Grand Theft Auto: Prostitute killing is a big hit.

gradthefta.jpgSo this video is NSFW (not safe for work) and it is very disturbing. Trigger warning! But it is one of the trailers to the new Grand Theft Auto coming out today, and it is reprehensible. All around the country posters for the new GTA have been removed due to their offensive nature. Most of the complaints have been about the violence in the video game. Not one article has been about the blatant violence and misogyny displayed towards women.
If you get through the trailer you will notice that not only are the sex scenes very real looking, most of the women are killed shortly after forcibly performing sex acts. So, many young men are going to have their first (or already have, as this is not new content for GTA) sexual experiences via GTA and then they are going to kill the women they are sleeping with. The implications of that are mind-blowing. It is no question that GTA is merely reflective of the bigger misogyny embedded in capitalist patriarchy, but the question is why is a game that depicts such violence towards women so popular? How is that acceptable?
I think this has two consequences in the land of no child left behind where standardized educational systems have led to a cutback in the teaching of metacognition in elementary schools. What does that mean? Youth don’t get taught to think about why they make the choices they do, they are instead force fed information that they must memorize. So it can be argued that they are being force fed heavily marketed violent images (that often reflect the violence in the media, movies, government policy and in their own communities) that become normalized. And not only normalized, but given the popular nature of GTA, it is cool to be violent and kill prostitutes.
The second implication is where does this put young women gamers? How do they feel when playing video games with such violent representations of women?
I can tell you that watching that video was humiliating and I don’t play video games, so I never have to see it again if I don’t want to.
A lot of issues here. Other thoughts?

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250 Comments

  1. deano99
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Let’s inject some fun into this topic.
    GTA4 on the Daily Show:
    http://www.gametrailers.com/player/usermovies/210869.html :)

  2. Posted May 1, 2008 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Add another 12- 24 months to game devlopment time at a cost of tens of millions.
    Oh, well, in that case, nevermind! I totes don’t need representation if it’s going to take time and money! Hell, they should stop developing female characters for male dominated tv shows, too. I mean, do the casts really need more people to be paid in them? And the extra time needed for character development is just time down the drain. In fact, let’s just stop devoting any time or money to including over half of the human population in anything related to pop culture. It’s so much easier to just use male framework, since that’s how the entire world goes around anyway.
    The privilege is stunning.
    Aside from the obvious problems with the way women are specifically treated in the game. (What? You mean, women aren’t singled out here? There are male prostitutes? Oh, and you can have sex with non-prostitutes in the game? If that’s the case, then my bad.) The fact that there are so many posters (many of whom admit that they are male) that think it’s absurd to suggest that a female protagonist be added to the game is gutwrenchingly sad to me. That there is so much resistance to just adding another character… amazing.

  3. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Kissmypineapple:
    As a male gamer, I would love to have a GTA game where you either have a female protagonist or a choice of both.
    As far as sex, yes, you can date several (non-prostitute) women and have sex with them. There aren’t any male prostitutes I saw, at least that the protagonist could hire.

  4. Unicron_The_Vagina
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    kissmypineapple,
    For the record, people here have established that you CAN have sex with non-prostitutes in the game, and a lot of the self-identified “gamers” HAVE expressed the opinion that a female protagonist would be a great idea for the next game.
    The absence of male prostitutes a logical consequence of the fact that the main character is a heterosexual man. Again, a lot of gamers here have also specifically criticized the heteronormative nature of the game’s plot.
    I disagree with your fundamental assumption that the main character’s maleness equates to a total lack of representation of women’s interests. People have mentioned a lot of elements in the game which point to the developers’ writing from a more enlightened worldview than what the prostitute murder rampage video would suggest. I’d like to add that the circumstances which typically accompany the killing of a prostitute in the game (they have cash, you’re in a secluded place so it’s easier not to get caught, etc.) are true to the conditions of a lot of real-life sex work. One could walk away from the experience of playing the game with an improved awareness of the dangerous conditions which, as long as prostitution remains illegal and stigmatized, remain more or less inherent to the profession.

  5. Elkboy
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    kissmypineapple:
    “Oh, and you can have sex with non-prostitutes in the game?”
    Yes, you can. There is a small, simple dating simulation game in GTA4. You can date various very normal women and eventually have off-screen sex with them if if you treat them well and they like you enough to invite you home.
    “The fact that there are so many posters (many of whom admit that they are male) that think it’s absurd to suggest that a female protagonist be added to the game is gutwrenchingly sad to me. That there is so much resistance to just adding another character… amazing.”
    There was a female yakuza boss and a female bank robber in GTA3. In GTA Vice City there was a female gang leader. In GTA San Andreas there was a female psychopathic criminal. I’m sure bigger GTA fans than me can think of more. I haven’t finished GTA4 yet, but there are plenty of women who aren’t prostitutes.
    I agree with you to some extent. A female criminal or mafia member is perfectly plausible and could be just a good a character as anyone else. Something closer to equality in a world portrayed in GTA isn’t as plausible, and would turn it into another kind of game. GTA is based on a reality that is very much male, and straying too far from that is problematic even if it’s definitely not impossible. If you can appreciate the problems of turning Tony Sopranos henchmen into henchwomen, I think the same can be applied on GTA.

  6. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    There is a small, simple dating simulation game in GTA4. You can date various very normal women and eventually have off-screen sex with them if if you treat them well and they like you enough to invite you home.
    I wanted to mention that. This video of prostitute killing is overshadowing the fact that Niko dates several very normal women and treats them with respect. I was surprised and thrilled that he took them on real dates, to go bowling or to restaurants. The most striking moment was when he was taking his girlfriend Michelle home after a date and you had a choice to just leave or to try to go farther. I was expecting some dirty porno moment, but he asked her if he could kiss her goodbye and waited for her to consent. It was a shockingly sweet moment in an otherwise violent game.

  7. Harker
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    kissmypineapple,
    Regarding a choice of protagonist, I think you’re either ignoring or distorting a lot of people’s position on the matter.
    Designing a plot based game around two distinct characters is a massive task. I compared it to filming two versions of a movie above, and I stand by that – I assume you accept the fact that it would be unreasonable to expect film studios to do that? Because if you do, then you’re being hypocritical.
    Just to be clear, I think it’s ridiculous that the last four games in the GTA series have all featured male protagonists (actually, it’s not ridiculous…it’s depressingly predictable), and I would happily buy a GTA with a female lead, and if that’s the direction that Rockstar choose to go with the next in the series (and I genuinely hope it is) then the last thing I’d want is for them to waste time and resources on a second character which would be better spent crafting a new game and a new story around their new anti-heroine, and making her the best character she could possibly be.
    I also think your point about ‘representation’ is very odd. Although women are definitely under-represented as a gender in videogames, when it comes to an individual’s experience then surely the point is moot? Put it this way: the main character of GTAIV is a middle-aged East European ex-soldier. Him and I might both have a Y-chromosome, but I don’t feel ‘represented’ by him as an individual in any meaningful way.

  8. Posted May 1, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Harker, the thing is, you don’t have to feel represented by him, because there are so many other male protagonists in games to choose from. Women don’t have that privilege, they just don’t. And, to the commenter upthread who said I want women’s interests represented: No. I want women represented. More female characters. The comparison between making two movies with the same plot but different leads to GTA with a female protagonist is absurd. It’s not the same thing, and I don’t think the effort involved in creating a female protagonist for the series is a good reason not to undertake it.

  9. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Harker, the thing is, you don’t have to feel represented by him, because there are so many other male protagonists in games to choose from.
    I don’t know about Harker, but I’ve never felt represented by the various “ruggedly handsome” action game stars, the superspies, the muscle-heads in fighting games. Hell, I felt more represented by an anthropomorphized dog that solves mysteries with a psychotic rabbit in Sam and Max. If you wanna talk about proper representation, lemme know when there’s a game that has a pudgy gay man as a lead.

  10. Elkboy
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Character customization and personalization, even beyond gender, is quite obviously popular and something that games do uniquely well – creating another you is what games are about, much more than any other form of art. I fully agree that the ability to play a wide variety characters is a good idea.
    But it is a lot of extra work. Think about it. Even if you pick a gender-neutral name that works with all variations, you still have all the differing pronouns that require twice the amount of voice acting. Add to that character specific situations and reactions that differ depending on sex. It’s not just creating a few different skins for the character. And if you can freely choose sex, why not ethnicity and sexuality? Suddenly all interaction based on ethnicity becomes fluid, and all dating grows to include at three times as many options.
    Don’t get me wrong, all that would be great in a game. There is already a shining example of this – Mass Effect, which has all those options and also manages to make its world and story very equal. But it did cost the developers quite a lot of time and money to create it.

  11. Harker
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Kissmypineapple:
    Harker, the thing is, you don’t have to feel represented by him, because there are so many other male protagonists in games to choose from.
    With all due respect, you said ‘Oh, well, in that case, nevermind! I totes don’t need representation if it’s going to take time and money!’ in response to some one pointing out the cost of adding a choice of protagonist to GTAIV. I’ve already agreed that women are under-represented in videogames en masse, all I was saying is that, in a game in which the main character is, well, heavily characterised, it’s unlikely that something as basic as gender is going to make a big difference to whether or not people identify with them.
    However, on reflection, I may have mistook you. When you complained about representation, I thought you were perhaps suggesting that you would feel unable to enjoy a game in which the main character wasn’t well, like you because you’d be unable to identify with them. I thought this was odd because identification with characters has everything to do with convincing writing and acting, as opposed to biographical and biological similarities.
    My guess is, you were making the wider point about the under-representation of women (and that you were speaking more ‘as a woman’ than as an ‘I’ in that particular post), and simply suggesting that GTA, not to mention all other game series, have an obligation to redress this.
    As I said in my earlier post, I completely agree with this. I’ve already said that I’d like to see a female protagonist in the next game, just as I would have liked to have seen one in this one (so when you said ‘I don’t think the effort involved in creating a female protagonist for the series is a good reason not to undertake it.’, you were misrepresenting me a bit). The point we’re in disagreement about, then, is whether or not Rockstar should have offered the choice.
    I think you’re underestimating the time and effort involved in creating two characters, it is very comparable to the film industry.
    Firstly, the script would need to be entirely re-written. Even if the personality of the character was made identical across the the two genders on offer (and if this were the case, the exercise seems a little hollow) you would need to re-write and re-record ALL the dialogue in the game just to account for the fact two voice actors will need to be hired, and every other actor will need to redo any lines which refer to ‘he’ or ‘she’, as well as any other gender specific dialogue. Then there’s the case of the script itself. Let’s assume that the main character’s brother is an important part of the plot – his relationship with his brother (if you’re playing as a man) is going to be quite different to his relationship with his sister (if you’re a woman), no? Then there’s the potential love interests needing to be gender switched*, and so on. By this stage, you’re going to be left with a narrative (if not a plot) that feels different to the one the creator’s originally envisioned. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect writer’s to have to come up with parallel material to their original concept just for the sake of choice. This goes both ways, come the next game, I would much rather they write a story around an exclusively female character than write one that had been compromised to allow two distinct characters to operate within it (just as I wouldn’t want them to spend time and money on a male character who will ultimately not be the heroine that the game is designed around).
    Script issues aside, you then have the sheer mechanics of it: They’d have to design the new character, provide a selection of outfits like those the male character can pick up throughout the game, not to mentionanimate every single cut scene twice (which is probably a lot more work than having a different actor read through a scene on a film set), and so on.
    It’s a massive task, seriously. I would have liked to have seen a female protagonist this time round, I hope we see one next time. But I wouldn’t want her to be a grafted on addition to the original concept, and I wouldn’t want time and money to be siphoned off her by a grafted on male character either.
    *Having said that, one possible bonus of them having to do this is that they could at least end the heterormative nature of the series, if they need to create a parallel love interest for the female character, then they can just put both sets of love interest in the game and let the player choose their sexuality. Still, just because they’d be killing two birds with one stone here doesn’t make up for all the costs outlined above.

  12. Unicron_The_Vagina
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    kissmypineapple,
    The degree to which I feel “represented” by a given character is determined by about a million factors, of which gender is just about dead last. Given a choice between:
    A.
    A character who is of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, and income bracket than myself but shares my values
    and
    B.
    A character who matches me in the 1st 4 dimensions but is my exact opposite in the 5th
    I would feel more represented in the culture at large by choice A.
    To insist that someone has to share certain genetic commonalities in order to represent/understand you is to deny how much we have in common as human beings. I understand that when society forces people into groups and then treats those groups a certain way, those people tend to then have something in common through a shared experience. However, attitudes which continue to reinforce those divisions are just as harmful.

  13. Miles
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Dear Unicron_The_Vagina:
    Why would I need to refute Kristen’s post from the other day? She has a good point, although I can’t agree completely with her. While the sex and violence does not have to be linked, when a person kills someone immediately after engaging in sex with them, I would have to suspect them of being linked. Can an argument not be made this is sexual related violence? In this case it is the player causing this series of events enabled by the designers choice in game mechanics.
    I get the feeling you are rather scornful of my opinion. Why is that? I did say I don’t think highly of people who defend the content or make excuses for said conduct. Perhaps this makes it seem like I think very poorly of your defense of this game. Just in case, I want you to know that I have not noticed anyone posting here defending the scenes present at the IGN site that I am speaking about. My beef is with the design of the game, not those who play it. I realize that may not have been clear when I posted before.
    I don’t like the idea of linking sex with murder. Maybe I am missing some important point. Given my reasoning above, can you not understand why it looks like sexual violence to me?

  14. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like the idea of linking sex with murder. Maybe I am missing some important point.
    You are missing an important point. Being able to kill people and being able to have sex with a prostitute are two unrelated game mechanics. Nothing in the game tells you, forces you into, or links you to killing her after you’re “done”. It’s that there is a “sex” mechanism and a “kill” mechanism and they can be done in succession. Like I said before, this was not, I believe, originally intended when designing GTA 3, but since you can sleep with prostitutes, but you can also kill people (and prostitutes count as people), then you can kill prostitutes, whether or not you sleep with them. The linking of the sex and the violence is done by the player, not by the game.

  15. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    In short, what I’m saying is that if you meet a guy who loves doing this in the game, worry less about the game and more about the dude.

  16. Posted May 1, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Re the choice of a female protagonist — I know that RPGs have pulled it off (think World of Warcraft, Neverwinter Nights, etc.) without having to record separate voice-overs (a lot of RPGs even let you *name* your character, so by necessity the NPCs and other talking characters don’t ever call you by name — the name and gendered pronouns will usually appear in the text, but the actor just skips over them by saying “you” when they’re talking to you or something like “the adventurer” on the rare occasion you hear them talking *about* you) and some have even worked in entirely separate backstories within the framework of a single game. Granted, GTA4 is in many ways groundbreaking in its scope, and I believe it’s the most expensive video game ever made (for those unfamiliar with video games, it’s worth noting the cost was more than the cost of most movies — Rockstar estimates it at over $100 million). And, of course, some elements of games will be sacrificed for others (just like in movies, when the director has to cut scenes s/he really wanted for the sake of an overall better/more cohesive film), but by the same token, it is a valid question why there couldn’t have been some small inclusion of a female protagonist. Even something as simple as utilizing the elements and characters already in the game and simply hopping viewpoints every few quests (this would also introduce the possibility for some exciting narrative possibilties). Maybe Niko’s girlfriend is actually an undercover FBI agent. Maybe one of the prostitutes is a crime boss’s girlfriend keeping her occupation a secret from him. There are a lot of ways to introduce more female agency into the game without siginificantly increasing development costs or even significantly altering the “feel” of the game.
    For whatever reason, the makers of the game opted not to do this. I don’t think that decision is immune to criticism, any more than I think that making a creative decision that is concerned with agendas other than feminism is inherently completely wrong.
    But it is fair to make comparisons to other games. GTA will have strengths that other games don’t, and it will have weaknesses that other games don’t. Neither of those makes it completely beyond reproach or completely bad.
    Those interested in female protagonists in traditionally masculine gameplay might want to keep an eye on the newest iteration in the Fallout franchise coming out this fall. In both of the previous games, you can choose to make your character male OR female, and your character can get jiggy with male OR female characters, regardless of the character’s gender. (The sex scenes consist of the screne going dark for a second and then lighting back up to reveal the parties in question in the nearest bedroom. All done). The new game also lets you customize your character, and I’m really excited to see where they’re going to take this one, since it’s been a very long time since the last game was released, and there’s so much new technology for them to play around with. (Every article I read about the game gets me more excited.) Fallout is also extremely violent and also highly satirical. But I do think it’s a good example of a way that a game can be action-packed and irreverent without also being sexist. Now, granted, it’s post-apocalyptic dystopian sci-fi, which gives it a lot more freedom than something confined by the factual background of GTA4. But, still, it’s a great illustration of how a game can avoid being sexist while still earning the fierce loyalty of gaming fans.

  17. Unicron_The_Vagina
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Miles, Kristen’s point specifically proves that the link between sex and violence was NOT made by the game’s programmers, but rather by the player. The creator of the IGN video DEFINITELY made that link.
    GTA fans here aren’t defending the IGN video because they think it was horrible too.
    Your anger at the developers, at that point, is misplaced.

  18. noname
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    “The choice to disenfranchise women is made explicit by their failure to even consider the issue in four versions of the game.� – sgzax
    How do you know they didn’t consider it?
    “And there has never been an African American protagonist? In a game where lots of African American people come in for gunfire? This game is always about a white guy driving around killing disenfranchised women and minorities? Really? And that’s not problematic?â€? – sgzax
    The last version of the game featured a black protagonist, and he killed people of all races and genders.
    “If you get through the trailer you will notice that not only are the sex scenes very real looking, most of the women are killed shortly after forcibly performing sex acts.� – Samhita
    I am still waiting for anyone to tell me where they saw forcibly performed sex acts in the video.

  19. meeneecat
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    “the link between sex and violence was NOT made by the game’s programmers”
    O c’mon, the whole game was marketed using sex appeal. You can’t be serious. The programmers know exactly what they are doing, same with the marketers. They know that sex and violence will sell, and it’s exactly what they did here.

  20. deano99
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    “O c’mon, the whole game was marketed using sex appeal. You can’t be serious. The programmers know exactly what they are doing, same with the marketers. They know that sex and violence will sell, and it’s exactly what they did here.”
    Women can enjoy sex on TV, right?
    “Sex and the city”?
    Not “female friendship and the city” not “Business degrees and the City” not “Stealing cars with maybe some sex if you want and the city” but “Sex And The City.”
    Wasn’t it a smash show?
    Didn’t they turn it into a film.
    “hey! women running around a city having sex – isn’t that disgusting? What if children see this show?”
    (Tabloid style summing up of the show, there)
    But why would anyone turn to a £49 videogame for sexual thrills when the internets offers an infinite variety of free, higher quality, content?

  21. deano99
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone make a youtube video of all the “disgusting” bits that ever featured in Sex
    And the City” spliced together without any context just so I can comment on how depraved the shows fans must be? :)

  22. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone make a youtube video of all the “disgusting” bits that ever featured in Sex
    And the City” spliced together without any context just so I can comment on how depraved the shows fans must be?

    I would take the analogy another step farther. This prostitute killing thing isn’t something that even comes up in the plot like the sex scenes in Sex and the City, it’d be like a deleted scene on the SatC DVDs: totally optional to watch and unrelated to the story.

  23. sgzax
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Dean,
    Your most recent argument doesn’t work because I don’t believe anybody in this thread has been arguing against sex per se. I’ve seen arguments about power and representation. You are now arguing with a straw man, which might be fun but doesn’t accomplish much.

  24. CoasttoCoast
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Law Fairy: for more female protagonist action, check out the recent (and wonderful) Mass Effect. You can choose male or female characters, with full voice acting for both.
    Also, Beyond Good and Evil was an amazing female lead game, I’m told.
    Also: Portal.

  25. Sarah Connor
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Irony: sorry i havent read thorugh all the posts so i dont know if this has been posted. there was an article about the game launch here in the uk-guys were stabbed and beaten up either after they bought the game-and had it snatched or just before for their money. this happened a lot-but because of the game most people in the lines thought it was a publicity stunt. one guy went home to get a knife as vengence-but had lost so much blood he had to go to hospital instead. can’t say i’m surprised.

  26. rpcvlawson
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with most of your comments, that GTA encourages misogyny (and sickly even uses it as a selling point) and that our country is gradually dumbing down to the point where we accept things without thinking about them, you, unfortunately prove a piece of your point when you say:
    “So, many young men are going to have their first (or already have, as this is not new content for GTA) sexual experiences via GTA and then they are going to kill the women they are sleeping with.”
    Such a ludicrous comment; so baseless (unless you’ve got some empirical evidence to support the notion that what abominable things gamers see in video games they, unthinkingly, repeat in real life), offensive, and, honestly, ignorant, that I find myself disinclined to listen to your other important points.
    As a gamer myself, who has ‘killed’ lots of people in my gaming career, I’ve never once repeated my virtual actions in real life. I reject the implication that gamers are monkeys doing what they see.
    I’m a man, and I enjoy this website, but if I wanted to hear baseless claims, I’d turn on FOX News.
    Talk to me about how the misogyny in this game is insidious, talk to me about how it sends the wrong message, talk to me about what I can do to improve the situation. But do not tell me boys and men are going to kill the first person they sleep with because they did it or saw it in a video game because that is untrue, uninformed, and not helpful.

  27. Miles
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Brian and Unicron_The_Vagina:
    Is the Important point I missed that the designers, marketers, etc. have made a statement? I have not heard from the designers on this issue yet. Are you stating or asserting the designers did not intend for the program to be used this way?
    Actually, I can understand if it was unintentional. That does not mean they are completely off the hook. IGN may be entirely at fault for the trailer they created, but this does not let them completely off the hook either. They should address the issue. Maybe they already have and I have not found it yet.
    In any case, how would any of this make my concern invalid and unwarranted?
    Unicron_The_Vagina:
    How did Kristen prove her point? She made a number of assertions that I agree with for the most part. I can see her point, and while you can break it down in such a way as for it not be sexual violence by changing the order or time, a situation where you can engage in sex and then murder the participant shortly after can be interpreted as sexual violence as they are linked by space and time. Therefore I do not agree that her assertion has been proven. In her game, or yours, there may not be anything that could be questioned as sexual related violence due to the choices you make. Yes I realize it is the gamer, not the designers, who chooses to engage in an activity which might be ascribed as being sexual violence. But the fact is since you can do so and many will choose to do so. Once again, the intent of the designers is not known to me, but this does not invalidate my concerns or statements.
    To Both:
    Is it your assertion that I have no reason to be concerned and no right to criticize the aspect of the game which allows the behavior I have described? Do you still insist that no one could possibly interpret (since it has been “proven�) that this game allows a player to engage in scenes that appear to be sexual violence? If you feel your point has been proven and self evident, I am willing to listen.
    Finally, you have assured me the designers did not intend scenes I have been mentioning and therefore seem to be implying they are faultless. You might be right about it not being intentional, but I would like to hear that from them about it. Please provide me a link to your sources stating their position.
    Thanks!
    Miles Webster

  28. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Is it your assertion that I have no reason to be concerned and no right to criticize the aspect of the game which allows the behavior I have described?
    I never said that you shouldn’t be concerned or that the game can’t be criticized. What I care about is people saying “I’ve never played the game but from what I heard all it’s about is killing women!” I think it’s great to have a discussion about things like this, but it should be factual and not sensationalized, and gamers (especially feminist gamers) should be listened to, not ignored or even insulted.
    Do you still insist that no one could possibly interpret (since it has been “proven�) that this game allows a player to engage in scenes that appear to be sexual violence?
    If by sexual violence you mean rape, no, you can’t rape anyone in this game, at least as far as I know. You couldn’t rape anyone in the other games, either. As I said before, the violence becoming sexualized violence or misogynistic violence is the action of the player, not something built into the game. The game does not reward or even encourage you to kill prostitutes (or anyone for that matter) simply because they’re prostitutes.
    Finally, you have assured me the designers did not intend scenes I have been mentioning and therefore seem to be implying they are faultless.
    I haven’t “assured” you of that, I’ve speculated. Games are, no matter how carefully designed, often subverted by players in many ways. I don’t believe that in the first game that being able to kill prostitutes after you have sex with them was an intended game mechanic, but since the “have sex with prostitute” mechanic can overlap with the “kill people” mechanic (since prostitutes are people as well), players figured out how to do it. I could be wrong, but I would hope Rockstar wouldn’t put in or leave in a mechanic like that to spread misogyny.
    Finally, I’d like to know how you’d propose it be changed. I wouldn’t care if they removed prostitutes entirely from the game, but what good would that serve? People have committed violence against women and prostitutes for millennia, long before this game ever came out. If anything, putting it in here has sparked a debate and raised people’s consciousness of the issue.

  29. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    One last thing. Death in GTA games isn’t real, ignoring the “it’s a video game” thing. In GTA, if you kill someone on the street, including a prostitute, usually an ambulance will come, revive them, and they walk away like nothing happened. It’s not realistic, and it’s not supposed to be realistic.

  30. meeneecat
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Brian G.
    I’ve never heard anyone on this thread say “it’s all about killing women!”. I don’t think that’s the issue here, but if you can’t see that…
    Also sexual violence doesn’t necessarily mean rape. It can be a range of violent acts, from beating to murder. The only requirement is that there be some sort of sexual element to it.
    Also, there’s certain people in GTA that you can’t kill, so your assertion that you can kill all people is wrong. The ability to kill prostitutes was most definitely designed into the game. Rockstar isn’t stupid, they know what their fanbase enjoys and responds to.
    This from a longtime gamer, having also played the GTA games (not my favorites btw, I prefer fantasy/RPGs).
    Haven’t been following the 289 posts here, but just noticed the fallacy in your arguments, felt like pointing them out.

  31. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never heard anyone on this thread say “it’s all about killing women!”.
    Uh…it’s in the title of the post. Did you not notice? “Prostitute killing is a big hit”. That implies that’s all the game is about, that that’s what it’s being advertised as and that’s what people are buying it for, when it’s such a small and unimportant (game-wise) thing to do that the statement totally warps what the game is. If you can’t see that that ignores context…
    Also sexual violence doesn’t necessarily mean rape. It can be a range of violent acts, from beating to murder. The only requirement is that there be some sort of sexual element to it.
    As I’ve said several times, if you kill prostitutes because they’re prostitutes, that would be sexualized violence, but that’s in the mind of the gamer. The game itself does not teach you to do it, encourage you to do it, or reward you if you do it.
    This from a longtime gamer, having also played the GTA games (not my favorites btw, I prefer fantasy/RPGs).
    I also don’t play GTA very often; I played through GTA3 and Vice City, didn’t finish San Andreas, and I don’t have systems to play GTA4 on. I jumped into the conversation because I saw misinformation and wanted to correct it. I also didn’t like the implications a few people made that gamers that played GTA4 aren’t feminists, and that gamers are a monolithic group of impressionable thickies that will translate what we see into action. I’d think that, as a gamer, you’d know that a lot, if not most, gamers have a good grasp on what’s real and what isn’t, and can easily tell the two, and keep the two, apart.

  32. themoderate
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that the sex in the game with the prostitutes isn’t even remotely discernible.
    The prostitute gets in the car, the car shakes a little (she talks a little during it), then she gets out.
    It’s not some graphic sexual cutscene, followed by a graphic murder.

  33. meeneecat
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    “killing prostitutes” is not the same thing as “killing ALL women”.
    Also:
    “I’d think that, as a gamer, you’d know that a lot, if not most, gamers have a good grasp on what’s real and what isn’t, and can easily tell the two, and keep the two, apart.”
    Yes but as a kid, in the 80′s playing video games, we used to roleplay this stuff out in real life. We used to play dungeons, and rescue the princess, and all that stuff, we were kids and it was fun, but video games aren’t what they used to be. I do worry about the kids who are playing these games now. Especially those military games that seem like they are little more than recruitment tools, I mean, WTF?

  34. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    “killing prostitutes” is not the same thing as “killing ALL women”.
    If you look further up, someone even asked if there were any non-prostitute women in the game. It’s not a totally unheard-of misunderstanding, I even heard it on NPR today on the way home.
    Yes but as a kid, in the 80′s playing video games, we used to roleplay this stuff out in real life.
    Kids aren’t supposed to be playing this game! It’s rated M quite clearly; if a kid gets ahold of a copy anyway, that’s an irresponsible salesperson or a bad parent and should be looked into. The game’s makers marketed it to adults and it’s rated for adults.

  35. meeneecat
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Brian G., I work with kids, teacher; 3rd grade, and when this game came out ALL the boys were talking about it, they just couldn’t wait to play it. This game is most definitely played by kids (although it’s also played by adults too). But, these days it’s not that hard for a kid to get around the rating, most salespeople don’t get paid enough to care, some kids have older siblings and they take the game from them, and yet other kids have parents that just don’t care and will buy their kids anything he wants.
    It would be naive to think that kids didn’t play this game and other games that have “mature” ratings and similarly “explicit” content. And I do worry about what those games “do” to those developing minds, although I’m not one of those people who thinks video games are ruining our kids and our culture, but I do worry about young kids playing games that weren’t meant for them.
    I mean there’s got to be some effect that it has on them, although I tend to think it’s more insidious than just “violence is bad for kids”…for example, did anyone else notice that when the war started a bunch of military styled video games came out? That’s definitely done on purpose, and the effect is probably a combination of recruitment effort/violence desensitization. Either way it’s disturbing.

  36. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    But, these days it’s not that hard for a kid to get around the rating, most salespeople don’t get paid enough to care, some kids have older siblings and they take the game from them, and yet other kids have parents that just don’t care and will buy their kids anything he wants.
    Right, and this is a larger societal problem, not a problem with the game industry. It’s an even bigger problem with other media, it’s even easier to get a violent movie than a violent video game. Why aren’t we going after bad parents and corporate irresponsibility?
    I’m also not even convinced that violence has that much effect; the research I’ve read (as a psych student) is that violent media may raise aggression in people already prone to violent tendencies. This is an important distinction to make, because while the game might influence a child or even an adult with aggression issues (and that’s still an if), it’s not going to make a rational, pacifist, feminist like me into a violent misogynist through some kind of video game mind control.
    It would be naive to think that kids didn’t play this game and other games that have “mature” ratings and similarly “explicit” content. And I do worry about what those games “do” to those developing minds, although I’m not one of those people who thinks video games are ruining our kids and our culture, but I do worry about young kids playing games that weren’t meant for them.
    I worry about it, too, but you have to remember that kids think differently than adults do. I’ve re-watched some of the movies I used to watch a lot as a kid, and I realized how scary some of them are. The Brave Little Toaster freaked me out when I watched it again a while back. It didn’t bother me as a kid, and it doesn’t bother a lot of kids, for reasons I don’t really understand. Maybe I’ll do research on that in graduate school.
    That’s definitely done on purpose, and the effect is probably a combination of recruitment effort/violence desensitization. Either way it’s disturbing.
    Once again, I question violence desensitization. I know I only have myself and my gamer friends to use as a sample, but none of us are violent people, at all. I think violent media can actually act as an object lesson, showing what violence actually is, the consequences…at least that’s how it was for me.

  37. Miles
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Brian:
    I am gamer. I am not unfamiliar with this game, even though I chose not to personally play the series. I don’t believe I have been sensationalizing or misrepresenting the facts. I have responded to comments directed at me that seem to say I shouldn’t say what I have. As far as factual, you stated as fact that the designers did not intend to allow the actions I have described. Now you say you were speculating. I suspect you didn’t intend to misrepresent yourself, but that does suggest you are participating in sensationalizing and misrepresentation, even if that was not your intent. You are acting as if you are being attacked. I have not attacked you. So what gives?
    Sexual violence is not limited to rape. In any case I meant, and have stated I believe in an earlier post (hope I am not mistaken), in reference to sexual related violence. Whether a game teaches sexual violence or not, there is room for legitimate discussion as to whether the game should allow the behavior we have been discussing, or least that I have tried to discuss. You think it was unintentional. I agree that is quite possible. That does not mean they should not address the issue, especially since we really want to know whether it intentional or not.
    I am not at a stage to propose anything. I don’t know all the facts yet and I have not heard from the game company their take on it. If I had to suggest something now, maybe I would suggest changing the code to prevent the appearance of sexually related violence.
    I know it is not supposed to be realistic, but that does not change my concerns or why I should express them. It seems as if you are trying to convince me (and others of course) of something. What it is I don’t know. It is not that I disagree with everything you have said, I just don’t see how it relates my concerns as I have represented them.
    Truly, people are not saying the game is only about murdering prostitutes. The headline is neither inclusive nor exclusive in nature. It was indicating that subject as a starting point for discussion. Again, you come across as someone trying to defend himself. Are you sure you are being attacked?
    Kids are going to play this game, they always do. Cigarettes are marketed for adults yet many minors smoke. Same about chewing, drinking alcohol, smoking pot, etc. Marketers are well aware of this fact, they have targeted children for restricted items in the past and I believe they will continue to do so. Regardless many minors will get to play this game.
    There are many things I think you and I could agree on and I don’t see any point back going back and forth when I am talking about one thing while you are talking about another.

  38. Brian G.
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Miles:
    I already said that I’m not trying to invalidate your criticisms. All I’m doing is challenging misinformation, which I never said came from you.
    Yes, a game allowing sexualized violence is a legitimate issue. It’s a discussion we should have and there are lots of points to be made on both sides. My position is that the game is made for adults and should only be played by adults, and if children play it, that’s a broader societal issue and not the fault of one game or even a series of games.
    I disagree with you about the implications of the headline, especially since the post includes a link to a video not made by the company that picks out those few moments from the larger game. If we just wanted to talk about a game that had prostitute killing in it and not imply that the game is about prostitute killing and that’s its main selling point, why not say something like “GTA4: Prostitute killing isn’t cool” or preferably something not as crappy as that?

  39. Samantha
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    FYI – IGN has removed the video from their site.
    I wrote in to express my concern with the video Tuesday night and they actually responded to me today. I have to say, I’m really impressed with how they’ve handled the situation and the apology they wrote back. I didn’t expect to hear back from them, or for them to remove the video, and they were actually very quick to reply and to take down the video. While I am still not a fan of this aspect of the game, I am really glad that IGN had enough decency to remove their video and make an apology.
    Both emails are pasted below:
    My letter -
    “Dear IGN Editors,
    I’m writing to you to express my deep dismay at the “Ladies of Liberty City” video posted on the GTA IV videos page (http://ps3.ign.com/dor/objects/793799/grand-theft-auto-iv/videos/ladies_of_gta_042708.html). As a female gamer who has been loyal to your site for many years, I am very disappointed that IGN staff would feel it is appropriate to edit together and post such a disturbingly misogynist video promoting GTA IV. While I understand that violence and sex are some of the main themes of the GTA series (and will not debate the merits of that here), I feel that it is entirely irresponsible of IGN to approve a video which centers around sexually abusing women and then disposing of them. The video game industry has taken great strides in the past few years to reach out to the female market, and glorifying violence towards women and sexist ideas about women and sex on your site is certainly no way to make the gaming world more inclusive to women (or to earn our money). I generally hold the opinion of the IGN staff in high esteem and rely on you for all of my game reviews, but frankly, after seeing this video of blatantly anti-female clips that were hand-picked by IGN staff and then approved by editors to be posted with the IGN branding on it, I am seriously doubting that anyone at IGN has my interests (or that of any woman’s) at heart when reviewing these games. I think you are doing a great disservice to yourselves and to a large and rapidly growing part of your audience by so exuberantly promoting this most reprehensible aspect of the GTA series, or of any game. As a fan of your site, it would mean much to me if I never saw content like this on IGN again.
    Sincerely,
    Samantha”
    IGN’s response:
    “Dear Samantha –
    Thank you for taking the time to write in.
    We strive to make IGN the most comprehensive website about gaming on the web. It comes with the territory that we will cover some games that aren’t for every one. That said, I and many of the editors at IGN felt that the video clip “Ladies of Liberty City” presented a message we would not want to put forth and we regret if we have offended you. The intent behind producing the piece was to cast a satirical view at the over-the-top sex and violence featured in the game. The finished video did not deliver on this premise and it’s easy to see why it would have upset you.
    We removed the video from the site yesterday.
    Again, our apologies — and thank you for the sincere feedback.
    Regards,
    Peer Schneider
    Publisher, IGN”

  40. Michael
    Posted May 2, 2008 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    The original article as well as many commentators are barking up the wrong tree here.
    GTA IV won’t be the cause for a wave of violence against women or a huge crime spree because of it. The game series has been around for almost a decade and every time a new game comes out the same topics are re-hashed over and over again.
    Games don’t make people killers, pimps or gangsters.
    As for the remark by some poster that there exist violence against hookers, yes, but that isn’t the games fault, that is a problem in society where the job is considered “lewd” and people are actively associate negative things with it. If society as a whole would not marginalize these women the violence would be a lot less of an issue.
    Oh, and as for the “dating” website, the first time you use it to hook up with a guy you have to assassinate…. I don’t have a problem with criticism, I think everything should be up for debate but at least have read / seen / played the object of your criticism instead of basing it on hearsay.

  41. Posted May 2, 2008 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    CtC, thanks for the suggestions! Mass Effect has been on my “to buy” list, once I finally have time to finish Bioshock.

  42. Elkboy
    Posted May 2, 2008 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    meeneecat:
    “This game is most definitely played by kids (although it’s also played by adults too).”
    This game, and most games, are mostly played by adults. Gamers have a mean age close to 30, so kids playing GTA are likely a minority. If they’d watch Taxi Driver instead of playing a game, we wouldn’t be condemning the film industry, so there is obviously a double standard for games. Just as with films, books and everything else, it’s primarily the parents’ job to protect their kids, and the game retailers’ job to uphold ratings. They have all the possibilities to do so, including parental locks on game consoles and rating systems that work fairly well.
    “…for example, did anyone else notice that when the war started a bunch of military styled video games came out? That’s definitely done on purpose, and the effect is probably a combination of recruitment effort/violence desensitization.”
    Games work just like any form of art here. There’s a war and people need to relate to it on different levels, just as there will be lots of space games when we send astronauts to Mars. Besides, there were books, films, articles, and yes, also games about war. Why do games stand out from all that culture and why do they need to be treated differently? They, like all forms of culture, reflect the world around us. In a more peaceful world we’ll get more peaceful games. even so, the fighting in most games is nothing but dressed up snowball fights for grownups, and almost all gamers are well aware of that.

  43. david
    Posted May 2, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    A couple of quick points that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned here:
    1) GTA IV does allow you to play as a female character in the multiplayer, online portion of the game.
    2) In the previous version of the game (I think it was Vice City Stories, for the PSP), you were able to kill pimps.

  44. StaceyJean
    Posted May 2, 2008 at 11:07 pm | Permalink
  45. Pengo
    Posted May 3, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Man, 2002 called, they want their righteous indignation back. Who is this news for?

  46. Jim-MC
    Posted May 4, 2008 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Ummm… ANYBODY wasting their time getting outraged over the content of a video game is really REALLY sad. Maybe instead of becoming heated over such content and wasting time complaining about it, we could all be out their rallying about better parenting, correct rating for games (18 and over only for such games) and lastly ensuring artistic right is always left in tact. I own GTA IV, I’ve played it and it’s the most amazing game I’ve ever experience, to push it away or hate it means you’re missing out. Anyone who spends their whole time in the game shagging prostitutes and killing women is a half-wit psycho anyway. You wouldn’t repeat such actions in this game and unless you were fucking nuts to begin with.

  47. Father Time
    Posted May 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    A Quick note to everyone here.
    There are two main reasons why GTA IV does not let you have sex with male prostitutes (if there are any male prostitutes).
    1. The main character is not gay so that sex act would be way out of character.
    2. The outcry from concerned holier than though ‘family values’ groups (as well as every other news outlet) would be enormous. Just think for a minute about all the people who are going to scream bloody murder over gay sex and gay rape (even though there never has been rape). Rockstar got into quite a bit of controversy when they allowed the player to make out with boys in Bully, now imagine it going all the way (with adults). Hell a bunch of people (including Fox news) raised an outcry over a lesbian scene in Mass Effect that lasted less than a minute and was less raunchy than the stuff you’ll see on prime time TV.

  48. Posted June 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I will admit up front that I came here redirected by Kotaku not to hurl defensive abuse around but to simply say that this article reflects badly upon you as a feminist website.
    Setting aside for a moment how patently absurd the vast majority of your claims are and how little basis they actually have in fact I always find it personally appalling when “Feminists” cry out about such things.
    GTAIV is a product to be consumed by Adults and features some extremely offensive and gratuitous scenes. At some point in the game all ethnicities, genders and stereotypes are poked fun at because it’s a parody of the real world.
    The world, you may have noticed, is not a friendly place and sadly trash posts like this give feminists a bad name and drive away entire audiences of people who probably need to hear the message most.
    God only knows that Women are exploited on a regular basis … But you picked the wrong game to target in an obviously shameful attempt to ride the Fox-news Bandwagon to hits.
    Congratulations, you made a fool of yourself and your fellow bloggers.

  49. Posted June 22, 2008 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    An interesting take on the situation, though I must respectfully disagree with the points here, which prompted me to write this response:
    http://inzania.com/2008/06/relaxation-and-release-with-violent.html

  50. Posted July 16, 2008 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I hate to be the one to break this to you, but your cute little feminist mantra and general points of view are beyond ignorant and ridiculous. I myself am a female and a avid gamer and GTA is by far one of my top favorite games. I think you also need to remember the women in the game that are being “degraded” are prostitutes and strippers, women who by default place themselves in a degrading position. And since im sure you’ve never bothered to actually play through the game, and due to your ignorant biases, theres a equal amount of violence against men. Get off your power trip.

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