Like many other gamers out there, I’ve spent the past few days immersed in the laughably satirical, beautifully rendered, and overly violent world of Rockstar’s latest crime-spree epic Grand Theft Auto V. I’ve enjoyed participating in the game’s various activities such as tennis playing, skydiving, mountain bike racing, and even the occasional round of golf. I’ve also gunned down droves of cops and henchmen, violently carjacked countless innocent civilians, and blown up enough vehicles and buildings to make Michael Bay proud.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on all the hours I spent cruising around and raising havoc in GTA V’s virtual world of Los Santos, I’m left wondering whether all of the over-the-top violence that is laid on so heavily in the game’s narrative and gameplay was a little *too* over-the-top. Was it really necessary to slam every person’s face into the driving wheel of their car before throwing them out of it? Was the mission where I was forced to graphically torture a person to progress the narrative something I *had* to participate in? Do the residents of Los Santos know *any other* way of solving their problems besides shooting at them or running them over?
I don’t mean to bemoan Rockstar for what is yet another stellar entry in the long-running Grand Theft Auto series. I think it’s a fantastic game and I look forward to many more hours spent with it. I also understand that Rockstar isn’t leaving much to the imagination with a game named Grand Theft Auto; if you’re looking for a non-violent, kid-friendly game filled with puppies and unicorns and rainbows, the title alone is enough of a clue that you should look elsewhere. But I also can’t deny that the sheer amount of violence in GTA V pushed even my largely desensitized feelings way past the point of discomfort at times.
One unfortunate side effect of so many AAA developers producing largely violent games is that, sooner or later, they inevitably begin trying to outdo both each other and themselves. Activison’s 2009 shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 stirred up a hailstorm of controversy by including a level where the player directly participates in the shooting of a crowd of civilians in an airport (the game allows the player to skip the level if they so choose). A pre-release showcase for Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist showed protagonist Sam Fisher extracting information from an enemy by stabbing his knife into their shoulder and allowing the player to control how much he twisted the knife around; a large fan outcry prompted them to remove the scene from the game’s final build.
There’s no denying that violence plays a key part in a large majority of games that are released these days but is it a necessary part of the experience or nothing more than a necessary evil? One could argue that Rockstar is trying to prove with GTA V that the extreme violence is just another part of the game’s satirical theme but, if that’s the case, isn’t breaking down the barrier between a player viewing it and a player *participating* in it just defeating the purpose? Can non-violent games like Journey and Portal continue to survive in a culture that seems to crave new violent media as much as they bemoan it?
Personally, while I’ll admit that violence is an essential part of GTA V’s (and most other AAA games out there) core, it isn’t essential for finding fun within the game. As I mentioned previously, the large multitude of the game’s non-violent activities provide hours of fun all on their own and, hopefully, remind us that having fun in a game is about more than just putting a virtual gun in the player’s hand and telling them to shoot people. I’m hopeful that, in time, GTA V will be remembered as a satirical open-world simulation with a variety of violent and non-violent activities and not just yet another cause of real-world youth violence as many ignorant non-gamers would have us believe.
So what about you loyal VGU readers? Do you enjoy GTA V’s more trigger-happy elements? Do you find yourselves more drawn to violent or non-violent games? Do you think the whole “violence and video games” debate is a bunch of useless nonsense? Sound off on this week’s VGU Reader Discussion in the comments below and be sure to hit us up on Facebook, Twitter, and Raptr.