This past week Target, the retail company, made a huge mistake in Australia. Following a terribly misinformed petition on Change.org by “female survivors of violence” that demanded the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V be taken down from the store’s shelves, Target complied – soon followed by K-Mart. As of right now the petition has a total of 47,350 supporters, a number apparently large enough to force a retailer to remove an award winning and well established video game that has been out for more than a year now from sale. The game (for that is what GTA is, a game) “encourages players to murder women for entertainment.” According to the creators of the petition “the incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get ‘health’ points.” While one, you don’t actually gain health by killing a woman in the game, it’s also important to note that by no means are you restricted or given incentive to kill one gender more than the other. In all honesty, after first hearing about the petition I couldn’t help but think it was a joke.
Let’s be kind to the petitioners though and recognize the beautiful game that is Grand Theft Auto V. Published by Rockstar Games, GTA is probably one of the most grotesque games you could play. At any point in the game you could go on a massive killing spree and the story mode itself has you thrust into situations where you need to kill and kill and kill some more. Simply put, the game is very deserving of its M rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). That said, it’s rated M (or 18+ in Australia) for a reason, so the violence alone is really no reason for it to be pulled from shelves anywhere. The possibilities of GTA are endless so yes, if you wanted I guess you could shoot up a strip club but here’s the deal – it’s a game. It’s not real life, you can’t make the argument that doing so in the game will make you more willing to commit an actual crime – to do so would be ridiculous and the argument would be laughable. Let’s remember Huizinga’s definition of play for a moment. In his book Homo Ludens he says ‘to play’ the game must be free, separate from real life, uncertain, unproductive/autotellic, governed by rules, and make-believe. GTA, as any other video game, follows this formula word for word. I’m free to do what I like in the game world (such is the ‘sandbox’ element of GTA), I play it on my Playstation 4 where I can quite easily tell the difference between real life and the game, it’s completely uncertain seeing as how I can be killed if I don’t avoid enough bullets, it’s terribly unproductive (I need to pull myself from my chair to write an essay occasionally), it has its own rules that define how the game functions, and it is 100% make-believe. The actions I take in the game are completely unrelated to the actions I take outside of the game, and the characters you play with as well as the city of “Los Santos” are completely fictional.
I hope we’re all on the same page now; Grand Theft Auto V is a game in its entirety, and quite honestly it doesn’t have the power of promoting “bashing, killing and horrific violence against women.” I’d like to emphasize here now that I am not downplaying the concerns of these women in any way whatsoever. One part of the petition that made me almost reevaluate my beliefs was when they said that “to see this violence that we lived through turned into a form of entertainment is sickening and causes us great pain and harm.” They aren’t wrong, a game focused on violently attacking and killing women and women alone should never exist, and I’m happy to say that it doesn’t since Grand Theft Auto is completely indiscriminate in the way it lets you play through the story. If they still believe that removing the game from stores is an appropriate action, I would make the further argument that it is not only a form of censorship, but would also violate the idea of Individualism that we’ve all heard of from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. In this philosophical work, Mill discusses the value of allowing all opinions to be shared and discussed. According to him, there are true and false beliefs – the true ones are those that agree with our current beliefs and the false ones are those that argue something different than what we believe in. Individualism is the idea of allowing everyone to hold their own beliefs, whether true or false, and can only be a good thing since true beliefs would be strengthened and false believes would either come to be seen as true or would be recognized as absolutely false and would be dropped. In the modern day, Grand Theft Auto and the extreme violence that it features may be off-putting to many, but I would argue that censoring it by removing it from store shelves would only restrict our liberties. If I want to play the game because it’s fun, I should be able to – and I’m glad I’m not in Australia currently because I’ve been playing it non-stop. Below is some gameplay to give you an idea of how GTA works.