“A little bit of torture never hurt anybody” some say.

So, what could possibly be more entertaining than torturing people? Or more fun than committing sexually violent acts against women and then viciously assaulting or murdering them?

Apparently not much if you are one of the programmers at Take-Two makers of the Grand Theft Auto series of video games.

The latest instalment of the series is a newly updated Grand Theft Auto V and has all the usual fun of stealing cars, shooting people, dealing drugs and assaulting pedestrians, plus some newer more controversial features.

After an online petition secured nearly 50,000 signatures the decision was made by Target and K Mart to not carry the game in their stores due to its graphic content. This decision has sparked outrage amongst many in the gaming community and many others who oppose censorship.

Something educational for the kids this Xmas?

Something educational for the kids this Xmas?

I for one applaud the decision taken by Target and K Mart and wonder why Woolworths has not followed suit.

I should point out that I am not someone who endorses censorship as a rule. A look at my musical collection would tell any casual observer that I’m not the conservative type, so too would my collection of movies, some which have been banned in Australian cinemas due to their violence.

However more importantly I spent over a decade in the video games distribution industry personally ensuring that some of the most violent video games the world had seen at the time made into the likes of K Mart, Myer, Big W etc.

However there is a line when it comes to what is acceptable and what is not and many say that the line has been crossed with Grand Theft Auto V. Below is a clip of a torture scene from the game and you can make up your own mind.

Whether gamers like it or not retailers can stock whatever they like and if they think it offends a part of the community they have the right to yank something from the shelves, something we saw recently with the Big W blue bogan singlet debacle.

Yes the game in question carries an R 18+ rating and is therefore restricted in whom it is sold to but that does not mean it should automatically be carried, neither does the game’s popularity. Target and K Mart also stock magazines, however I don’t see an abundance of Penthouse in the stores despite it being popular. I have also yet to notice an adult section In the DVD section of these retailers. That is the choice they make.

Anyone claiming the R rating means it won’t get into the hands of children can put their head back in the sand that it is usually buried in. Children will undoubtedly make up a significant part of the games audience.

Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick has released a statement regarding the ban of Grand Theft Auto V from Target and K Mart.

“We are disappointed that an Australian retailer has chosen no longer to sell Grand Theft Auto V–a title that has won extraordinary critical acclaim and has been enjoyed by tens of millions of consumers around the world. Grand Theft Auto V explores mature themes and content similar to those found in many other popular and groundbreaking entertainment properties. Interactive entertainment is today’s most compelling art form and shares the same creative freedom as books, television, and movies. I stand behind our products, the people who create them, and the consumers who play them.”

 For me it is not the violence that is the issue it is the interactive aspect that I have the problem with, meaning players are not merely spectators of the torture and sexual violence against women, they become active participants in it and a rewarded for their actions.

I wonder if Zelnick includes the creators of the rather disturbing rape hack that allows players to virtually rape other players online.


While Zelnick’s statement touches on interactivity it fails to recognise that the things he makes comparisons with such as books, television and movies are not interactive in remotely the same way his games are. Watching a torture scene is different to actually participating in it and choosing the methods of torture, just like watching a game of football is different to actually playing one.

It is not just that you are rewarded for torturing someone, or for murdering a prostitute after you’ve had sex with her, in the highly competitive world of gaming it means you are punished for choosing not to do it as you won’t accumulate points or accumulate your character’s health status as much as if you decided not to murder a prostitute or two.

Defenders of the game claim the game is realistic and these things happen in real life. While that may be true there are many other disturbing things that happen in real life that are not glorified in games.

However it is the lame defence of

“If you don’t like it don’t buy it”

that bewilders me. Whilst that may seem like a statement of the obvious it is not quite so simple.

I believe in all sorts of freedoms, but I don’t think the idea of if you don’t like it don’t play it or buy it works in every instance.

Take child pornography for example. I don’t think you will have too many people defending the rights of perverts to access child pornography or simulated child abuse by claiming if you don’t like it you don’t have to buy it.

That is because there is a line being crossed and while child pornography may be way over on the wrong side of the line, it’s a side of the line that in my mind it shares with interactive torture and sexual violence against women.

Good on Target and K Mart for standing up for their principles and ignoring the almighty dollar.

Some things are more important.


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15 thoughts on “Vicious Games – Where is the line and does Grand Theft Auto V cross it?

  1. There is no law I know, that anyone has to sell anything. That choice should stay with the seller. No one is stopping anyone from purchasing. All they are say, I do not feel comfortable with selling tis item. You are still free to buy elsewhere.

    No different than refusing to sell produce from the local farmer or manufacturer

    Much ado over nothing

  2. This is the latest manifestation of the old censorship debate. I wouldn’t even play the torture clip – I just don’t want to look at cruelty of any kind against men or women, and I am distressed to think that there is a paying customer base for this type of thing. But I read a lot of true crime which in its own way is voyeuristic and, it could be argued, not much different from watching a video image of torture. We all draw the line in a different place. I’m pleased that two retailers have withdrawn this product but it will make little difference, except perhaps it will make a few people think – maybe the publicity will actually mean an increase in sales. The nasty fact is, there is a lucrative market for vicarious sex, cruelty and death. What we do about it is the big problem.

  3. I am anti censorship of any kind, if you want to watch it your choice,if you don’t good luck to you,but in this day and age if Kids want something they can find it,I have not looked around at the websites that carry games yet but I,m sure it will turn up.
    I myself would not give it the time of day,but Censorship is a bit like Canute you can always get around it,most kids & teens are more computer smart than their Parents know,its just the way it is,unless you want the great wall of silence like China

  4. It’s R 18+ It is a game for adults do you get that?
    Do you think children should be able to look at pornography? No? Neither do I.
    Do you think Adults should be able to look at adult material? I would hope so.

    The game is ADULT material, anything other argument against why it shouldn’t be sold is just a strawman argument.
    Also, it has been on sale for A LONG TIME before the playstation 4 and Xbox 1 release.

  5. perhaps that’s why life is so cheap these days, because we have generations consuming this garbage, then walking out into the street and king hitting someone,then left wondering why there was no reset in real life. Perhaps America, land of the free should occasionally take a long hard look at itself and the values of it’s society. Well, Mr CEO I would like to critically disclaim this sort of entertainment

  6. as a society we glorify war (which i’m reliably informed includes significant volumes of rape, torture, violence, murder, etc…) with calendar agenda items such as Anzac Day commemorations … we support sending troops into Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria etc … more blood on our collective hands, more rape, torture, violence, murder … we support religions who engage in barbaric acts against children … we support a political system that offers only the illusion of choice … we support the proliferation of corrupt public servants, corrupt politicians, corrupt business-people and corrupt business practices … we support regional and global actions such as the TPP and situations such as Monsanto suing farmers who save seeds …
    … and whilst i dont disagree that this game is of poor taste and arguably inappropriate content, i encourage you Peter, to promote some of the more pressing issues that plague our planet and societies, rather than expending effort on what – when viewed in perspective – is a small calm drop in a storm beset ocean of inhumane indecency.
    this is picking one low hanging fruit from a long established, deep rooted orchard.
    you have an audience reach that demands something more substantial and meaningful than a populist rant about a game (i would be surprised to find that therein no violence directed towards men in this game – which the women and children angle a little confusing … so is it OK if there the victim is a man? … so where exactly is the line here???) … come on Peter, up the ante !

  7. But they will sell the 50-Shades series to the same mums who signed this petition. Can’t have the little kiddies learn about rape and torture until they are old enough to realise it is necessary for the safety of their country, or their parents sexual fantasies.

  8. If Abbott had his way, his game would have women staying at home doing the ironing and condemned to a life of servitude.

    Bernadi’s would be putting wives in headlocks.

    Morrison’s………well, who knows what sick thoughts this idiot has…….

    Unfortunately, these are real behaviours promoted or condoned by our “leaders”.

  9. “It is not just that you are rewarded for torturing someone, or for murdering a prostitute after you’ve had sex with her, in the highly competitive world of gaming it means you are punished for choosing not to do it as you won’t accumulate points or accumulate your character’s health status as much as if you decided not to murder a prostitute or two.”

    This paragraph is just wrong. There are no “points” or rewards here. It’s true your character’s health regenerates from in-game sex, but will also do so from consuming soft drinks. Sex with street based sex workers is not the only means of in-game sex. There are no “points” for killing anyone, but all Non-Player Characters will drop a random amount of in-game currency when killed. Killing sex workers for money, is thus an artefact of these two game mechanics, rather than a specific reward system.

    David Gauntlett’s essay on the Media Effects Model is still relevant:

    Media is a mirror for society, not a driver for it. For instance, I’d claim that the increase of single parent families has a much greater effect on an individual than 50 hours of video game play in childhood.

    That said, I have no particular problem with Target or Kmart pulling this particular game, other than the hypocrisy and selective outrage. Just as I’m free to no longer shop at any Wesfarmer owned stores.

    Child pornography is actually an interesting case in broader context. The major problem pedophiles have in seeking help is the widespread societal condemnation. The ABC’s Hungry Beast did a short segment on exactly this a couple of years ago. It is the only time I’ve seen a serious media organisation cover the issue with nuance and compassion. There is thus very little in the way of studies for or against child pornography. Clearly, child sexual abuse imagery where an actual child is involved, is wrong because it cannot be created without the engagement of someone who is unable to consent. The line seems to become far less clear when no actual children are involved, or the graphic nature of sex is down played. Coming of age stories that involve sex is a fairly mainstream plot. The Bill Henson fiasco of a few years ago also showed this, with none of the images concerned receiving a rating higher than PG, yet the Prime Minister labelled them revolting. We also have teenage couples being charged for possessing child pornography for taking pictures of themselves having sex. Peter Singer has an interesting defense of bestiality in one of his books. I find it hard to fault his logic, especially as someone who eats meat.

    My meandering point, is that while I often find I share a visceral reaction, I try to put that to one side and examine the actual evidence. The assumed link between media and behaviour is tenuous at best, and far more likely to be influenced by genes and up-bringing. It’s an argument that’s centuries old – it was also deployed against the mass printing of the Bible, because society couldn’t trust the general citizenry to interpret it “properly”. It’s far more complicated than this one game, which is where I see hypocrisy. If Target truly believes in the Media Effects Model, then it should pull all R18 rated material and books like the Bible and 50 Shades of Grey. If it doesn’t, then it looks like it is just caving to an uninformed, poorly researched mob. An anti-censorship group can easily build up a mob of the same size and nothing real is accomplished.

  10. I’d personally love to see the bible yanked, organised religion is a negative influence on society in my mind, however that is a separate issue.
    These books you mention are not interactive, nobody chooses to send a plague of locusts in the next chapter of the bible or choose which race the lord will perform genocide on it’s already written.
    There are games with more graphic violence out there however those scenes have been viewable but not interactive.
    It is the interactive element of the sexual violence and torture that concerns me.

  11. as Dez suggests …

    “If Abbott had his way, his game would have women staying at home doing the ironing and condemned to a life of servitude.

    Bernadi’s would be putting wives in headlocks.”

    Target and KMart had better get Barbie off the shelves too … our girls will be aspiring to a life of coiffed blonde banal stupidity if we leave Barbie with her customary sphere of influence … our girls will end up murdered street-sex workers (and not even for “points” or reward).

    and while they clear the shelves, you will have time to rethink your argument Peter …

  12. That comes back to the Gauntlett article I linked to. The government, when considering the R18 rating, did an extensive Literature Review, and concluded there isn’t much evidence in either direction:

    Really, most of the “evidence” comes down to two groups who have practically made careers of arguing with each other. (Anderson vs Ferguson being two of the biggest names in this space.) It’s obvious that aggression increases as a direct result of playing video games. I say obvious, because it’s really the same effect that generates the “drive to win” when playing sports, or having a bout in martial arts, or really anything that triggers the body’s natural reward system. There is, however, no strong evidence in a long term change in behaviour, certainly nothing causal.

    A lot comes down to what is actually being tested. I’d argue that a lab environment is totally unlike how video games are generally experienced (this applies more strongly when similar arguments are drawn against pornography). Also measuring “aggression”, a nebulous term in itself, immediately after playing a video game doesn’t really tell you much. People who are heavy sports fans, for example, obviously have different moods, and thus “aggression levels”, immediately after their favourite team had an amazing victory or suffered a humiliating defeat. Why, then, single out video games? At least with video games, no real person is hurt, while people playing sports for other’s entertainment can suffer debilitating injuries or, as demonstrated recently, even death.

    Causality is really difficult to prove when it comes to media. Designing an experiment to determine, for example, whether naturally more aggressive people are attracted to violent content, or whether violent content makes people more aggressive is incredibly difficult. When it has been done, it suggests that more aggressive people are more inclined to enjoy violent content, particularly when controlling for confounding factors, like gender. Even then, whether that’s good or bad is very much contestable. For example, violence tends to temporarily go down when particularly violent films are released. The explanation may be that those prone to violence are all in the theatres watching the film rather than out on the streets causing mischief. Similarly, in Western countries at least, there is a correlation between a decrease in the rape rate and the availability of pornography (although this is harder to measure now that pornography has become ubiquitous).

    Environmental effects that interact directly with our biology are often more likely to be the cause of anti-social problems, and the least understood. Removing lead from petrol, is an obvious example. What effect does the kind of foods that are available have, particularly when class, and therefore affordability, are factored in? What effect does the widespread use of the birth control pill have on the water supply, the hormones from which are incredibly hard to remove in water purification process?

    My point here isn’t that there aren’t interesting discussions to be had about what our media says about our society, but it is misguided to think that removing particular media products from sale is on the whole “good”.

    (I could have taken an entirely different tact here, and pointed out that Australia does actually have R rated books – banned from sale entirely in Queensland. The Peaceful Pill Handbook is a prominent example. I could also argue that a Choose Your Own Adventure book may meet your criteria for an interactive book.)

  13. Thanks, AJ. Arguments such as this are only worthwhile when approached with an open mind and fair knowledge of the literature.

  14. I avoided this game (GTA 1-4) like the plague because the media kept saying it was about killing women, etc. But when GTA V came out, a friend convinced me that I should look into it more.

    So I bought GTA V and it has now become my favorite game ever. Here’s why…

    Game Structure:
    One of the main attractions for gamers to GTA is that it’s open-world. The campaign occurs in chapters, to which you have to CHOOSE to start each chapter, except for the first chapter which sets the scene. It is quite possible to NEVER play the campaign at all beyond that point. If you do, it operates a little like those old “choose your own adventure” books. You make choices. The storyline is the result of what you choose to do. There are three possible endings. I have only played out one ending. There were parts of which had mandatory violence, most of which was against “bad guys”. Some of it is against law enforcement but that is typically the result of messing up your objective.

    GTA V is about three guys, Trevor, Michael and Franklin. Each one is a low level criminal out to make money via a massive bank heist. Along the way they are blackmailed by other criminals, or corrupt CIA and/or FBI agents. Note, I can only base this on my one-ending experience which by the way did not include the torture scene. None of the three protagonists (you control all three characters at different times) are rapists, sexual criminals or the like, and all are trying to get out of crime but circumstance has them trapped within that world for the time being. Their story is probably worse depending on your choices, but to suggest this is a game about rape or killing prostitutes is extremely naive, because…

    Open World:
    GTA V does not force you to play in a linear fashion. The developers created a HUGE world where you are free to do as you please, without being pushed.

    Bad stuff you can do: kill innocent people, go to a strip joint (topless women), have sex with prostitutes (no nudity), steal cars, blow things up, kill animals, shoplift, smoke weed and get drunk.

    Good stuff you can do: drive around in flash cars, enter car races, swim, fly planes, fly helicopters, skydive, base jump, ride motorbikes and bicycles, get a haircut, buy clothes, play golf, tennis, arm wrestling, enter a triathlon, eat chocolate, take your car through a car wash, take your dog for a walk, go swimming, sailing, jet skiing, scuba diving, see a movie at the cinemas, explore an abandoned mine, find secret caves, go on a Ferris wheel and roller-coaster, play the stock market, catch a train, listen to music, take photos, film your game-play and share your creativity with friends, bounce around in a low-rider, say hello to people, smoke weed and get drunk.

    What people don’t seem to understand is that almost all of the “bad stuff” that can be done, is done because the gamer chooses to. They are able to do it because the developers made a game that allows you to have freedom, just like in the real world. The game does not force you to kill prostitutes and steal their money, nor does it force you to go on the roller-coaster.

    Misconceptions & Lies:
    You DO NOT get rewarded for killing random innocent people. Just like the real world, if you do the crime, you’ll do the time. Killing innocent people results in you being wanted by the law and the cops will be on your tail within seconds. Also true if you shoplift, steal a car, or run over pedestrians because you’re a bad driver amongst other things. Saying GTA rewards you for killing prostitutes is like saying the same thing out in the real world. If you kill a real prostitute you can then take her handbag and whatever money is in it, so do you think we’re rewarded for killing people in real life too? :S In GTA V, doing such a thing may get you about $100-$500. If you get arrested or killed by the cops that show up, you lose roughly $6,000.

    Someone created a rape mode apparently? I have not seen such a thing within the GTA modding community.
    Bad mods that I have seen:
    Make some men and women naked, make NPC’s violent… honestly I can’t think of anything else.
    Good mods I have seen:
    Add cars like Ferraris, McLarens, go karts, Star Wars vehicles, custom fashion, custom billboards, make NPC’s friendly, turn yourself into a dinosaur, the Flash, Batman, a cop, R2D2, a woman, etc.

    Another thing that non-gamers don’t seem to understand is that the game has attracted so many people that there are thousands of skilled geeks who are able to modify the game, to install Ferraris, dresses and of course, see through bikinis amongst thousands of other things. The developers do not promote any mod that is offensive. They rarely promote any mod at all. Your “rape mod” issue is the same as blaming Ford because some guy bought a car and then painted a Swastika on it and then going on to blame all motorists. :S

    Not in the game: naturally violent people and children.
    In the game: numerous races, skinny people, fat people, black, white, country folk, city folk, homeless people, rich people, gay guys and transgender women… none of which are discriminated against. They are part of the GTA population, just like in the real world. A question: transgender women can be killed in GTA just as easily as any female. I guarantee that somebody out there has done such a thing. Maybe even uploaded a video to YouTube about it, along with an offensive description. So why is it that we only hear about people complaining about violence against women? Because only feminists would complain about a game because some sick individual chose to play it in sadistic fashion.

    Best Feature:
    There is an in-built feature for recording game-play, modifying the footage by taking control of camera positions and movement and then exporting it. Whilst as with everything in life, there’s always idiots out there making stupid use of it. I personally spend a lot of time making short vids.

    If you have a few minutes to spare, I would really like you to watch one video I made. I think you will see that GTA V is only as evil as gamers make it. https://youtu.be/TysyTlv2XWM

    It’s a shame that those that sign these petitions have no idea about the item they’re complaining about.

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