As one of the few Australians on Techraptor, this was my stain to try and bleach out. Just a few hours ago, Australia added another example of its nanny-like approach to censorship, as just over 40,000 people was enough to get Target Australia to stop selling GTA V in their stores nationwide via this petition. I hope you’re sitting down for the title of this petition:
Target: Withdraw Grand Theft Auto 5 – this sickening game encourages players to commit sexual violence and kill women
Oh, and here’s the photo that they used on the petition’s front page:
Do I even need to address this? Go read it for yourself, it’s complete schlock. Apparently a re-release of a game that’s been out for over a year is going too far because first-person mode has been added. But allow me to do what many others have done before and spell this out. No, you do not get rewarded, nor are you ‘incentivised’ to commit violence against anyone. The majority of illegal actions, including murder or even firing a weapon in public, will result in a police presence. You know how I know Nicole, Claire and Kat, the former sex workers who started this petition, have never played GTA V? This:
“It’s a game that encourages players to murder women for entertainment. The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get ‘health’ points – and now Target are stocking it and promoting it for your Xmas stocking.”
Their lack of basic knowledge of the game is further compounded by them linking to a video of popular YouTuber “JoblessGarrett | JoblessGamers” showing that yes, you can pick up prostitutes and have clothes on, no nudity, consensual, sexual intercourse with them in a car. In first person too, for added misogynistic immersion. Then you can kill them in whatever way you fancy, with no repercussions except for, oh, that’s right, the police.
“One of many fan clips on YouTube shows the woman being run down, run over, set alight and, still screaming, repeatedly shot.This misogynistic GTA 5 literally makes a game of bashing, killing and horrific violence against women. It also links sexual arousal and violence.”
I can guarantee that nobody is buying GTA V purely for the prostitutes. Just because you can do whatever you want, doesn’t mean everything is encouraged. Open world games have always had this freedom of ludonarrative dissonance. Here’s something I bet they didn’t know about the sex workers in GTA V. First things first, they haven’t healed you for any health since GTA IV in 2008, and if they ask you to leave and you don’t, they’ll call the police on you. Rockstar is actually very egalitarian in how the player is given the choice to treat every NPC with equal disdain. Imagine if, in GTA VI, female NPCs were removed to avoid violence against virtual women, or if they were left in, but made indestructible. Neither option is less sexist than allowing the player to treat them as they please.
“Games like this are grooming yet another generation of boys to tolerate violence against women. It is fuelling the epidemic of violence experienced by so many girls and women in Australia – and globally.”
Notice how there’s no mention of women or girls playing GTA V. How there is no outrage for the violence, and indeed, even sexual violence against men depicted in GTA V. The total disregard for the simple fact that art reflects culture, not the other way around. That there is no evidence to suggest that violent video games influence people to act out what they play.
Why are we so afraid of violence and sex anyway? Why is it okay for movies to depict violent and sexual situations, but not videogames?
Before I tackle that question, some background on how I found out about this. I was first notified of the petition by this awful article, which has since been edited to spread the ‘good news’. They even mentioned GamerGate with this gem of a sentence:
“The industry has been locked in a culture war dubbed #Gamergate since August, which relates to allegations of misogyny and harassment in video game culture.”
They then link to this totally unbiased article which in no way is only there to sell the idea that games and gamers are inherently misogynistic to those who don’t know better. I shrugged it off at first. “Pfft, as if they’d take GTA V off the shelves right before the holiday season. I mean, how backwards could one company possibly be?” I thought to myself. Then Target went right ahead and released this statement, thus marking the first instance of an online petition actually having any effect on real life, ever.
I’m more upset than I should be, really. Nobody is buying games from Target, unless you’re an ignorant parent, which happens to be the target demographic for both the store and the aforementioned petition. As long as this decision doesn’t flow on to more gaming oriented retailers like JB Hi-Fi and EB Games, I’m totally content with Target Australia banning the most successful game in history right before Christmas. Their loss.
But no, it’s not any of those things that bother me. It’s the artistic principle. Keep in mind, I live in a city where the Australian Centre for the Moving Image had this exhibition shown to the public: a wonderful homage to the inherent artful nature of games and game making. It actually featured Metal Gear Solid, not focusing on its violence, but rather its “immersive stealth action”, which is the true merit of the game. That, and David Hayter.
What’s my first defence of GTA V as a beautiful and artful game? This GTA Forums thread. This is a group of players taking absolutely breathtaking photos like the one above of the rich and diverse world Rockstar has built. This is what the game is to them. It’s absolute proof that GTA V is what you make of it, even if that is just blowing s**t up, because it can be beautiful if you want it to be.
So back to the one lingering question. Why is it more okay for movies to depict violent and sexual situations, as opposed to videogames? Well firstly, here in Australia, this sort of censorship is not new. Australia is one of the strictest film, literature, and videogame censors in the Western world. In fact, the prominent and venerated film critic Margaret Pomeranz was actually detained by police in 2003 for attempting to show the banned film ‘Ken Park‘, a film she described as “wonderful”, but which ultimately proved too sexy for the morality police. Like I said, censorship is serious business here.
And yet, movies are cut much more slack than videogames. Videogames were not afforded the highest classification, R18+, until August 2011. This meant that the most extreme games were either censored to fit into a 15+ rating, or the game was simply banned, denying adult consumers the ability to choose a product for themselves.
Here’s a nice little list of currently banned videogames in Australia by the all knowing Australian Classification Board, or ACB. The only difference here is that Target’s decision to stop selling GTA V wasn’t government mandated. In fact, GTA V is not even on this list.
The problem is the interactivity of games, along with the notion that they are still toys for children. Once upon a time in 1998, when interactive DVDs were a new and popular thing, a game called Tender Loving Care was released. You’ll find it right at the very bottom of that list of banned videogames I linked to above. It was originally banned by the now defunct OFLC due to “high impact sexual references and nudity”. It was only when the publishers resubmitted it as an interactive DVD, rather than a game, that it was allowed to be classified and received an M-15 rating, the second highest rating at that time.
So clearly it is this idea of interactivity that people have a problem with. The idea that grown adults cannot separate fiction from reality. It’s still laughable and obviously untrue to those passionate and knowledgeable about the games industry, but to the prudes who would control the messages we see or hear, GTA V in first-person view might as well be reality.
So thank you, Target Australia. Thank you for pushing videogames another step back from being treated equally to any other form of art. Thank you for folding to appease the internet outrage machine, and the horrifically misinformed.