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Have We Gone Too Far?
by Shelly Warmuth on 09/24/13 12:43:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


GTA V Torture scene

Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto are no strangers to controversy.  In fact, I'd say they seek it out.  Controversy drives sales.  Is this good for our industry, though?  Are we, as developers, beholden to any ethics?

In case this is new information for you, GTA V features a graphic, and unskippable, torture scene.  If you are to complete the story, you must participate in this mission and, in order to be fully awarded for the quest, you must use multiple implements of torture.  The torture mission ends with the killing of a man who may or may not be the correct target and an almost gratuitous message from Trevor about the ineffectiveness of torture as a means of obtaining accurate information.

While I agree with that message, I'm having a difficult time condoning forcing players through that experience to send it.  Is it powerful?  Very.  Games are interactive experiences.  If you feel repulsed, and you should, you're receiving that powerful message.  But, how far is too far?  When do we finally cross the line?  Is this it?  Have we crossed it?  I believe we have.

It feels as if we keep trying to up the ante on repulsive acts in games.  For me, it began with the airport massacre of innocent civilians, many of them cowering and begging for their lives, in Modern Warfare 2--but you could skip that.  You didn't have to shoot innocents.  Then, we moved up to uncomfortable, but seemingly necessary ethical choices in The Walking Dead.  From there, Spec Ops: The Line was an entire game focused on making you do things for what you thought were the right reasons, only to find that you were the one in the wrong all along.  Spec Ops was the first game to really make me feel as if I had no choice but to experience Yager's. (the developer's) message in full.

Of course, there are other uncomfortable scenes in GTA V, such as the strip club.  There are controversial sex scenes in Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins.  The baptism scene in Bioshock: infinite so disturbed Breen Malmberg that he asked Valve for a refund.  Games have been trying to get players to make meaningful ethical decisions for years:

  • Shadow of the Colossus--Kill the big, peaceful, colossi

  • Bioshock--To save or harvest the Little Sisters

  • inFamous--To play Cole as good or evil and the consequences of each

  • Fallout 3--Much of the game!

  • Add your favorite example here.

Still, with the exception of Shadow of the Colossus and Spec Ops (from this list) none of the games actually forced you to play it as the developer intends or not at all. It's a bold choice, to be sure.  Rockstar risks alienating a large part of their audience or, at the very least, forcing them to stop playing.  While controversy does sell games, I'm not so sure that I'm comfortable with this show of force from Rockstar.  Audiences have as much right not to play the game as they have to avoid an overly graphic violent movie or to choose not to watch a porn flick.  But, Rockstar fails to honor the power of our industry to touch players effectively precisely because it's an interactive medium.  Or, maybe I'm wrong--maybe that was their intent all along.

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Timothy Cutts
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From where I stand, the entire GTA franchise looks like crap. Then again, from my perspective it's just a bunch of games where you run around shooting people and running from the cops, so I've never really understood the appeal. I remember seeing a bunch of posters for GTA V around town the other day. The rating on them I believe was R (restricted, the ESRB equivalent would be A), but it only said "drug use", which seemed odd to me, especially based on what I know of the franchise and what I've heard of the game.

I've only ever played a couple of the games on your list, so I don't have much experience with the situation. I've played all three Bioshock games and I usually try to go for the best possible ending. That said, I hated the ending to Bioshock Infinite. I hated how you couldn't avoid killing Comstock and I hated how long, linear and nonsensical the end scene was. That said the entire game just didn't feel like a Bioshock game from the very beginning, so I guess that should have been an early warning.

I think the biggest problem in the games industry at the moment is AAA studios. They are essentially trying to draw in as big of an audience as they can and end up ruining their game or franchise in the process. It seems to manifest in various forms, for example Blizzard nerfed most of the gameplay in World of Warcraft when they released the Mists of Pandaria expansion and they lost I think it was something like 17% of their player-base (myself included) in the first quarter after its release. I think with Rockstar, it's a case of trying to make their franchise grittier and more hardcore, but not knowing where to draw the line. This sort of thing happens to indie studios as well, but you don't generally hear about it because they're never as well publicised.

Kenneth Poirier
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As far as ethics goes, Game developers have only one responsibility and that is to inform their audience of the content before they make a purchase and choose to expose themselves to it. I don't think rockstar has failed at this in any way. The game has an ESRB rating and you can read the subject matter on the back of the box.

In regards to should graphic content be included in games or should the player be forced to participate in it. This is an artistic decision not an ethical one. The violent content in GTA V is the equivalent of bunnies playing in a meadow compared to the actual violent content of the real world. Every day 150 people are killed by police officers in the united states alone. Hundreds of people were brutally toured at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of THOUSANDS of civilians have been killed in the middle east by US forces over the past decade.

The violence in GTA V does not concern me. I can always turn the game off. That is an option we don't have in the real world.