From Lemmings to Grand Theft Auto V


WORDS Sarah Basford

Let’s take a look at the much hyped GTA series. Do the pill popping, gun wielding worlds of San Andreas, Liberty City and Vice City deserve the controversy they receive?

Few are privy to the knowledge that the creators of Grand Theft Auto (commonly abbreviated as GTA) also produced those much loved, pixelated creatures; Lemmings. A lot has changed in the realm of video games since the early 90’s. No longer is the simple concept of saving a few moving pixels from lunging to their deaths a valid pastime, apart from those few dedicated loyalists. Instead, we have game developers fiercely racing into the horizon of supreme graphics, although crossing that finish line can sometimes mean abandoning quality stories and character development.

In the case of GTA, it was a matter of extending the boundaries of the gaming world in a market that was overflowing with safe and predictable games. This extension of boundaries, however, meant creating an anti-hero. A character who wanted to reach the heights of the criminal underworld through the means of killing, pill popping and thieving which seems to be a recurring motif for the GTA series. But what would GTA be without its controversial depictions and ability to slip stigmatised subjects into its game design, a run-off-the-mill game?

[quote]Even the most moral and ethical human beings may grasp a sense of guilty pleasure as you drive through the streets of a fabricated city running over the “innocent” pedestrians simply because they got in your way[/quote]

The secret in GTA’s success is precisely that. Its capability to feed our hungry sub-consciences with taboo topics and graphic imagery enables us a new level of escapism. Even the most moral and ethical human beings may grasp a sense of guilty pleasure as you drive through the streets of a fabricated city running over the “innocent” pedestrians simply because they got in your way. Or as you spawn a jetpack and fly over the sprawling cities and countryside. There is a hidden demon in all of us and GTA’s interactive world releases it from the cage and lets it out to play.

That is not to say that the game’s developers have no responsibility for the content it contains. While it is up to the player’s discretion regarding the actions the player takes, certain actions are forced by level design and it should be asked whether these actions must always be ethical. Other games, such as the successful Call of Duty, offer users the chance to skip certain cut scenes that may be too graphic or offensive. While GTA doesn’t seem to warn users, cut scenes can be skipped regardless. It’s suggested that due to the games restricted ratings, one can assume that a certain level of violence and other references would be present.

Despite all this, there is also an issue of the representation of women in the series. As a female gamer, I would usually overlook the character design and treatment of females in an attempt to enjoy the story without becoming a “feminazi”. It can sometimes be hard to overlook this in the GTA series, with the majority of female characters presented as provocative, damsels in distress, or plain annoying. It could also be argued that the male characters are equally as annoying and deserve an appropriate amount of video game violence against them, but it is undeniable there is some level of misrepresentation present.

It should be noted, however, that the series has always been a satirical reflection of the irrationalities and absurdities of modern society. It needs to be determined whether the sexism in the game is any worse than the racism, classism and other stereotypes that the game proudly satirises. Through producing these stereotypes and themes it is often hard to define whether they are actually satirical, and if its satire can actually justify these depictions; or rather, if they are just reflections of the designer’s opinions and thoughts.

More importantly, whether these issues simply reflect or reinforce the minds of those who play the game should be at the forefront of discussion. This is due to the fact that the series has sold over 125 million units since 1997 and has undeniably reached a larger audience than a lot of other prominent games.

Disregarding whatever negatives I have raised about the GTA series, it is always an enjoyable story and crime rampages can be a fun way to enjoy a break from studies. Whether you know GTA for its hot coffee mod, ability to hire female prostitutes or for its liberal game play, it is indisputably one of the most well-sought games at the moment and it would be a sin not to investigate the hype.