The Grand Theft Auto video game franchise has been a major player on the market, dating back to their first game release in 1997. The games take place in both urban and rural environments and allow their players to essentially simulate real life in the United States as well as paths of criminal intent. I am not one to overly-criticize the games themselves because I myself am a fan and consumer, yet critics do have their merits. There has been endless controversy about the content of the games themselves as well as the effect that playing them has on America’s youth. Some of the complaints against the game are that it is overtly violent, includes sequences of gratuitous sex and torture, and that its lifelike play is too similar to real life to be safe for consumption by the American populace. However, it is one of the most popular video game franchises ever created, with the lifetime sales at 150+ million units (Wikipedia). The game really has an official target audience of young men aged 18 to about 30, yet the game falls into the hands of <18 consumers regularly. The ideologies that lay within the game itself are apparent to the player. The game is built upon the ideals of violence, financial gains, and the desire to build an empire from the ground up. It is essentially a simulator for Americans to pursue a lifestyle that they may see as unattainable.
The game is the epitome of a mediated reality, it allows the player to remove him or herself from their own personal reality and plunge into one of their own creation. The player can simulate the life of a law-abiding citizen if they please, they can buy a car, a house, walk their dog, go to the store, you name it. Yet, there also lies a more sinister path within the game; you can kill and pillage indiscriminately with no consequence. The issue with this is that if the player perceives it to be real than it truly does become real. As we discussed in class, the perception that a media consumer has of what is real and what is not real is blurred by the constant intake of media that we encounter in the modern era. The game provides a narrow perception of the real world within the play of the game, which is one of the main contributors to this blurred perception of reality on the part of the player. One of the factors of the gameplay that is far-removed from reality is the casual air associated with the murder of random citizens, criminals, and the police. The game also portrays a somewhat unattainable amount of success for the player, through the perpetration of crimes they are rewarded with guns, fast cars, women, and property.
The women that are portrayed in the game, one of which can be seen in the image above, are seen as sex objects and all possess a similar body type. These images in particular reinforce gender stereotypes and gender roles to the players throughout the game. There are also deep-seated pieces of overt and covert racism within the game. There are several different parts of the map that players can access, each with their own stereotypes and demographics. For example in GTA 5, Blaine County is home to blue-collar “rednecks” and meth-dealer types whereas the Grove Street area is filled with stereotypical black “gangster” types. The separation of races within the game helps to perpetuate race as a social construction and contributor to where individuals of certain races make their home.
All in all, the game is an unrealistic simulation of real-life aimed as fulfilling the dreams and fantasies of a nation unsatisfied with their own lives. It perpetuates gender stereotypes and glorifies violent and incorrigible acts in a world with no real consequences. But as educated students, we know the truth to be that there is no such thing as “no real consequences.” The game has an effect on it’s players whether they understand it or not, through its ideology, and underlying messages and stratifications. That being said, in my opinion it is damn fun.
An example of this “unattainable American dream” I have been talking about can be seen here:
“Grand Theft Auto (series).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Auto_%28series%29>.
“Rockstar Games.” Rockstar Games RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.rockstargames.com/>.
“GameWallpapers.com.” GameWallpapers.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.gamewallpapers.com/>.
“Grand Theft Auto V: Michael.” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqZXw5M6qQY>.