Grand Theft Auto is Sexist: Well, Of Course!

So, a woman recently started a petition to get Australian Target chains to withdraw Grand Theft Auto 5 from its shelves, on the basis that it promotes and encourages misogynistic violence. Now, I’m going to try to be nice to this woman. Her heart is in the right place. But I already had a huge amount of disdain for the overwhelming amount of censorship in Australian media, and this is taking it even further for no reason. Many of the commentors on the petition site have laid out a few choice points, but, hey, I have a blog. I can be fancy.

Let’s begin.

Target: Withdraw Grand Theft Auto 5 – this sickening game encourages players to commit sexual violence and kill women

I get that petitions have to have clickbait titles, but God is this the clickbait-iest of them all. What part of GTA is sickening again? Is it just the part where you kill prostitutes, and brutally killing literally everyone else as well is okay? Is it just the sex worker part that makes you shake your head in shame?

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.

Now, I’ve never played GTA. It’s just not my kind of game, I’m a Mass Effect kind of person. But I’m a nerd. I’ve watched people play it plenty of times. I hear people talk about it. It has a plot apparently, which is more than I expected from it. That being said, I’m fairly certain that you can’t commit sexual violence in the GTA games, not against women or men. You can purchase lap dances at a strip club, which is a legal transaction. Or you can purchase sex with a hooker, which may or may not be legal, but I feel like she’s the kind of woman who thinks sex work should be de-stigmatized, and so do I. You can’t rape the NPCs, though, or even assault them in certain areas. You can get kicked out of strip clubs in GTA, you know? Now, the player can still kill strippers and hookers just like they can kill anyone else, but that’s a decidedly separate action from having sex with them as far as gameplay is concerned. You could probably mod it in, but that’s a mod–the game doesn’t come with that ability.

She’s acting like GTA is one of those creepy (but, still–in my opinion–ultimately acceptable on the basis of fantasy) Japanese hentai porn games where the plot revolves around sexually assaulting as many people as possible as its main goal. GTA is not that at all. The “incentive” is not to commit sexual violence against women. A.) I already said you can’t do that, and B.) the incentive is to make money in the gang world whilst also being as deranged-ly sociopathic as possible–shooting old ladies, getting into shoot outs with the cops and using civilians as meat shields, stealing ambulances and running people over, and such. It’s not my kind of game, but I get the appeal. Who has never went on God-Mode in Prototype and wasted everyone and everything within a five mile radius just because you could? Sometimes, just doing destructive things for the sake of doing destructive things is fun. And it’s fine as long as it stays a fantasy.

This is Grand Theft Auto 5. This game means that after various sex acts, players are given optionsto kill women by punching her unconscious, killing with a machete, bat or guns to get their money returned. 

So, you are acknowledging that the sex and violence are two completely separate things? Yes, you can beat up a stripper after she gives you a lap dance if you want, but that’s the main gameplay mechanic in GTA: beating people up. You have the option to kill or assault everyone, man or woman, after they do anything for you, sexual act or otherwise. And to act like the incentive of the game is explicitly to have sex with a prostitute then kill her is just flat out wrong. With that logic, I could just as easily say that the main goal of this game is for you to mug men on the street and then kill them because that’s an option available. And you technically get money returned when you beat up a sex worker, but that’s really just her dropping all of her money–something that happens when you beat up anyone in this game. The real incentive is to beat up pimps–they have way more cash on them than prostitutes.

Please Target – we appeal to you as women survivors of violence, including women who experienced violence in the sex industry, to immediately withdraw Grand Theft Auto V from sale.

And you have my deepest sympathies as people who have endured trauma. That being said, your trauma cannot be applied to everyone else. Video games–even violent ones–are, more often than not, benign. You cannot make a catalyst out of something that personally makes you feel bad and then act as though it is objectively bad. The trauma you endured exists independently of things that trigger you, and it is that trauma that should be contended with as best as possible because that trauma is what is hurting you, not the outside stimuli that happen to dredge of negative thoughts and feelings. I wholly understand not wanting to be around that kind of thing, but that’s on you. You are the one who doesn’t like it, so you are the one who has to avoid it. Sometimes you can’t help but be confronted with something that you don’t want to be around, but it’s irrational to ask the world to shoulder your issues, to take something away simply because you have decided that it makes you too uncomfortable.

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.

Okay, well, here’s a GTA clip that’s nothing but a six minute long montage of someone mass murdering everyone in sight by brutally running them all down on the sidewalk. For the hell of it, here’s another thirteen minute long clip of someone beating people up indiscriminately, for no reason. And here is a kill compilation of NPCs in GTA being brutalized in ways similar to the one in your clip, men and women. The player has the capacity to commit horrific violence against anyone in GTA. It took me 60 seconds to find those three clips. It makes a game out of bashing, killing, and horrific violence against anyone and anything. That’s the appeal of the game. How does it link sexual arousal and violence other than having it be an option to treat a stripper just like you treat any other NPC?

We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence. It haunts us, and we’ve been trying to rebuild our lives ever since. Just knowing that women are being portrayed as deserving to be sexually used by men and potentially murdered for sport and pleasure – to see this violence that we lived through turned into a form of entertainments is sickening and causes us great pain and harm.

Once again, I’m sorry that you’ve been through such a terrible experience. I hope you can rebuild your life. But why must the rebuilding of your life include the censorship of media that you find undesirable. You’re not just refusing to buy or play a Grand Theft Auto game because it goes against your own principles, which would be fine–you want no one else to buy or play the game as well, all because you are turned off by the content. Why does rebuilding your life apparently necessitate holding onto the victimization you’ve felt and applying it to things around you that don’t warrant such a reaction? Why does rebuilding your life mean never having to be confronted with something that reminds you of your trauma again? From a strictly psychological standpoint, avoiding things that trigger you isn’t beneficial because all that does is make it so that you never get over what happened and never move on, because you never learn how to actually deal with it. You only learn how to better avoid it. Grand Theft Auto is actually a good thing in this regard, as it’s a triggering stimulus that is totally, 100% fake. It’s safe.

Do you think war veterans like Call of Duty? Do you think someone who has been imprisoned would like The Suffering? Do you think someone who has witnessed a murder would like Uncharted? Bad things happen to people all the time–that doesn’t mean that video games shouldn’t have any negative content.

This game spreads the idea that certain women exist as scapegoats for male violence. It shows hatred and contempt for women in the sex industry and puts them at greater risk. Women in the industry are 40 times more likely to be murdered by a man than any other group of women.

Not certain women, seeing as how you can assault all women, sex worker or not. Sex workers tend to have more money on them, which is the main factor here. I don’t see how it shows hatred and contempt for women in the sex industry any more than it shows hatred and contempt for cops or pedestrians. Once again, having the capacity to kill prostitutes does not mean that players are going around killing only prostitutes and no one else. Just like having the capacity to kill cops doesn’t mean that’s all the player is doing. Maybe some people do that, but you can’t make any blanket statement about “most targeted NPCs” in any game. In GTA it seems like the most targeted NPCs are just random civilians.

So women in the sex work industry are 40 times more likely to be murdered by a man than any other group. I buy that statistic–it makes sense. It’s a sobering statistic, obviously, but what do you want done about it? Stories, and therefore video games, serve as some kind of reflection on the world. You’re essentially saying that women experience violence in the real world, so that shouldn’t happen in fiction. Isn’t that just erasing a problem, denying that it exist in our entertainment media in a way that I’m sure you also wouldn’t approve of? Should we dox Game of Thrones too because people die in real life, so that something like that shouldn’t be in our stories? Fiction should be allowed to depict whatever it wants. As a side note, what’s with all this “murdered by a man” stuff? Is a woman being murdered by another woman less terrible? Are the male murderers more reprehensible? You know women play GTA, right?

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.

I’m not going to get into the whole “video games cause X” debate. Suffice to say, Anita Sarkeesian’s argument that video games encourage sexism is about as accurate as Jack Thompson’s argument that video games encourage violence: they don’t, on either account. At most, games make people who were already violent more prone to violence and people who were already misogynists more misogynistic. But you can’t make any causal statement–you can’t say that video games are grooming sexists any more than they groom murderers.

The main character of the game is a gangbanger and a sociopath. He’s not supposed to be nice. He’s not supposed to be a role model. What he does is not supposed to be “right” or “acceptable.” He’s a criminal. Grand Theft Auto is appealing because it lets people be bad. They acknowledge that what the player character is doing is wrong. They like the game specifically because they know those types of actions are not okay. They like it because it’s a fantasy–and sane people are able to distinguish between what is acceptable in a video game and what’s acceptable in reality.

Target, you pride yourself on being a family company, caring for local communities, and have a strong ethical sourcing policy. How can you do this while contributing to hostile and callous attitudes toward victims of violence and, more broadly, to all women? We urge you to follow the example set by the New Zealand’s largest retailer, NZ Warehouse Group, in upholding Corporate Social Responsibility and ethical corporate leadership, by removing these games.This would also set an example to other stockists of GTA V.

Target is actually one of the worst companies ever. If Target stocking Grand Theft Auto 5 is your utmost complaint about it, you’ve seriously got to check your priorities. Also “ethical sourcing policy” sounds like something out of fucking Fahrenheit 451. I’m a woman and I don’t feel insulted by Target “contributing to hostile and callous attitudes” towards me. I’m infintely more insulted by the notion that my delicate sensibilities need to be shielded from the horror that is a video game not made for my particular demographic. OH THE HORROR.  And stock of GTA will not go down any time soon–the game’s a classic, people will find a way to buy it.

Please put ethics before profits and make a strong statement that you do not condone sexual violence, sexual exploitation or the abuse of women as ‘entertainment’.

All that aside though, in the end of the day, Grand Theft Auto is a video game. Video games are supposed to entertain, and what makes video games awesome is that they can entertain in a way that books, movies, and TV do not. Games are interactive. You are affecting what is happening on screen, and you can’t get that anywhere else. You want to know why violence is such a prevalent gameplay mechanic in almost every genre of video game (ones targeted at women too, excluding fashion games, of course)? Because violence means actually doing something. It’s a way to interact with something in a way that is dynamic and fun to look at. Even Mass Effect, a game about politics, has shooting and punching as main gameplay mechanics. If people want to just stand around talking, they’ll play a visual novel. If people wanted to see the actual social affects of mass murder, they’ll go watch We Need to Talk About Kevin. 

Video games are not for that. They’re not for showing you the funeral of every mook you mow down on the way to fight the boss just to impress upon you that violence causes pain in people lives. They’re not for programming deep and complex backstories into each NPC so that you can have a deep, meaningful conversation about the stripper’s homelife instead of just asking for a lap dance.

Actually, video games are for that. They can be for that. Silent Hill 2 is all about how death ruined someone’s life and the crippling guilt they feel about it. Mass Effect and Skyrim have NPCs with their own lives going on in the back ground. Portal is smart and full of witty dialogue, The Last of Us is about a father’s love for his daughter. So you can go to video games for something with substance. They aren’t all just flashing colors and nothing else. There are plenty of good games out there.

Grand Theft Auto is not one of those games. It’s not trying to be one of those games. It shouldn’t have to be one of those games. We need intelligent, emotional games just like we need popcorn games just meant to be entertaining. And GTA is entertaining–there’s no reason to act like there’s some deeper message, some conspiracy about how it promotes misogyny. It’s just a fun game where you can beat up whoever you want, whenever you want. Violence is bad, of course, the media is not reality. People know that.

Nicole, Claire and Kat

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