Wow seems like a lot of comments regarding philosophy but no mention of whether the game was fun to play until Stylez here.

Sounds like a case of Tired Franchise. No need to buy this one, I saw "No Country for Old Men" and I'll just flip a quarter if I feel like being a bad guy.

peterb wrote:

Talk about GTA IV being a "bowling sim" all you want, but the truth is: if this wasn't a game that let you f*ck hookers and then kill them, it wouldn't be a megahit. That's the naked lunch at the end of the videogame spoon. I'm all for talking about whether playing games where one engages in adolescent blood-spurt fantasies might be emotionally constructive, but please don't let's lower the discourse to the point where we're going to pretend that the murder innocent bystanders game is really a spiritual representation of modern-day New York.

You speak as if it can only be one thing. That's my point; it's not. It's many things. I don't deny that you can go on murderous sprees, wading through rivers of virtual blood and reaping the innocent as if you were Death himself. However, to deny that the game could be anything else is to sound like the rest of ill-informed hysterical media, denouncing video games as the onslaught of immorality that will crumble the very foundations of society.

Also, f*cking and killing hookers isn't what made GTAIII a megahit. It's what it made it notorious. Don't confuse the two; word of mouth doesn't sell copies unless it includes "...and it's a good game, too." Unless you're going to argue that there's something particular about hookers, there are other games with more carnage and darker-fantasy-roleplay (see Postal) that weren't megahits.

And "the murder innocent bystanders game"? Really? Are you sure you didn't want to add something about how lone gunmen play video games, and that we have to protect the children?

I balk a bit at the idea of talking seriously about something like GTA, so obviously designed to be flippant and comedic, but I think I need to address my thoughts on the idea that playing GTA either makes you an evil person or reflects a preexisting evil.

A vast majority of popular games contain some sort of violence. Violence is dramatic and fascinating, because it puts a very sharp point on human interaction – it takes the subtle power dynamics involved in relating to other people and makes them simple and visceral. On a very base level, violence is loud, offensive and exciting. It gets the blood pumping. Most contextualize it in terms that make it superficially morally palatable, such as a fight for survival or a battle of good against evil, but any gamer who is being honest will admit that 9 times out of 10 the context is flimsy and ignorable.

It doesn’t really matter what the context is, or how it is presented. Sometimes it comes through the story, as when you assault the fascist Combine in Half-Life 2, and sometimes just through the situation – the teams in Team Fortress 2 have no reason to kill each other except to stop the other guy from killing them first. As long as the “it’s him or me” context exists, players don’t even mind playing as the Zerg in StarCraft and taking part in the extermination of all human life.

GTA shocks the senses by removing the context. It still has a story, but it removes the situational ethics that allow us to pretend that we don’t find shooting at toy people fun, but only do it because we have to save the earth. The manual of the first game had the line “There’s more to do in Liberty City than stealing cars and running over pedestrians… but not much!” GTA is definitely a comedy more than it is a drama, mercilessly satirizing the self-righteousness of the straight-and-narrow action hero who satisfies our desire to see gunfights and explosions as the writers find thinner and thinner excuses to explain why he is “the good guy.” It aggressively removes these justifications, dealing with its subject matter with a level of disrespect that harkens back to an earlier time in gaming, when Duke Nukem was our everyman. It reveals the ridiculousness of treating our actions any differently than the actions of a kid who sets up his GI Joes and shoots them with a BB gun.

GTA doesn’t create or even reflect an internal desire to mow down innocent people – it makes fun of other games for trying so hard not to do that that they forget that it’s really just about playing around with toys. It provides a Styrofoam city and then asks you to be the rampaging monster in a rubber suit. When you build a skyscraper out of blocks and then knock it over, you’re not acting out some internal desire to be one of the perpetrators of 9/11, you just like seeing blocks fall over and go boom. I play GTA to laugh at video games when I get tired of taking them seriously.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
peterb wrote:

Talk about GTA IV being a "bowling sim" all you want, but the truth is: if this wasn't a game that let you f*ck hookers and then kill them, it wouldn't be a megahit. That's the naked lunch at the end of the videogame spoon. I'm all for talking about whether playing games where one engages in adolescent blood-spurt fantasies might be emotionally constructive, but please don't let's lower the discourse to the point where we're going to pretend that the murder innocent bystanders game is really a spiritual representation of modern-day New York.

You speak as if it can only be one thing. That's my point; it's not. It's many things. I don't deny that you can go on murderous sprees, wading through rivers of virtual blood and reaping the innocent as if you were Death himself. However, to deny that the game could be anything else is to sound like the rest of ill-informed hysterical media, denouncing video games as the onslaught of immorality that will crumble the very foundations of society.

Also, f*cking and killing hookers isn't what made GTAIII a megahit. It's what it made it notorious. Don't confuse the two; word of mouth doesn't sell copies unless it includes "...and it's a good game, too." Unless you're going to argue that there's something particular about hookers, there are other games with more carnage and darker-fantasy-roleplay (see Postal) that weren't megahits.

And "the murder innocent bystanders game"? Really? Are you sure you didn't want to add something about how lone gunmen play video games, and that we have to protect the children?

I'm definitely with Chumpy on this one. I enjoyed the crap out of GTA3, and never went on a civilian killing spree. There is a disincentive in the form of heat, while the reward is naught but a token amount of money. The missions? How is sniping a mob boss terribly different than sniping random soldiers, or an assassination target?

As far as the infamous hookers argument? I finished the entire game without realizing that you could pick up a hooker. Trolling for hookers is something that didn't occur to me in game any more than in real life.

Mr. GOH wrote:

First GWJ post, lurker since time immemorial. I think Switchbreak and Certis are right. What sets GTA apart, in some sense, is that it challenges the absolutely virtual justifications that supposedly back up the violence in other video games.

I always remember when someone pointed out to me (forgive me. This is an old example. Shows my age) something very odd about the old Tarzan films. Tarzan was a 'hero' in the old fashioned sense and could therefore never deliberately kill anyone but conversely the evil doers of the film, being irredeemably evil as they were, had to die. To get over this dilemma the villian in the films would, in every film, accidentally kill themselves. They'd run into quick sand or fall into a pit of spears or be caught by a rock slide. It was such a blatant way to salving the moral conscience of the audiences but, until it was pointed out to me, I hadn't noticed.

You should post more often Mr GOH. Is your avatar a picture of you? I like to think so

First GWJ post, lurker since time immemorial. I think Switchbreak and Certis are right. What sets GTA apart, in some sense, is that it challenges the absolutely virtual justifications that supposedly back up the violence in other video games. The violence against terrorists in CoD4 seems justified because the framing story allows the player to moralize it; they're saving the freaking world. Except the selling point of CoD is not that you, the player, can save the world but that you can so so using awesomely real weapons in artfully designed environments while battling enemies with superb AI. The violence simulation is what sells. Multiplayer games are even more violence-laden - there's no real story except killing your friends (who are hopefully more of a challenge than AI-controlled enemies). And multiplayer is darned fun despite the fact that the violence is at least partly directed towards an actual living, breathing human being. So I don't buy moralizing about GTA from folks who play violent games. I suppose if you sleep better at night knowing that the games you play provide virtual moral justification for indulging your violent fantasies, more power to you.

GTA, on the other hand, forces us to make our own stories and justifications. I see it as a converse analogue to BioShock. BioShock uses an on-rails story to essentially critique on-rails, interactive storytelling. GTA presents players with an amoral world in which they may choose to act however they want. In fact, I suspect the the required body count for completing any given GTA is far less than any FPS. I feel like I've killed more Nazis than the Russian and American armies in WWII combined. In other words, GTA open-world violence is the in some ways a purer, more honest admission of what sells any violent video game; it strips simulated violence of its hokey, two-bit justifications and presents it as fun in itself. It paints a disturbing picture of human nature, to be sure, but please don't critique it for its honesty.
That's not to say there aren't valid mechanical criticisms of the GTA franchise, to be sure. I also think that folks who stick to non-violent games and abhor GTA are pretty consistent. For my money, though, I'll take the beautifully crafted murder simulator any day - I'm at peace with fulfilling my male fantasies of violence as an expression of personal power in a freaking sweet, beautifully crafted, and virtual Liberty City.

Edit: For grammar.

take your righteous indignation back to church where it belongs. Because it is silly and irrelevant.

Cool your jets, guys. I know it's a weighty topic, but no need for the righteous anger because you think people are being righteously indignant.

Pages