Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh, right... Grand Theft Auto is coming out...

Samhita has a post up about a GTA4 trailer. I haven't watched the trailer, because... well... I'm at work, and I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it's a bit on the ol' NSFW side. Just a hunch.

Anyway, I read the post, and started reading the comments, and I can't help but be surprised by some of them. The Grand Theft Auto series of games are an easy target for analysis. They're full of racism and misogynistic violence, and they don't really do anything to hide that fact. In fact, the series has pretty much embraced that fact, and the creators go out of their way to try to outdo themselves with each game.

So, some of the defenses are really surprising to me. The suggestion that killing prostitutes "is never a story goal" or was "obscure" and that it's a game of "choices" bothers me. It's been a while since I played any of the GTA games, but it was *never* a secret that you could kill prostitutes. From at least GTA3, it's been pretty common knowledge that you could go out, pick up a prostitute to regain your health, and then kill her to get back the money you lost when you picked her up. It was never an obscure part of the game at all, even if it wasn't manditory. The bit about it being a choice is irrelevent. There are plenty of things that the game doesn't let you do- there are no children in any of the GTA games, so you won't find yourself a child-killer, for example. So, the choice to include prostitutes that one can then murder? It's about choice- the choice of Rockstar Games to include that element.

Similarly, a commenter suggests that the "in-game consequences are only negative" when you kill one of the prostitutes. That's not accurate. Killing NPCs in front of the police or other characters has a potentially negative consequence- it increases your wanted level, thus making the police try to arrest or kill you. But, killing anyone- prostitute or not- also has positive consequences in that you can steal any money or weapons that character is carrying. Further, killing someone in a place where you're not being watched or where there aren't any police doesn't increase your wanted level. And, for many players, increasing your wanted level isn't actually a negative consequence- I knew plenty of people who made a game out of getting the highest wanted level possible just to see how long they could last.

I really took umbridge to Scilian's comment, though:
Well Grand Theft Auto is simply a game based around violence and crime.

Violence, sex, and more violence.

Anyone can be killed at any time - so would the game be ok if women were removed completely from the game?

Or maybe if women couldnt be killed in the game?

But then the rife hypocrisy here at feministing rears its ugly head as usual - since the violence is about 99% towards males, wouldnt that reek of misandry?

Kind of funny, you know, this bullshit post coming from samhita when she constantly talks about racism against black males who tried to kill someone by kicking in their heads with steel toed boots, but then shooting people in a video game is suddenly misogynistic?

So real world violence is ok, but a game that has nothing to do with killing females is suddenly misogynistic?

Logic must have the day off today.


Where to start? First of all, it looked to me like Samhita's post was largely about the fact that "not only are the sex scenes very real looking, most of the women are killed shortly after forcibly performing sex acts." It's not just that the game is violent- it is. Yeah, you can kill pretty much everyone in GTA. But, there was a choice made about which characters you could pay for sex with and then murder, and, hint- it wasn't the characters with penises.

And Scilian's bringing up the Jena Six case is disturbing, as well. That case is ongoing, and I don't think that anyone has attempted to say that the fact that one of the white kids was attacked was good- only that the Jena Six aren't being treated fairly, and they're being punished in a way that exceeds their crime, while the white kids who also engaged in serious acts of violence are going free with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. It's not that violence in the 'real world' is okay.

And, really, this attitude that, because she's complained about the treatment of women she must necessarily also complain about the treatment of men or it's a double standard? It's bullshit. It's a game made by men targeting a male audience about a male character who spends a lot of time doing terrible things to other men. There are complaints to be raised there, for sure- but Samhita, a woman, is under no obligation to discuss them given that the game *also* features nasty treatment of women, too.

Hell, we can discuss the treatment of men all day- and I'd personally suggest that, if Scilian is really concerned with the treatment of men, a better tactic than accusing Samhita of hypocrisy would be to become an activist and write about or do something about it. Pissing on somebody else's movement isn't a good way to get your issue addressed. And, I find the criticism difficult to swallow given the width and breadth of male characters available absolutely dwarfs the portrayals of women in games.

More generally:

I'm certainly not in the habit of trying to tell people what is or is not a feminist attitude. If someone tells me that they're going to play GTA4, I'm not going to try to revoke their feminist street cred. Nor do I think that the GTA series of games are completely without merit. The sandbox style and the ability to create tremendous car crashes, do Hollywood action movie style car chases and jumps, etc? That stuff is all a lot of fun. I love that part. But, the sad fact is that they've consistently packaged a really fun free-roaming car driving game inside of a really nasty narrative. The game is full of racist, sexist, and heteronormative/homophobic bile. And for that? Yes, I do think it belongs in the hall of shame. Which is too bad, because, yeah, I've actually had a lot of fun outside of the story of the game, flying helicopters and racing bikes through the city.

Ultimately, I have no interest in playing GTA4, despite the consistently high marks that it's getting. I'm not interested in more racist drivel being passed off as story. I'm not interested in seeing what kind of stupid, ignorant stereotypes they'll embrace in the portrayal of an Eastern European character. I mean, we've been treated to an Italian who joins the mafia, and a black gang member, so we've got reason to believe that they'll treat him with respect and not fall back on stereotypes. Right? Right?

edited 3:38 PM -
Shamus has a great quote about the difficulty of rating a game like GTA4. He makes a comparison between rating the game and rating a restaurant: "How do you rate a restaurant that serves mouth-watering steaks for $5 and a punch in the face before the meal?"
Too right.
Anyway, his piece is about how some publication was granted an "exclusive review" of the game prior to release. Penny Arcade mentioned the same thing, and I'll go ahead and throw my gamer hat on to agree: Exclusive reviews raise some significant questions about, you know, objectivity. Color me "not a fan".

14 comments:

Mighty Ponygirl said...

We'll see how long before that post is linked on some fanboi site and the real trolling starts.

Lyndsay said...

I was also rather surprised at the number of comments approving of GTA. Yes, I realize it's a choice and there are many other types of people you can kill...but ugh.
That said I'm not a gamer at all and it kind of shocks me how much of our society is desensitized to this violence just because it's fake.

Lyndsay said...

Also, it seems unfair how often Samhita is jumped on for her posts. I don't really get it.

EG said...

it kind of shocks me how much of our society is desensitized to this violence just because it's fake.

It's a big improvement historically, though, over finding genuine violence entertaining. When I feel hopeless about our culture I remind myself of that--at least we're pretending now, rather than watching actual people being burned alive.

EvilDollie said...

Well, I agree with you. I don't know what to add beyond that. I'm not sure why so many people seem to think that game is just a-okay because people aren't going out and murdering prostitutes after playing it. What, it's only problematic if someone dies?

Jeremy said...

"Also, it seems unfair how often Samhita is jumped on for her posts. I don't really get it."

Maybe if she didn't launch into attacking things based on false premises (it's not a trailer, it's a highlight real produced by a review site of the absolute most objectionable things you can do in the game; the presence of - yes, heterosexual - sex is not linked to violence, etc), people would be more inclined to take any sensible arguments she makes seriously.

EvilDollie said...

Jeremy: I'm not saying Samhita has never been wrong (she was misinformed in this instance, as you know), but what does Lyndsay's comment have to do with taking Samhita seriously? Lyndsay just said she feels like Samhita is often unfairly jumped on. Are you suggesting Samhita deserves to be jumped on no matter what she says because she has been mistaken or misinformed in the past?

Anna said...

Yeah, I'm kind of surprised at the press on Grand Theft Auto. Even NPR did a fairly positive story on it on All Things Considered. They really liked the fake NPR station you can listen to in the car.

Mighty Ponygirl said...

Jeremy: Even if Samhita was misinformed about the details doesn't change the fact that her underlying argument--about the treatment and objectification of women in the game--was correct.

All the people falling all over themselves to whine "but that's not the OFFICIAL TRAILER!" in response to the IGN video she posted are trying to pull red herrings. Official or not, the game has some extremely fucked-up representations of women and heterosexuality, and deserves to be called on it, no matter how "great" the plot is.

Lyndsay said...

Yes, what eg said is true. When I'm annoyed with the present I tend to think of the past. We tend to idealize the past (especially the 50s?) but really, life expectancy sucked, feminism is quite recent, not having to worry about starvation is quite recent, etc etc. We have made progress. Change is slower than some of us would like unfortunately.

gta ftl said...

Hi No Cookies, I love your take on this. You said it much better than I managed to. I've been smiling about that steak dinner/punch in the face analogy all day. :)

Dress to Impress said...

"That said I'm not a gamer at all and it kind of shocks me how much of our society is desensitized to this violence just because it's FAKE."
FAKE
FAKE
FAKE
that's the whole point of it. It's fake, as in not real... please get a grip.
Why do people care about things that are not actually happening?

Anonymous said...

Wow...this is probably the dumbest thing i have ever read. I am a woman and I have no problem with GTA, in fact, I play it quite often. Seriously, do you people just go around getting offended at EVERYTHING ON EARTH, because it sure seems that way. And you wonder why nobody takes your whining seriously.

I think the worst part of this is that you are a MALE FEMINIST! WTF? Is this some clever scheme to pull in the pussy, or what? I certainly hope so, because the idea of a male feminist is just vomit-inducing. It's bad enough to see women trying to castrate and emasculate men, and it is incomprehensible to see a man agreeing with it and embracing it!

I guess I just don't understand, because I'm a normal, non-feminist woman that isn't butthurt and weepy over every little insignificant thing on the planet, but it is disturbing to see people write a bunch of tl;dr crap over a freaking VIDEO GAME.

I also cannot understand why you people are complaining about crap like this when there are much bigger problems in the world. IDK, maybe I'd have to be a shrill, fat, sloppy, man-hating feminazi eatbeast (or a male "feminist"..LOL) to get this mindset, so I suppose I have yet another reason to thank whatever powers that be that I am nothing, NOTHING at ALL like you people, and never will be.

Oh, you can call me a troll or whatever, because I don't agree with you, in fact, I EXPECT it, because people like you usually scream "troll" at anyone who dares to think differently. So much for free speech...but I suppose it only matters when it's YOU doing the talking, right?

Roy said...

Wow...this is probably the dumbest thing i have ever read.

Thanks!
I guess I'm doing something right, then.

I am a woman and I have no problem with GTA, in fact, I play it quite often.

That's cool. I know lots of people who play it. And I'm the first to admit that some of the core gameplay elements are tons of fun- I used to love just driving around in GTA3, causing pile-ups and blowing up cars. It's the politics of the game that bother me.

Seriously, do you people just go around getting offended at EVERYTHING ON EARTH, because it sure seems that way.

Nope. Mostly just ignorance. But great question! There are tons of things that I get really excited about and enjoy quite a bit. I've written about many of them right here on this site. You might be surprised to know, for example, that two of my favorite movies are Robocop and Alien. If you haven't seen them, you should check them out- they're brilliant.

And you wonder why nobody takes your whining seriously.

Actually, I don't wonder anything of the sort. I don't consider myself the whiny sort, and plenty of people seem to take what I'm writing about and saying seriously enough for me. But, again, I appreciate the concern. It's really heartwarming, given the sometimes hostile nature of the interwebs.

I think the worst part of this is that you are a MALE FEMINIST! WTF? Is this some clever scheme to pull in the pussy, or what? I certainly hope so, because the idea of a male feminist is just vomit-inducing.

You should probably go see a doctor about persistant nausia- it could be the sign of a larger problem. Maybe you've got ulcers? Do those make people throw up? I'm not a doctor, so I can't say for sure, but I'd be worried if I were you.

It's bad enough to see women trying to castrate and emasculate men, and it is incomprehensible to see a man agreeing with it and embracing it!

If I ever see someone trying to castrate or emasculate someone, I'll be sure to let you know.

I guess I just don't understand, because I'm a normal, non-feminist woman that isn't butthurt and weepy over every little insignificant thing on the planet, but it is disturbing to see people write a bunch of tl;dr crap over a freaking VIDEO GAME.

It's called "analysis". You should check it out sometime. See, video games are what is called "cultural artifact." When we analyze things like gameplay elements, story, dialogue, etc, we can start to understand how video games function both as a reflection of larger society, and how video games exert an influence on society. Games, like movies, have an influence on our attitudes and behaviors. Consider briefly the ways in which online language has been influenced by gamers, and you'll start to get an idea of what I'm talking about. It's really very fascinating.

I also cannot understand why you people are complaining about crap like this when there are much bigger problems in the world.

The amazing thing about being me is that I'm able to multitask and be interested in and concerned about more than one thing at a time. I can be annoyed by some aspects of the GTA series, excited about Rock Band, interested in Metal Gear Solid, looking forward to Hellboy 2, and still have emotional and intellectual energy left to be angry about social injustices. It's amazing, I know.

IDK, maybe I'd have to be a shrill, fat, sloppy, man-hating feminazi eatbeast (or a male "feminist"..LOL) to get this mindset, so I suppose I have yet another reason to thank whatever powers that be that I am nothing, NOTHING at ALL like you people, and never will be.

Instead, you're content to be a shrill, annoying, rude, ignorant knuckle dragger? That's somehow better?

Oh, you can call me a troll or whatever, because I don't agree with you, in fact, I EXPECT it, because people like you usually scream "troll" at anyone who dares to think differently.

Ah, I see the problem. You've got it a little off- I don't think people call you a troll because you think differently, it's the way you present yourself and approach the problem. It's not like you came here interested in some kind of dialogue with me about the differences of opinion. You came here insulting me and throwing shit on the walls and generally acting like a child. *That's* why people probably call you a troll.

So much for free speech...but I suppose it only matters when it's YOU doing the talking, right?

Ah, yes. The old "Free Speech" argument. Let's have a little lesson, shall we?

You don't have free speech here.

The last time I checked- and please, correct me if I'm wrong- I'm not the government. Since this is my website, I'm am entirely within my rights to silence you if I were so inclined. If I deleted every comment you made, I would still not be infringing on your right to free speech. Your right to free speech prevents the *government* from silencing you. If I deleted your comments, you could still create your own site. You could publish them in a newspaper. You could write a book. You could stand on a street corner with a sandwich board. You've got all kinds of options. Given that this is my site, I have every right to decide what kind of comments I want to allow.

As it happens, I don't have any interest in deleting your comments, or in calling you a troll. I think it'll be obvious to everyone who reads what you've written, exactly what your intention was. Why state the obvious, right?