I punched her.
I don’t know who she was. As one of the countless spawned Los Santos residents, her personality was undefined. She had just begun a cell phone conversation to a friend as she walked through a well-t0-do section of developer Rockstar’s latest.
And then I punched her.
It wasn’t a tap, and she did not become up-ended in a display of exaggerated physics. There were no comedic intentions. Grand Theft Auto V adds weight and volume to physical violence. Thus, she dropped to her knees and keeled over. Dead. Lifeless.
In Grand Theft Auto III, you could shoot heads off. I remember sniping an old woman using a walker. Her head splattered, and a goofy blood spurt spewed from the newfound hole in her neck while hands frantically searched for a face. It carried the violent impact of a Tom & Jerry frying pan gag, updated for a blitz of modern counter culture mayhem.
Media and fans have erroneously used the word “realistic” to describe GTA as a franchise, a weird, even blinded viewpoint which references a breadth of activities. A game which bundles tennis and shooting people is apparently “realistic,” but it never was. Instead, Rockstar’s king of open world mayhem was anti-reality, where little made sense and the absurd was celebrated. Its existence resulted from a lack of content barriers, whereas film suffered from stuffy censorship for decades via Production Codes, and comic books worked underneath the now dwindling Comic Code Authority. Video games never had an era where they toned it down or played cautious. They have merely escalated.
Comic Codes and movie censorship were awful beings, results of naivety and clustered, confusing morals which panicked at the sight of pregnant women. But, on the underside, they also required creativity to deliver messages. Stories of comic writers or filmmakers inserting (then blasphemous) homosexual undertones past naive censors are known. Rockstar proceeded uninhibited, layered in praise and financial success. They were never criticized by industry insiders or consumers, only that said audience demanded realism.
And thus, GTA V happened. Los Santos is sprawling, capturing a society infatuated with itself at the expense of others. There are elements of reality, snippets of our own societal failure buried on talk radio or superficial involvement with social media. Maybe it has a point, but those elements are buried underneath a sickening obsession with realistic death.
Much has been made of GTA V’s misogyny. Notably, its treatment of women falls outside a loosely fitted cover of satire. What was passable in GTA’s storied past is no longer acceptable, not merely because of changing progressive attitude, rather how this fifth numbered entry chooses to handle female leads. There is a problem, whether we choose to accept it or not, but the root cause is violence.
Trevor, one of three swappable leads, is a meth dealing, trailer park dwelling mad man. In his escapades, he executes a hostile apartment takeover from a conservative, malleable boyfriend of a dominating, career driven female. Trevor’s solution to this scenario is off-screen violence of the worst kind, and played for laughs. A woman in a power position is deplorable to GTA V, and it proposes a singular solution.
And thus, you can punch people, and kill them realistically.
For the record, police were never called. A few other citizens ran in an opposite direction, but killing said stranger did not elicit a star warning. I cannot say I’ve mourned a digital character, but I did stop and consider what I was doing. At what point is this considered okay?
In another instance, I was running from a beach chase in an SUV. Turning quickly without camera support, I slammed someone between a bench and the front grill. Instead of weird, unearthly physics, said person slumped over on the hood. That is not fun.
Much of the “progress” made in GTA V has been to core shooting or driving mechanisms. Whereas gameplay has ballooned in quality, other elements suffer. Violence, kitschy or otherwise, would sit underneath a trademark of enveloping parody. Somewhere, that was lost too. Apple’s iPhone becomes the iFruit (complete with phallus logo), a sheepishly corny name change without any societal implications. It moves in line with a late season episode of The Simpsons where Nintendo’s Wii became “Funtendo Zii.” That sort of humor, if funny in any capacity, fails to imbue the gag with commentary. It’s funny because you spot a reference, not for the work involved in the joke’s creation.
With nothing to soften the blow, a punch becomes a punch. A virtual woman died cruelly because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when mainstream media critics come calling to lambaste violent video game content, what can Grand Theft Auto V hide behind? Content has shifted to utter moral bankruptcy, and pumping up reality only serves to walk into talking point discussions with pundits, sans defense.
Grand Theft Auto V is ill considered, and its own audience is willing to let it happen.