Sunday, May 4, 2008

More on Why I am Angry About Grand Theft Auto IV

Though I have made an unofficial rule not to respond to commenters who lodge personal attacks against me, Lost Turntable makes some reasonable arguments. Of course, that does not mean that I agree, but these are criticisms that I anticipated. I was going to just post this as a response in the comments section, but since it is so long and I spent so much time thinking it all out, I am going to post it here along with the original comment. I also hope to generate a larger dialogue.

The Lost Turntable's original comment:

I really wish people would do a little research before criticizing this game, especially since if there is plenty to criticize if they just did a bit of damn research.

First of all, stop calling it a 'game' in quotations. You not liking its subject matter doesn't make it any less of a game. I don't call a movie I hate a 'movie.' It does make you look like a pretentious jerk though.

Now to address your other points one by one:

1. I am angry because this 'game' romanticizes, decontextualizes and glorifies male violence against women and against other men.

Well, at least you mentioned that it has violence against men too.

I think playing up the violence against women aspect is a cheap shot. It romanticizes violence...period. Women are rarely singled out as targets in this game and never because they are women.

2. It portrays women as the sex class (willing and available) and men as autonomous agents with full subjectivity (as long as they are hegemonicly masculine).

This is partially on target. But while women are portrayed in an overly sexual manner, the men are portrayed as overly violent. If you are arguing that the game only views women as women if they are engaging in submissive sex acts, then you must also say that the game says a man must be violent in order to be a real man. Neither are good.

2. I am scared to live in a culture where this is considered a viable form of entertainment.

Don't know what to tell you there. There's worse than GTA out there, sorry to burst your bubble.

3. The protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic, fucks women, seemingly all prostituted women, and then brutally murders them immediately afterward if he so desires.

Enough with the killing prostitutes shtick. Yes, you can have sex with hookers in GTA. You can also murder anyone on the street. Ergo, you can kill hookers. Reading any more into it is kind of silly. Also, whenever you do have sex with a hooker Niko immediately says to himself what a disgusting, worthless scumbag he is. It's not a rewarding experience.

Furthermore, Niko Belic actually goes on several dates in the game, and often they do not end in sex. He never forces himself on anyone and the sex with these women is always consensual. Conversely, if the gamer treats the women like shit they stop talking to you. Saying that Niko only has sex with prostitutes is wrong.

4. Young men all over the country (and beyond) will learn that the value of women is their capacity to provide male orgasm.

Any guy who plays this game and comes to that conclusion is already fucked in the head. If anyone sees the hookers and strippers in GTAIV and is then enticed to pursue them in real life, they're going to be in a for a real letdown when they discover just how gross, sickening and depressing both those worlds usually are. The idea that young men will take away any ideas like this from this game is an insult to the intelligence of the human race.

5. I am angry that abuses of women are not taken seriously; are not seen as major social problems. In this culture of domination the murder of a prostituted/raped woman cannot be taken too seriously. Yet in video game culture it is not seen as a problem. Stamp an "M for Mature" rating on it and move on.

Wow...um...wow. Get a grip. Yes, violence against women (or anyone for that matter) is wrong and should be taken seriously. But the idea that this game encourages it or even dismisses violence against women in the real world is about as accurate as saying that it will cause an increase in violence against pigeons (a sidequest in the game is to shoot pigeons, much like a scavenger hunt).

6. It seems worth examining the otherness of Bellic here as well. Admittedly, I am no expert in gaming or gaming culture, I have only played a few in my life and have never been amused by their seeming androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence...Bellic is depicted as 'foreign' and/or not white. It enables white American men to play the game and distance themselves from the extraordinary violence that they are enacting upon women and other men. "Oh American men do not murder, rape or pay for sex!"

Okay, nearly everything you say here is flat out wrong, and there's so much misinformation and all-out insanity here I don't even know where to begin.

First of all, not all games feature "androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence." Pick up a game of Sonic The Hedgehog, or better yet the genius Portal (which features a strong, intelligent female protagonist) to see the error in that statement.

As far as the "otherness" of Belic, it's only an issue in that both his past and the fact that he is not familar with America are major story points. The past three GTA games have featured American protagonists who were all just as violent as Niko, and Tommy Vercetti, the main character of GTA: Vice City was more violent, misanthropic and just plain morally repugnant than Niko ever could be. Niko's actually a fairly complex character.

Your argument that the game uses foreign "otherness" as an excuse for violent acts is without base and unequivocally wrong. Like it or not, there's nothing Niko does in this game that is worse than anything the American characters in previous games have done in the past.

It's amazingly obvious that your knowledge of this game, and gaming in general is based almost entirely on what others have told/shown you. Because throughout your poorly written diatribe holier-than-though manifesto you fail to mention the biggest point about the GTA series, which is that they are all broad satires, poking fun at everything from our country's fascination with gangland culture, reality TV and even the music industry. If you took the time out to play the game you might find out that there is some pretty bold pro-feminist commentary in it. For example, there's a radio commercial in GTAIV for a reality show called "America's Next Top Hooker" which brilliantly lambastes our culture's obsession with reality television in a way that also exposes the outright sexism that seems to run rampant in it.

All that being said, there is plenty to dislike about GTAIV. I am uncomfortable with some of the racial stereotypes in the game, and the fact that all the game's homosexual characters seem to be out of a 1970s sitcom also bothers me. However, I am also aware that it is a game. And I don't worry that anyone playing the game will walk away from it more racist or homophobic than they already were. They might actually laugh, see the ridiculousness of the game's stereotypes and walk away from it less prejudiced than they were before. I do hope that in future installments the game continues their critique of cultural stereotypes by turning it on its head (i.e. having a macho gay gangbanger or a female gang leader who takes advantage of her men).

Finally, know that unless you actually sit down and play the game, most gaming fans will refuse to take you seriously.

And rightfully so.


My response:

1. I refer to GTA as a ‘game’ in quotation marks not because I think that it does not possess the inherent qualities of a video game by our cultural definition of that concept but because I am displeased that such a violent, misogynistic activity is considered to be a viable mode of entertainment!
2. I made sure to mention, more than once, that I am not an avid gamer. In fact, I have never actually played GTA IV, though I have played earlier versions.
3. The difference between men and women in a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy (that you do not seem to see) is that women are valued only for their sex, as the sex class. This makes violence against us more insidious. In the real world women are raped, beaten, assaulted, etc. DAILY. Put in this context, portrayals of violence against women by men is not just a coincidence or accident; it maintains patriarchal domination by convincing men and women that it is normal and inevitable.
4. I think we are wholly in agreement that hegemonic masculinity and its hyper violence and limited options are not good for men or women.
5. I would NEVER argue that GTA is the worst form of violence against women “out there” but that doesn’t make it any less problematic. Isn’t that the whole point of cultural criticism? I am not trying to pick out the worst representation of gender in ALL of mass media but rather to present a rich tapestry of similarities of those myriad representations and their complex relationships with one another.
6. “Enough with the killing prostitutes shtick. Yes, you can have sex with hookers in GTA. You can also murder anyone on the street. Ergo, you can kill hookers. Reading any more into it is kind of silly.”
Again, isn’t that the whole point of cultural criticism? Yes, you can kill prostitutes and I think that that is a huge problem. And it isn’t just me. Murder, assault and violence against women are very serious social problems. I cannot even keep track of the numbers but according to RAINN, nearly 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes (the number is no where near that for men). I don’t feel the need to go into the whole significance of cultural context and gender terrorism again. Please, read this post.
Assault and violence against prostituted women is also rampant in the real world. Normalizing it by turning it into entertainment can only add to this problem.
7. If it is true that Bellic does not exclusively have sex with prostituted women, then I gladly retract that statement.
8. “Wow...um...wow. Get a grip. Yes, violence against women (or anyone for that matter) is wrong and should be taken seriously. But the idea that this game encourages it or even dismisses violence against women in the real world is about as accurate as saying that it will cause an increase in violence against pigeons (a sidequest in the game is to shoot pigeons, much like a scavenger hunt).”
Again, I am not saying that GTA is the cause of all social ills, only that it contributes to them by normalizing the propping up of one category of human at the expense of another (and, apparently, animals). Also, I would argue that not enough people take this violence seriously enough and that is why it is such a social ill and not taking it seriously maintains patriarchal rule by making it appear natural and unchangeable.
9. “First of all, not all games feature ‘androcentrism, exclusivity and extraordinary violence.’ Pick up a game of Sonic The Hedgehog, or better yet the genius Portal (which features a strong, intelligent female protagonist) to see the error in that statement.”
I never said “all games,” only the ones I have played.
10. “The past three GTA games have featured American protagonists who were all just as violent as Niko…Like it or not, there's nothing Niko does in this game that is worse than anything the American characters in previous games have done in the past.”
This only serves to prove my point further. That Bellic is depicted as a non-white man at this particular time in American history when immigration is such a particular issue, especially considering that the other protagonists have been white, seems even less coincidental.
11. “You fail to mention the biggest point about the GTA series, which is that they are all broad satires, poking fun at everything from our country's fascination with gangland culture, reality TV and even the music industry.” I sure hope that all of the teenage boys (and girls) playing this game are hip to the oh-so clever satire of GTA. Though in my experience (which, as a high school teacher, is plenty) this is not the case.
12. “I don't worry that anyone playing the game will walk away from it more racist or homophobic than they already were. They might actually laugh, see the ridiculousness of the game's stereotypes and walk away from it less prejudiced than they were before. I do hope that in future installments the game continues their critique of cultural stereotypes by turning it on its head (i.e. having a macho gay gangbanger or a female gang leader who takes advantage of her men).”
Again, I will concede that I have not played the game and do not know the subtleties. I am always glad to hear about characters that defy stereotype and characterization. I am just concerned that such a sophisticated understanding is beyond a significant portion of the players of this particular game. And again, I understand that I can only speak from my experience.

18 comments:

fandel said...

Hmmm...

Well, I won't get too much into the GTA IV argument, but I will say a couple things.

Your point about anti-immigrant sentiment in the game is really odd, considering that the game -- as well as all the previous games in the GTA series -- are actually created in of all places, Scotland.

Why would a bunch of Europeans be promoting American anti-immigrant sentiments?

Also, much of the humor in the game is at the expense of American culture and its views on foreign policy

Example:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=r0isHuohINo

So the idea that GTA IV is promoting a pro-American agenda is really absurd.

Another interesting point: You apparently have the option go on dates with other men if you want, which I found suprising.

The Lost Turntable said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to respond. We are probably in agreement about GTA more than you think. I think the only points we are contending between each other is the overall harm this game may cause. We both think it's offensive and disgusting - I just find that material to be either harmless or intentionally funny - while you are offended and disgusted by it. I am the first to admit that I have a very sick sense of humor.

You mention high school kids, and you're right that they probably don't get it. Of course they shouldn't be playing the game (but a lot of things shouldn't happen). Still, I don't think most of them are using GTA as their basis to decide women's roles in society, their views of immigrants and sexual orientation.

If you played the game you would see that GTAIV isn't nearly as bad as you imagine, but you probably still would take umbrage with a lot of the content in it.

I am curious then, what is your solution? Obviously the game shouldn't be banned, games like this have the right to be made. If you believe that the GTA series exploits misogynist views against women then it's really a symptom of a problem more than a problem itself.

I for one would LOVE to see a game made with a feminist perspective (that's not sarcasm). Games have gotten to the point where serious ideologies and viewpoints can be expressed through the medium. Bioshock is good example of this, as the entire game serves as a guidebook to Objectivism. A feminist-themed action game needs to be made, kind of like the movie Blue Steel, expect hopefully it wouldn't be nearly as awful.

Jack1404 said...

hello i am jack and i am a 16 year old boy who recently was given a copy of GTAIV (yes i know im under the legal age) and i am offened that people are saying that this game is a bad influence and is going to make gamers think that raping and killing women is ok because if someone plays this harmless game and thinks that rape and murder is ok then that person was already screwed in the head and should not be allowed out let alone play on video games. also i have played all the previous grand theft auto auto games and have found them much more violent than this one as i found this one rather calm compared to other games in the seris also it has a better veiw of women as i have been playing the game for several days now and have not once seen or heard anything offensive to women and i have been on several dates with one wich is more than i can say for the other games. so for the people out there like me who this game is just some mindless, harmless fun i say i am outraged at the fact you have slandered this game when you havent even played it and there are much worse things out there that are influencing peoples minds.
yours sincerly
Jack

Kitty said...

This si why feminism is needed I think more than ever: To let people discuss things.

Having read both the article and responses to it I am happy to see that despite you two'd obvious differences in opinion you have both avoided petty name calling :)

I think on a personal note,t he problem with the violence against women in the game is that unlike the men there seems to be very few strong women who are able to dish out the violence as well as recieve it like the males characters and it is this that makes it seem unfair as its a little-one-sided. I do recognise that men get hurt just as much too though!

Thankyou for such an interesting read :)

Bryan-Mitchell said...

I'm not sure how much the fact that the main character in the game is an immigrant can be directly tied to current panics about immigration since, like movies, videogames of this scope take several years to make and so this game has been in production at least a couple years if not more. That combined with the fact that it is made by people from Scotland make me skeptical that any connection is intended. Of course just because none is intended doesn't mean that it isn't there. However, I would say that playing the other is much more the case in GTA San Andreas where the main character is an African-American gang member. In that situation it seems a lot more likely that white kids would get some sort of thrill from consuming the other than playing a Eurpoean immigrant in GTA4.

The GTA series is incredibly sexist and the depictions of women are very sad. I've not played GTA4 but I have played the previous games in the series and it is true that women in the game are either victims and/or sex objects with rare exceptions. There is a very occasional woman in power but from my memory even then they are depicted as highly sexual.

That being said, the ability to kill a prostitute is a more than a little oversensationalized. While it is possible and it is disturbing at least in the GTA3 games (again, I've not played GTA4) you are never required to kill any prostitutes or even deal with them in any way. Prostitution is a very small part of the game. Whenever you kill anyone your wanted level goes up so there is a minor risk associated with killing someone. Yes prostitution does exist in the game and it is as disturbing as the sexism and misogyny throughout the game.

The game itself has so many poor depictions of women in it that to focus on the prostitution angle is to risk ignoring the more casual and pervasive sexism and misogyny throughout the rest of the game.

The fact that the GTA3 games are so good in so many other areas makes it even more frustrating that they have consistently refused to curb their negative depictions of women and offer some depictions that are a bit more progressive.

Anonymous said...

dumb bitch, fuck feminism and fuck you. I will go home and hit my girlfriend because of you and maker her wash my dishes and clean my clothes, because that is what women do.

ZettaiBaka said...

3. The difference between men and women in a white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchy (that you do not seem to see) is that women are valued only for their sex, as the sex class. This makes violence against us more insidious. In the real world women are raped, beaten, assaulted, etc. DAILY. Put in this context, portrayals of violence against women by men is not just a coincidence or accident; it maintains patriarchal domination by convincing men and women that it is normal and inevitable.

Is this supposed to be criticism towards GTA IV? Because to me it sounds like just a bunch of text written for the purposes of gaining word count in a college assignment.

First of all, all this nonsense about "patriarchal domination" is a slippery-slope you're sliding down by assuming that most, or even a significant number of people who play this game will use it as a basis to form their real-world views.

And even if they did, murdering a woman in cold blood in the game is not something that goes unpunished. A lot of police patrol the city. If a passerby sees the player killing in a dark alley, there is a chance he/she will call 911 for the police and report. The police conduct their searches on patrol, by car, and by helicopter, and the player is forced to evade or surrender peacefully. As violence is portrayed, so is appropriate punishment. This is hardly a suitable environment for perpetually exercising "patriarchal domination".

"Also, I would argue that not enough people take this violence seriously enough and that is why it is such a social ill and not taking it seriously maintains patriarchal rule by making it appear natural and unchangeable."

Again, a purely academic observation that has no basis in reality. The fact that most people don't take the game seriously is precisely why nobody except you will read this much into it and come up with this "patriarchal rule" stuff. And for all the reasons I have already described above, too.

"Yes, you can kill prostitutes and I think that that is a huge problem."

Again, you wouldn't be making a big deal of this if you had actually played the game before trying to talk about it. You can also kill anyone else in the game, be it a nurse or a police officer. And most of the time, crime has its repercussions. Or would you prefer it if all the women and prostitutes in the game had a magic barrier around them which makes the player explode if he tries to attack them?

"That Bellic is depicted as a non-white man at this particular time in American history when immigration is such a particular issue, especially considering that the other protagonists have been white, seems even less coincidental."

No, it's not an issue. Why do you think they put in an Eastern-European protagonist in this version of GTA? I suggest you detach yourself from that and look at the game from a GAMEPLAY perspective. (If you did, you'd also know that in the last GTA, the main protagonist was black, not white.) The main protagonist in every GTA game has always been a white or black American who has some relation with gangsters. Why would players want yet another such protagonist for GTA IV? Rockstar decided they'd tell the story from an immigrant's perspective to breathe some fresh air into the franchise. Are you suggesting some sort of conspiracy here?

ZettaiBaka said...

Since it's unlikely that you'll make the proper choice of actually playing the game before forming an opinion about it, let me summarize Grand Theft Auto IV for you:

GTA IV is about choices. Although the game allows you to attack virtually anyone you come across, the killing of women and prostitutes is not required for successful completion of the game. That is the key point. The game doesn't portray violence towards woman -- the player does. The murder of women is not prohibited, but should you choose to do so and suffer the consequences, it is within your freedom. This is what you need to understand. This is why your entire feminist stance against GTA IV is entirely irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

You have two big problems with analyzing this game. 1: You don't understand the game, as you have not ever played it and 2: You don't understand the players.

Gamers who play GTA are well aware of the difference between fiction and reality; even those in the high school where you teach.

If someone looks to GTA IV as their model of living life, then they are obviously a bit touched in the head to begin with. No one in their right mind is going to play GTA and go outside and think "You know what, I just beat a hooker to death in that game I just played. I bet you it will be loads of fun in real life too!"

You are so far off with your assessment of the game as well; of course, you wouldn't know that. You just make assumptions about something you haven't experienced first hand and assume that what you say is correct. If you actually PLAYED THE GAME you would realize that not all women are portrayed in a sexualized/offensive way. Lost Turntable already pointed out a few such characters, but there are many more. One is a key character in the game. Her name is Kate McReary and she is a potential girlfriend for Niko. However, she is classy and respectable, is aware of the criminal lifestyle around her and chooses to steer clear of it. She does not have sex with Niko and Niko respects her wishes.

There are so many other things wrong with your statement, but Turntable seemed to cover most of my thoughts as well. You need to experience this game for yourself before you start ripping it to pieces. No one will take you seriously if you make a statement riddled with misinformation, especially those of us who have played the game and know just how wrong you are.

nonoriginal said...

I applaud your response, turntable. it was very well written and i agree with your ponits. to the creator of this blog, the bottom line is this: "Finally, know that unless you actually sit down and play the game, most gaming fans will refuse to take you seriously."

this is the same with anything. Don't bad-mouth a book without reading it, or a movie without viewing it first. you can't write a thesis or argument on something that you haven't even seen/played/read, so don't even try. You say you are a teacher, so you should know this better than anybody. If someone tried to hand in a report on something that they didn't even read then I would think you would fail them. Why should you be held to a different standard? Although you do have a few valid points, I'm afraid I'll have to write them all off because you haven't played the game.

that is all.

Anonymous said...

agree with turntable and the above poster: if you haven't played the game, then you can say nothing about it. same goes for any book or movie: you cannot critique something that you have not read/viewed. what makes you think that a video game is any different? You say you are a teacher. If a student wrote a report on something that he or she didn't even read, then wouldn't you fail them? Why should you be held to a higher standard? You do make some valid points, but I'm afriad that I'll have to write them all off for this very reason. do some research instead of just writing some b.s. about what you've heard.

Anonymous said...

why aren't you publishing my comments? scared because you're wrong?

Anonymous said...

Not only are you wrong on....everything, but you should actually play the damn game before you start bitching. You will see that this game does not glorify women has sexual objects. There is a character in the game who is a woman you can befriend and she never wants to have sex with you, she only wants to be friends.

So stop saying 'i havnt played it but ive heard things lol.' How reliable are those sources? Not really reliable, probably. And tell all your other feminazi's to stop taking everything and trying to connect it to sexism.

Anonymous said...

The fact that the protagonist is male is neither here nor there. The things he does on screen are still in the hands of the player. Did you fail to notice that the majority of the people who you are FORCED to kill through storyline missions to achieve success in the game are white males? I did. The very fact that you ignored this makes all your previous whining nothing more than meaningless hypocrisy. It's wrong to kill women, but okay for a "white male" to kill other "white males."

I was under the impression that the basis of feminism was equality. Well, if anything the game puts you in situations where you are persuaded to kill male antagonists, not females.

Feminism is a failed experiment. You wish for equality when it benefits you, but stand up in arms when you don't have doors held open for you. You cannot have it both ways.

Anonymous said...

The fact that the protagonist is male is neither here nor there. The things he does on screen are still in the hands of the player. Did you fail to notice that the majority of the people who you are FORCED to kill through storyline missions to achieve success in the game are white males? I did. The very fact that you ignored this makes all your previous whining nothing more than meaningless hypocrisy. It's wrong to kill women, but okay for a "white male" to kill other "white males."

I was under the impression that the basis of feminism was equality. Well, if anything the game puts you in situations where you are persuaded to kill male antagonists, not females.

Feminism is a failed experiment. You wish for equality when it benefits you, but stand up in arms when you don't have doors held open for you. You cannot have it both ways.- I take no credit for that

void-stone said...

I don't really get what you're saying about the depictions of violence against women in GTA. Yes, violence against women is a serious issue. But would it somehow make the game less offensive if your character was unable to kill prostitutes he has sex with, but could still kill anyone else on the street? Because violence against prostitutes is worse than violence against random people? If you can have sex with prostitutes in the game, and you can kill people in the game, then you can kill prostitutes you have sex with. It's not as if having sex with prostitutes and killing them is a central, inevitable, main part of the game. It's just one option for the player if they're feeling particularly evil.

Or is the issue that there are even prostitutes your character can have sex with in the game? And if that's the case, how come having consensual sex with a prostitute in the game is more offensive than actually killing people?

Flic said...

I find your blog very interesting, and I often agree with the points you make, but on this particular instance I was forced to step back and examine your comments from outside the feminist context.

As a female gamer, I've long ago made my peace with the misogyny of the video game industry. That's largely because I think there is a great deal of misandry being thrown around as well.

In focusing on the GTA series, and making the comments about the male gaming population that you have, I think that you're making completely unfounded assumptions about how the male mind works. The male you've constructed in this article is unable to form his own opinion; he is impressionable and utterly unable to resist when it comes to the twin video-game 'temptations' of violence and sex. If that's not a derogatory stereotype, I don't know what is.

Imagine instead that the assumption was made that a woman playing this game would draw some of her opinions on men and masculinity from it. This foolish woman would believe that the most successful men are the ones able to commit acts of violent crime. She would objectify the men who most feverently sought and gained wealth. She would conclude that all fat men are sleazy, and the only acceptable body type for a man she should be attracted to is the tall, muscular and lantern-jawed comic-book sterotype.

What I'm saying is, you wouldn't expect women to be this moronic in the way they construct their notion of and relationships with the opposite sex, so why should you assume that men will behave any differently? In the end, I found your hypocricy (on this particular subject) infantilising and highly lamentable. The borderline extremism you've exhibited here paves the way for the media backlash we women all so despise.

Flic said...

Really, though, this particular blog entry was the only text of yours that I've felt the need to criticise. Normally, I find you an insightful, well written and thought-provoking writer.