Grand Theft Auto: will the controversy ever stop?

Popular video games in the media are no stranger to controversies. It is not uncommon for a video game to receive negative feedback regarding the violent content and how it affects society. However, violence is not the only controversy surrounding video games. An important, but not well talked about controversy in video games, is the way women are portrayed. Video games have been known as a male dominated form of media for several years, so it comes to no surprise that women can be viewed in a certain way. Grand Theft Auto (GTA), a multi-billion dollar action video game, has seen its fair share of controversies since its release in 1997. One of the more recent versions of GTA, Grand Theft Auto Five, instantly caused uproar in the media for its misogynistic depiction of women. GTA 5 is a popular video game that deliberately degrades women and should no longer be sold in stores.

Grand Theft Auto
Source: MoneyInc.com

Grand Theft Auto has a released a new version of their video game roughly every one to two years since its initial release in 1997 (Berman 2016). Grand Theft Auto Five, released in 2014, is the first version of the video game that allows the player to experience the game in first person. The game takes place in a fictional city, Los Santos, which is said to be a spin off of Los Angeles. With the option to play as one of the three (all men) protagonists in the story, the player commits crimes all over the city to complete goals while under the pressure of the government. With the new feature of first person, the game allows the player to drive a car, read a newspaper, and experience women in a whole new way.

I chose to play Grand Theft Auto Five over Thanksgiving break when I saw one of my cousins playing it. I played it on an Xbox 360 for about an hour. I stepped into my cousin’s game so I did not play the game from the beginning, but got to experience how the game was once you started accomplishing goals. I was surprised at how complex the game was for such a simple concept. There were many parts of the game that to me seemed pointless in adding, such as the strippers or the city its self. As someone who does not play video games, especially violent ones, this took me out of my comfort zone and I got to see how women are portrayed in a male dominated video game.

The Grand Theft Auto video game series has always been widely known for its depiction of women whether it’s because of their roles as prostitutes or the games misogynistic concepts. GTA V, the first of the games to give the ability to play the game first person, contains many encounters with women throughout the whole game. A player can purchase a woman to perform a number of sexual acts that the player experiences in first person. In the video below, you can see the way this woman is treated by the player. It begins as a sexual encounter and ends with the player beating and killing her for no apparent reason.

Source: The 2 Diverse Youtube Page

GTA 5 makes a game out of abusing and killing a woman. After the woman is beaten or killed, the player potentially can get their money back or gain health points, just because they killed her. This concept idolizes the player for abusing a woman, which even in the most vulgar form of entertainment, is not appropriate. According to a statistic on National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women have been victims of some form of physical abuse, and more than 10 million women and men are abused each year (NCADV). These statistics show how often some sort of abuse happens all around the world, yet this video game uses this statistic as way to entertain people.

When researching this topic, I came across several videos that showed how women were treated and their endeavors throughout the video game. The video below titled, “GTA V: Punching women on the pier,” shows just that. If the title of the video itself does not prove how misogynistic this video is, within the first few seconds, a warning shows up saying, “This video contains multiple women being punched in their stupid f***** faces.”

Source: MonRoeTheory Youtube Page

As you can see, the main intention of this player is to punch women in the face for fun. Although it is a video game and none of these actions are real life, it still gives off the impression that abusing a woman is not a bad thing, but it is actually something that can be found as entertaining. There are dozens of video game players who find this aspect of the game to be the most entertaining part. There is always a possibility that these players will see how much they enjoy this abuse in a video game and want to try it in real life. GTA 5 has the potential to influence video gamers to see the abuse of women as a joke, when in reality it is worldwide issue.

There are millions of women and men around the world that are forced to deal with the repercussions of another person’s actions on a daily basis. A study focusing on the after effects of abuse showed that within two weeks of the assault, 94% of victims suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and over all, one-third of all victims suffer from PTSD (Ullman and Fillipas 2001). As these men and women try to rebuild their lives after the traumatic event, they have to see the violence they lived through being used as a form of entertainment in Grand Theft Auto Five. This game spreads the idea that it is ok to not only view a woman as a sex object, but after being satisfied with her, killing her is the best and most encouraged option.

Tom Hoggins, a video game editor, wrote about his experience with the game, shortly after its release. He wrote about how the women in the video game are either strippers to throw money at, or prostitutes to pick up. “What I do know is how wretched I felt as the game often coerced me into actions that degraded women,” Hoggins states, “I began to feel suffocated by testosterone-addled life of deviancy” (Telegraph). Obviously not all video game players enjoy this aspect of GTA 5. In fact, there are dozens of players all around the world who are working to get this game removed from stores.

In Australia, both Target and Kmart have removed the game from their store. After a petition written by three female victims of violence received over 40,000 signatures, the stores made the decision the pull the game from the shelves. Jim Cooper, the general manager of affairs for Target Australia, talked about removing the game from the store saying, “we feel the decision to step selling GTA 5 is in line with the majority view of our customers” (BBC 2016). Many customers were not happy with the removal of the video game, but a video game that, according to the petition, “teaches yet another generation of boys to tolerate violence against women” should not be sold in stores.

In most video games, the way women and men are created, are not realistic. Most men are designed to be perfectly muscular and attractive and women are designed to have large breasts and skimpy clothing.

Grand Theft Auto Five
Source: Dailydot.com

A study titled, Shirts vs. Skins, studied the gender role stereotypes in video games. Their results found that a majority of the female characters in the games are dressed in little clothing to bring attention to their bodies, therefore attracting the young boys who predominately play these types of games (Beasley & Standely 2002). It also shows that of the 33 games studied, 28% of women in the video game were depicted as sex objects and 21% of the games portrayed violence directly towards women (Beasley & Standley 2002). A majority of video game players are young adolescent boys, who are seeing the way women are portrayed in video games and are going to think that this is an appropriate way to view and treat women.

Although I am not an avid video game player, I am aware that in most games, the women (or lack there of) either are dressed in skimpy clothing, or made to be unrealistic. When I was younger I used to play a snowboarding game with my brother, SSX, and I always wanted to choose a female character. There were only maybe one or two female characters while there were several male options, and the women were always designed to have large breasts and be very attractive. GTA 5 may have some similar gender stereotyping to SSX, but by no means have I ever experienced a game have such a sexist view on women.

In a society where women are now becoming CEO’s and running for president, it is surprising to see that a video game still portrays men as the dominant gender. Children and video game players should not have the ability to level up in a game just because they abuse a women, this is an inappropriate and disgusting way to entertain people. Although petitions have been signed and countless critics have expressed their opinion on the matter, GTA 5 is still being sold in stores. Not having a lot of experience playing violent video games, this content definitely gives me a new outlook on this genre of video games. As a woman, I believe this video game is offensive and should not be sold in stores. If the Grand Theft Auto video game series stays on the production pattern they’ve been on, we can expect a new video game soon. After all of the controversy Grand Theft Auto Five has caused, the content of the next game could be a lot different.

Sources:

Berman, N. (2016). How much is the Grand Theft Auto Franchise Worth? Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://moneyinc.com/grand-theft-auto-franchise/

Grand Theft Auto V is designed deliberately to degrade women. (n.d.). The Telegraph. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10355275/Grand-Theft-Auto-V-is-designed-deliberately-to-degrade-women.html

News, B. (2014). ‘Sexually violent’ GTA 5 banned from Australian stores. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30328314

Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2016, from http://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics

Ullman, S. E., & Filipas, H. H. (2001). Predictors of PTSD symptom severity and social reactions in sexual assault victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14(2), 369-389. doi:10.1023/a:1011125220522

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