Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Don't Get It

People that normally make a lot of sense to me have tried to defend GTA to me before.

The advances in game play are mentioned. I am reminded that it is a game, it's not real. It is explained to me that no, there isn't anything anymore disturbing about controlling such action than there is watching it in a movie. And that, of course, the game actually discourages such behavior - really!

But I still don't get. I still don't buy it.

(Perhaps partly because I think sexualized violence poorly done and overdone in most movies as well.)

I don't "get it" anymore than I'd "get" a video game where players go around trying to lynch PoC.

But my reaction to it is more emotional and less intellectual that it is to things like Resident Evil 5. Which means that I have a lot of work to do on becoming a better ally, and that I have a really hard time coming up with coherent arguments that explain how not ok this is.


100LittleDolls said...

Against better judgement I watched the trailer. I knew what it would contain certainly, but the trailer was a lot worse than I even expected.

I know a lot of gamers who love the GTA series and I don't get it. I've even played some of it, and to me, it's not even fun. It controls poorly, and I got bored easily. Not to mention that as a woman gamer I don't have to look far to be offended.

I have no respect for companies like Rockstar that put out such violent and misogynistic games. It's so incredibly blatant. And to know that the game is getting perfect scores from gaming critics makes me feel even more offended and sick.

Jeremy said...

It wasn't a trailer. It was someone at IGN showing all the worst things you could do, and then choosing to do them. Sure, that guy was a sicko and killed the prostitutes - but why? Nothing in the game suggested that he do it. (If the recording had continued you'd have seen that his character would have been arrested or killed by the police for the behaviour.)

The game does not encourage people to kill prostitutes. To pretend it does is a lie.

Mickle said...

"Nothing in the game suggested that he do it."

Um, how about the fact that one could.

"The game does not encourage people to kill prostitutes. To pretend it does is a lie."

People keep saying this, and it's just such complete bullshit.

#1, see above

#2, there are rewards for killing prostitutes

#3, what bizarro world do you live in where the point of every single second of playing a game like GTA is only ever to win? Even when I was playing podracers on my old mac, half the fun was deliberately crashing the podracer once you knew you had no hope of beating your best score.

Lyle said...

Overall, I tend to avoid saying much about GTA since, after actually playing Night Trap for myself, I'm a strong believer in not commenting about games I haven't played myself (or, at least, reading with a pound of salt the outrage of people who don't show that they played the game themselves). GTA only interests me as a game in theory -- all the sandbox stuff does sound very intriguing, but the actual game doesn't appeal to me at all (I hate driving games and if Bully is any indication, I won't make it past the first eighth of the game).

I guess that's the long way of saying I've yet to find an analysis of GTA that made me feel like it put the offensive aspects of the game into context (and when you're commenting about the trailer or clips of a game it's fine to be offended by the marketing department's choices -- and Rockstar's marketing people have definitely pulled some offensive moves, especially as a company that courts controversy to boost its marketing -- or the person who decided it was clip worthy, but I don't believe you can really comment on a game based on a segment of it). Part of the problem is that all of the discussions I've encountered in the past few years really have a clear bias and both detractors and defenders come off as disingenuous enough that I still don't feel like I've understood the context. (And, 100 Little Dolls, I'd love to hear more about your experience with the game.)

Um, how about the fact that one could.

To be honest, that's not an argument I buy. I'm a huge fan of The Sims and you can do awful things in that game if you choose -- my neighborhood has a serial killer who uses his victims essences to stay young. Does that game avoid controversy because, at first glance, it's just about going to bed in time to wake up for work and using the bathroom before you wet yourself? GTA defenders say that there are consequences to those nasty actions (though they never really manage to sound convincing when they say that, honestly) and I'm honestly curious how much that is the case -- what are the rewards for killing prostitutes?

Mickle said...

The "it lets you" argument is that there are a lot on things one still can't do. Such as kill kids. (Or, have sex with men. Or be a woman.)

I think the variety of options available in Sims - and the fact that it's quite obvious that their goal is to provide as much variety as possible - makes any critiques of the choices available in the Sims necessarily different from critiques that choices available in GTA.

Despite all the insistence that you can play GTA however one wants, there are definite themes and narratives in place in every GTA. That's not true of every Sims. Or, more accurately, the narratives are truly much broader and the themes more general or more specific to the player's choices.

When critiquing the Sims, the question will usually be - why can't they let you do this as well? But when critiquing GTA, it does make sense to ask, why did they let you do this? Why is this acceptable, but this not? How does this contribute to the narrative and theme? And what does that say about the narrative and theme?

Plus, I'm not saying it and everyone who plays it are the ultimate evil. You should know me better than that. I'm saying it squicks me out, and there are good reasons it squicks me out, and there are lots of good reasons why this particular type of violence squicks me out.

As for why this bit of violence is different than some of the other violence in that game, please read the post above this one.

FYI, as far as I can tell, the only consequence of killing a prostitute is that same consequence you get for killing anyone - if you do it in front of (near?) police it ups your wanted points. However, paying a prostitute for sex ups your health points and killing her gives you back your money. The money part is always possible no matter who you kill, but several people are arguing that killing prostitutes will always recover the money you just spent. That seems like pretty obvious incentives there.

Lyle said...

The "it lets you" argument is that there are a lot on things one still can't do. Such as kill kids.

Ah, now that's the argument I've never heard articulated. I've often heard the "But the game gives you a wide variety of choices" argument, followed by "Just that you can" counter argument, but I haven't seen it go beyond that. That the game does limit choices -- ones that can't look to "narrative" as an excuse -- is a part of the discussion I hadn't encountered.

Plus, I'm not saying it and everyone who plays it are the ultimate evil. You should know me better than that. I'm saying it squicks me out, and there are good reasons it squicks me out, and there are lots of good reasons why this particular type of violence squicks me out.

I hope it didn't sound like I was thinking you said that, I don't think you did and I tried not to sound like someone getting defensive with GTA. As I mentioned, I haven't seen criticisms of the game that really put the controversial elements into context (I wonder how much of that might be due to a "Team Video Games" mentality where attacks on any video game has to be repelled to avoid it spilling over on all video games... leading to a lack of critics who can talk about video games like a game player.)

The marketing of the game squick me out, the controversial elements of the game squick me out but the controversial elements of Night Trap squicked me out when I saw it on the news, too, and that impression turned out to be utterly wrong. Whenever I hear GTA attacked or defended I wonder if its another Night Trap (only made, this time, by a company who knows how to turn controversy into sales) and, aside from the "sandbox" aspects putting the controversy into context is the only thing that interests me about the series.

I guess that's my long way of saying that I hope I didn't sound like someone attacking back on behalf of GTA. (I worried that my last question there might have taken that tone. FWIW, I asked because it's something I hadn't seen anyone explain and was genuinely curious to learn more.) I'm just frustrated that I have a bunch of gaming blogs in my newsreader and I've been following video game media coverage since forever (as a gamer) and I haven't seen arguments that made me feel like I had a good enough understanding to know if GTA is a game worth getting angry about or if its another Night Trap. The criticism I've found never goes into the game, focusing either on a clip of the game (and again, my experience with Night Trap was one of those "I won't be stupid and let myself be manipulated that way again." moments, so I want to hear more than 'Look at this clip' when someone is trying to say there's a problem with a particular game) or hearsay. Meanwhile, I think a lot of the defenses never quite sounded entirely truthful but, as mentioned earlier, the critics who got a media platform were people who didn't know games or GTA well enough to counter their arguments.

So. Anyway, I really appreciate your response since it does help understand the controversy more than any attempt to explain the problem with GTA. I had a feeling the consequences weren't as severe as GTA defenders make it sound, so I'm happy to finally hear from someone who can take that beyond the "Is!"/"Isn't!" discussion I keep seeing.

Mickle said...


after giving it more thought, it wasn't really that I thought you read my comments as black and white so much as your initial response sounded rather close to the Team Video Game mentality, which threw me for a loop.

but I only thought that because we were hearing different things from the "because it let's you argument"

(plus, bad morning, sorry)

for me, that particular argument is often a part of discussing things like narrative, theme, character development, etc.

but I can see how easy it is to read it as something else, since a lot of the people that use it aren't purposely critiquing any of those story elements because they aren't treating video games as an art form

critiquing video games is often overall frustrating at this point because a lot of players engage in this kind of shell game where they respond to certain arguments by saying that people just like to trash video games because they think they are childish, and then respond to others with the cry "it's just a game" or "but you don't have to play it that way!" - as if the creators hadn't spent a lot of time creating an interactive work of art, and all the decisions that go into that

100LittleDolls said...

There's some great discussion going on over at the Iris forums. It looks like people are also pointing out some blog posts that are taking a critical eye to the GTA series.

I played some of Vice City. The story is typical mobster fare and basically you're given different tasks, some that go with the story and others that are based on skill (i.e. driving a speed boat to different points in certain amount of time.) Yes, you choose not to do certain things, but the game reacts (and therefore rewards, because it then becomes more interesting) when you partake in some senseless acts of violence.

When I played I beat some people up, drove around, stole a police car, but it just wasn't very fun. I wasn't interested in the plot of the game, I was bored with trying to see how many stars I could rack up before the police arrested me. There just wasn't anything to invest myself in. Not to mention that there's no character development beyond stereotypes and that the only real female presence in the game were of women I could mug or prostitutes.

I hate just as much as the next gamer when the media bites on to the next controversial video game and politicians talk about game bans to boost their vote count. However, I don't have any patience for companies like Rockstar that produce games like this and make them as offensive and controversial to the general public as possible in order to rake in the cash. Rockstar loves it when the media plays witch hunt with their newest release--it ensures gamer loyalty and sales.