When does parody stop being parody and become guilty of the issues it’s mocking? Where does this thin line sit, if at all? Most works like this can be easily spotted by their silliness; it’s easy to dismiss offensive statements in Saints Row IV when the main character is dressed like a hotdog.
But when the world in question is so much more realistic some players might find it hard to overlook the same issue. Interestingly, SRIV has a very open attitude to the homosexual relationships in the game as your character doesn’t baulk at all at the idea of sleeping with long-standing gang member of the same sex.
But what happens when people become so enamoured with exposing an ‘issue’ that they can no longer see the forest for the trees. One such lost hiker is Carolyn Petit, of Gamespot UK. Her review of Grand Theft Auto V has attracted vitriol from the gaming community after she took her score down from a ten to a nine because she claimed the game was misogynist.
This eventually turned into a petition to have her sacked, which is as poor an idea as her original complaint.
Helen Lewis of The Guardian and Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra are another two who are jumping on the long and tired train of criticising the series for being offensive. Grand Theft Auto V is a vast, beautifully made, exciting and often stunning, adult game but it is not sexist in the same way that it’s not racist.
At face value, you can see what Petit is talking about. Throughout the San Andreas, misogyny is rife. Men posture, radio stations are filled with adverts that question your sexuality you, religious figures act like mental patients and many of the characters you meet are obsessed with the pursuit of a hollow image of beauty and fame. The whole world is attempting to insult the player, question their sexuality or religion or job or appearance – and suggest the perfect cure in the form of retail therapy.
In the mythical land of no-context this would be quite insulting. An ad that tells me women would be attracted to me if I wasn’t so poor and had their particular brand of credit card is certainly offensive and a radio DJ who suggests a woman is more of a household adornment than a person would be fired tout suite – but the crucial element here is the context. Los Santos and the greater San Andreas area are a pitch-perfect parody of modern California.
GTAV is satire. If you spend more than 10 minutes in California watching television or listening to the radio, you’re going to be told how inadequate you. This pill you need that doesn’t quite do the same thing as your normal antidepressant, this cooking utensil that will enrich your life or that financial help you need because you were too concerned with buying stuff and now need to refinance your home for less than it’s worth.
Their whole advertising industry is geared toward fear and bullying and GTA V holds a lens up to this. Before you even start to look at the issue of how women are portrayed in this environment, think how offensive it is to everybody, regardless of sex.
If we were to get angry about this issue then why are Petit and other writers allowed to just pick the one issue closest to their heart? I’ve yet to find any Mexican journalists getting angry about the game, yet GTA V takes a massively offensive stance toward America’s southern neighbours. Not because the game is racist but because this actually happens and they’re commenting on it by making jokes about it. Real world Los Angeles is still desperately trying to cling to the idea that they’re not multicultural and the game reflects this, implying that Mexicans are either drug runners or trying to terk ourrr jerrrbs. Why is nobody getting angry at this?
Surely if you feel so strongly about the oppression of huge percentages of a society in the form of a satirical video game then you would be writing articles claiming Rockstar doesn’t like Latin Americans? Try taking a point off for that.
As Helen Lewis pointed out, GTA has yet to have a female protagonist, but it is also yet to have a Latino protagonist. The game is critical of men, too, though nobody seems to have mentioned this. Petit claimed that, “GTA aims to glorify male sexuality while demeaning women, and the billboards and radio stations of the world reinforce this misogyny, with ads that equate manhood with sleek sports cars while encouraging women to purchase a fragrance that will make them ‘smell like a bitch’”.
Yes, it is equating manhood with sleek sports cars because it’s making fun of it. The portrayal of men in GTA is negative; they show men to be flippantly misogynist, seeing woman as objects and gauges of status while constantly pursuing money, possessions and an image of self-improvement.
This is a negative representation of a sex as well but nobody seems to be writing articles about it. To say that Rockstar is being sexist in the way they show women is to say they’re also being sexist toward men – because nobody escapes the satire. Every character in the game is a parody of a stereotype and I challenge you to find one that isn’t.
Many games are sexists, racist and prejudiced and they deserve to be pointed out, but this isn’t one of them. And if we start demanding satire be censored where does that leave us? If we can’t make light of society’s issues without a huge backlash then how are we ever going to openly confront these issues and stop buying into the industries that perpetuate them?
Don’t get angry at Rockstar, get angry at the people who are like this in the real world. Society is misogynist, not the game that mocks it. But you don’t get to be the editor of Gamespot UK without having a brain in your head and I would bet Petit knew exactly what she was doing. In our industry, page views are king and the ever present pursuit of controversy is a proven method to generate clicks, which equal money. Yes, you’ve all been had.
To go on the Internet and claim a game like this is offensive because you didn’t get it, is either amateurish or clever shit-stirring. And I find it hard to believe that she missed the point of the game entirely. We’re not meant to buy into and agree with the inhabitants of Los Santos, we’re meant to mock them for their backward attitudes.
Instead, be an adult, play games and think about what the developer was trying to say. Use your head, because Rockstar are using theirs.