Grand Theft Auto V Isn’t Perfect — But Who Said It Had To Be?
Grand Theft Auto V: You may have heard of it. Every morning its protagonists’ sullen faces stare coldly through me from giant posters on the tube station wall. (I have already bought the game Trevor, jeez’ what more do you want!?) Michael still holds a stack of bills (and little regard for the sanctity of private property) on the front page of most of London’s free newspapers and magazines. Yes, GTA V outsold its predecessor in a matter of hours and has dominated the majority of gaming press for the past five weeks, and I am hardly rocking the boat for my first piece on Geek Binge by covering it some more here today.
I should start by saying that I am having a flippin’ good time with the game. A technical feat, GTA has already earned the price tag with no shortage of nefarious and hilarious antics behind me and plenty yet to come. I have shot down helicopters from moving trains, driven quads out of planes, flown planes into other planes and much more. All in all it has a lot to offer and does so with a lot of style.
What it is not, however, is beyond reproach, and it is slightly flabbergasting that this should have to be stated. When it comes to games and fandom, subjectivity seems to be a foreign concept; as was shown by the incredible backlash recently against Gamespot (and their reviewer, Carolyn Petit) when they dared score the game a catastrophic 9/10. It is clear that the drum still needs banging then, when it comes to treating games critically and with a maturity which reflects their content. Yes you may enjoy a game. You might think that it is gaming’s greatest achievement, or even that it is perfect, but this doesn’t automatically strip anyone else of their right to hold an opposing view. The culture of gaming is a big ole’ dialogue and we all have a voice. All too often though we find that the ones who are the most obnoxious and who shout the loudest are the only ones who ever get heard. This is a dangerous trend that threatens to stifle gaming commentary and the medium’s momentum in general.
Like it or not, publishers and developers listen to the views of the people who are buying, playing, and talking about their games. So by all means if you want to halt progress, please do keep shouting down games critics for doing their job and being critical and suggesting avenues of improvement. I for one will toss my hat in with those who want to see games getting better all the time.
When Carolyn Petit described GTA V as ‘profoundly misogynistic’, she was not wrong. I would be hard pressed to find one example of a female character that is not either the subject of a joke or the object of some lusty dude’s fantasy. No matter what proponents of the status quo will tell you, it is not too much to ask of writers and devs to conceive of and include even a single relatable and well-realized representation of women in their games. This is still true if ‘the story the writer wanted to tell is from a male perspective’ or even if ‘the events take place in a male dominated world.’
Rockstar tries harder still to make obvious exactly who the game is being marketed for by being overtly homophobic too. While not by a country mile is this an isolated occurrence; in GTA V you don’t need to play for long before you are confronted with homophobic slurs being bandied about un-ironically and at times repeatedly. (I am looking at you Dominic.)
There is a big difference between satirical commentary and regurgitating and reinforcing harmful stereotypes, and Rockstar far too often falls on the wrong side of this line. Indeed Trevor is an excellent example of this missing the mark. An undeniable psychopath even by medical standards, he will kill you as soon as look at you, will take pleasure from torture, and will fly into a murderous rage at the slightest provocation. So far so good. All of this is done to build Trevor as a terrifying antihero and to great success. Then he will make a menacing sexual pass at one of the many men he has at his mercy throughout the game and the concept of his ambiguous sexual orientation becomes another aspect of his crazed and depraved character. The same is true when he is lovestruck by a non-young, non-thin and non-traditionally beautiful woman: look at Trevor, this is how CURAYZAY he is!
In case it isn’t obvious, it is offensive to equate homosexuality (or any sexual orientation) to insanity. Whether this was done as a deliberate attempt to court controversy or it was an honest oversight , it is a telling indicator of the lack of tact and maturity evident in the writing. If you are making a product which is definitely going to be sold to millions of people, it is simply not good enough to alienate people who want to enjoy it. It is not good enough to equate women to powerless objects, nor homosexuals with effeminate weakness. I am a straight white male, and thus the target audience for Grand Theft Auto, but when my character is apprehensive about jumping about a helicopter and is told to “Keep it hetero” even I start to question the integrity of the writers.
Also, while we are complaining:
- Beverly (The paparazzi) is the most abhorrent character in any game ever, to the extent that I literally did not want to start his second mission.
- Tiny white text in the top corner of the screen while you are under fire or driving at high speed is NOT a good way to deliver tutorials.
- The wild animals are overpowered
- AAAANNNDDD I was most upset to find that there was no reward for getting all golds in the flight school.
So there you go. Grand Theft Auto V, it turns out, isn’t perfect. The series has long been a forerunner in exploring more mature themes through the medium of games, something which in itself is praiseworthy, but it so often hits wide of the mark when it comes to execution.
Constructive criticism doesn’t equal blanket condemnation and I must emphasize that I have had and am still having a brilliant time playing GTAV. That is in spite of the ever-present casual misogyny, homophobia and trans-misogyny which I have the privilege of being able to ignore. Those without that privilege deserve to raise their questions and have their voices heard without risking disparagement, threats and abuse- particularly if, like Carolyn Petit, it is their actual job to critique this game. The gameplay and scope of GTA V are a long way ahead of the competition – isn’t it about time the dialogue and heart of the game caught them up?