Space Ramblings

A Dishonest Defense of GTA IV

GTA IV is out, which of course means the cultural critics and ole Jack Thompson are out and about sniping away at the game and its culture of violence. Now obviously no video game can make someone steal a car or shoot anyone in real life. That’s common sense and it should be the main point of defense. And that should be it without trying to follow the lead of some Rockstar Games people by trying to whitewash the actual game content of GTA VI.

For example this Cnet article Critics slam ‘GTA IV’ without test drive rehashes an old defense of GTA3, the sandbox defense. Now anyone who’s actually played Grand Theft Auto knows the sandbox defense is a joke. Yes you can spend time in the game riding around in a taxi or just walking around. You could also spend it passed out on the ground. Neither of those are the object of the game.

Part of the problem, said Aaron Muszalski, a visual effects artist formerly with Industrial Light & Magic who teaches at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, is that critics of games like those in the GTA series pass judgment on a very small sample of the whole game.

“When it was reported that, in earlier GTA games, it was possible to have sex with prostitutes and then beat them to death,” Muszalski said, “people who lacked a grasp of ‘sandbox’ gameplay were likely to have interpreted that news to have meant that to ‘win’ at GTA, one had to perform such tasks, perhaps even that they were a recurring stage in the gameplay.

Now I’ll grant you that I don’t remember any GTA mission that requires you to have sex with prostitutes and beat them to death, it’s not only possible in the game but it’s rewarded. But let’s take the whole, “kill a hooker, get her money” thing off the table. To win at GTA you do have to beat people to death, kill a few women and at least transport hookers. There was at least once GTA Vice City mission that involved killing someone’s ex wife.

“Of course, such a perception is grossly flawed, as anyone who has actually played GTA…will quickly tell you,” Muszalski continued. “Many of the aspects of GTA that were most covered in the press were things that, in the actual course of gameplay, many people would never need nor choose to do.”

Let’s face it random violence was always part of GTA, not only because the game design made it possible, but because it actually made Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas into randomly violent places. And back to the beating hookers to death thing, killing a random NPC yields money. That’s the game design. That means the game comes with an incentive for killing NPC’s. GTA specifically doesn’t contain children because the game designers did not want players running around killings kids. That’s where they drew the line. They certainly knew and expected that players would beat and kill NPC’s, including the hookers to death, and created a reward mechanism for it.

Does this mean that GTA encourages players to go and kill real life hookers? No, it just means that we should be honest about the actual game content, because not every critic is as stupid as Jack Thompson.

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