Grand Theft Auto V, one of the most expensive computer games ever made, has caused outrage among human rights groups for including a torture scene in which the player must pull teeth and electrocute an unarmed man.
Freedom from Torture joined Amnesty, teachers’ union the ATU and MP Keith Vaz in condemning the scene, just two days after the release of the game.
Players of the 18-rated game become career criminal Trevor Phillips, and in a mission within the game called ‘By the Book’ are commanded by the FBI to torture an alleged terrorist for information.
Players must complete the scene to finish the game and are offered a selection of torture implements, including sledgehammers and electric cables to use on the victim. If his heart stops, a shot of adrenaline restarts it.
Following the scene, the character drives the witness to the airport while lecturing his victim on how torture is a technique for exerting power.
“Rockstar North has crossed a line by effectively forcing people to take on the role of a torturer and perform a series of unspeakable acts if they want to achieve success in the game,” said Freedom from Torture chief executive Keith Best.
“Torture is a reality, not a game and glamourising it in popular culture undoes the work of organisations like Freedom from Torture and survivor activists to campaign against it.
Labour’s Keith Vaz added that he was “astonished at the level of violence depicted”, while the release also prompted Alison Sherratt, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, to warn that young children watching their siblings play may not be able to tell that it is fictional.
‘Young children watch GTA too’
“The graphics are so realistic that little ones don’t think what they’re watching is a game,” she said. “Four to five-year-olds have a tendency to copy what they see on TV, whether it’s this or Fireman Sam putting out fires.
“ATL is not calling for a ban on these games, or censorship at all. What we are asking is for parents to become aware that the little ones are seeing these things.”
But the most recent instalment has faced a different level of protest with critics arguing that the series, normally cynical and satirical in tone, misses its mark at times
The Grand Theft Auto series isn’t new to criticism, being a frequent target of attacks by campaigners who claim its content is violent and sexist.
Jack Thompson, a now-disbarred attorney in the state of Florida, brought several lawsuits against Take Two, the game’s publisher, calling GTA IV “the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio”.
‘Hardly the biting satire of GTA past’
Jeff Gerstmann of gaming site Giant Bomb claims that much of the writing “feels expected and unadventurous, hardly the biting satire that it felt like in past outings”.
In the runup to the launch, reviewers discussed a strain of misogyny that runs through the game.
In one in-game mission set in a strip club puts players have to grope strippers while avoiding the bouncer’s attention. In a review, editor of gaming site Gamespot Carolyn Petit argues that defending the scenes under the guise of satire is wrong-headed.
“Yes, these are exaggerations of misogynistic undercurrents in our own society, but not satirical ones. With nothing in the narrative to underscore how insane and wrong this is, all the game does is reinforce and celebrate sexism.”
Petit also said the game was undermined by its moments of “hypocrisy and inconsistency”, and said the suggestion with the torture scene was that it was a comment on the use of waterboarding and interrogation techniques by the US.
“But the fact that Trevor tortures the man regardless, and that he does end up spilling more information as a result, sends a very different message.”
GTA is ‘the go-to bad example’
Game designer, theorist and academic Ian Bogost is one who has defended attacks on the game. “GTA is the easy, go-to bad example in discussions of games as culture,” he said.
“It’s certainly a characterisation that underestimates the meaning and impact of the series, but nevertheless, among the general public GTA is a shorthand for prurience and abhorrence.”
Freedom from Torture’s Best is unimpressed with whatever satirical comment Rockstar has attempted to make.
“This adds insult to injury for survivors who are left physically and mentally scarred by torture in the real world,” he said.
“If Rockstar North’s message is a satirical critique of the practice of torture, it’s lost on us.”
Rockstar was contacted for comment.
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