(The following excerpt from “Grand Theft Auto V” Review: Stubborn Sexism, Violence Ruin Game Play” appeared on herocomplex.latimes.com on September 20, 2013. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
In 2001, the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise landed on the radar of mainstream culture by offending most everyone who wasn’t a gamer. Its carjacking, prostitutes and murder scenarios were defended as a satire of violent and misogynistic video game culture. Watchdog groups and politicians didn’t see the irony.
But beyond the controversy, its appeal was in its danger — a place where the kill-at-will, hypersexualized fantasy worlds of interactive entertainment were let loose in cities based on grown-up, real-world places (New York, Miami and now, once again, Los Angeles).
The first rape joke is delivered by a college-age boy who’s playing a violent video game. “I don’t care if you’re 12, I’ll still rape you,” he shouts at a character in the fictional game-within-a-game titled “Molested.”
The need to offend has become shtick for the 16-year-old series, and at this point, it’s a tactic that’s exhausting at best.
This week the game raked in $1 billion within three days of its Tuesday release. And it isn’t just the public who made this installment of the series the fastest-selling entertainment product ever. On the aggregation site Metacritic, it’s trending close to a 100 out of 100 among video game cognoscenti.
“Grand Theft Auto V,” which follows three morally corrupt men in “Los Santos” (the franchise’s take on Los Angeles), is technologically impressive in its re-creation of the world we actually live in. Its open universe is unparalleled, allowing players to go anywhere at nearly any time via cartoonishly high-speed car chases and an ability to swap between three characters at once.
A fancy boat is described as the kind “that makes a young impressionable girl drop her pants and spread her legs.” Lap dances are a game where you attempt to grope a girl out of view of security guards.
Yet the majority of the game critic community has decided to treat “Grand Theft Auto V’s” rampant misogyny and violence against women as a pesky housefly, a slight annoyance that doesn’t detract from all that’s remarkably polished. Though some of the defensiveness may be genuine for this ambitiously free-form game, it’s also rooted in the fear of being labeled as one of those clueless souls who doesn’t quite get the joke or, worse, is offended by it.