This past week saw the release of Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar Games’ latest instalment in the infamous video game series. The saga is known for its high level of design and complexity but also for its condescending attitudes toward women and glorification of violence.
The game was an incredible success, generating 800 million dollars in its first day.
GTA’s popularity begs many questions, among them: Should violent video games be singled out versus other violent media or are they simply a part of an overarching obsession with violence in our culture?
Several other games are considerably more violent than Grand Theft Auto, notably Mortal Kombat or the infamous Manhunt series, the latter of which was also developed by Rockstar Games.
These titles feature over-the-top depictions of graphic mutilation and violence, and have led to high levels of media focus and even bans in countries such as Australia where censorship of violent media is very strict (Grand Theft Auto V was not banned in Australia, however, due to the creation of an R18+ rating for mature games).
Grand Theft Auto is infamous for its violence due to the realism that it seeks to create through vivid settings and player interactions.
Several US cities, including Miami and New York, have been inspirations for distaff versions of environments in previous games.
But does GTA really present a more violent product than any large budget action movie or even certain television programs?
Such HBO series as True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones feature blood and gore often shed by morally ‘good’ characters.
These shows are set in either fantasy or historical periods to give a healthy disconnect from the current time, but AMC’s Breaking Bad offers no such reprieve – it garnered huge acclaim from both audiences and critics by crafting a violent serial crime drama centred on an antihero who has no aversion to violence as a means to an end.
So why is the lens over violent video games like GTA?
The answer: Interactivity and immersion.
One does not control a television show or movie, nor can one become a functioning piece of the media such as that in video games.
The contradiction that arises from targeting such games as Grand Theft Auto while ignoring television shows like Breaking Bad is that, as a society, we encourage passivity while demonizing interaction.
Such dissonance is curious as well as ignorant of the fundamental similarities in content, regardless of the medium. It seems to be a furthering of a general malaise towards violence as even in the news media, mass shootings are presented as spectacle.
The distinction that violent video games are somehow more harmful is a dubious claim. As a collective whole, our media must instead shift away from glorification, and toward ameliorating our passivity and ignorance toward violence as a social disease.
Tom Baril-Bissett is a University of Manitoba graduate. He has seen things which cannot be unseen.