Continually pushing the bounds, where does it stop for Grand Theft Auto 5?
Grand Theft Auto 5 is, through two weeks on store shelves, supposedly a terrific game. Twenty-eight reviews the Monday before launch gave Rockstar’s latest the highest score possible: 100%, 5/5 stars, or a resounding yes from Kotaku. That means a game is close to flawless, but not so perfect because nothing can be that mind-blowingly awesome. Reading some reviews, however, you’d imagine a tranquil paradise laying in the mountains.
But what is perfection? What does an outstanding score that defies reason mean? As for the imperative question in this scenario (and for countless others): Is GTA 5 (insert game here) absolutely deserving of such praise?
Rockstar has expanded on a Los Santos with hundreds of side-missions to dive into, three characters through whom you experience the cityscape and vast city boundaries, and a quirky yet somewhat irritating secondary cast. It all fits into that neat formula Grand Theft Auto cemented early in its existence: celebrate the trivial, make the (male) main character’s past his enemy, and, you know, shoot cops and have raunchy hooker sex in a back alley.
In other words, it’s a Grand Theft Auto game through and through.
Over five games, though, 2K has a problem. Twenty-five million sales can’t go to thirty million or thirty-five million. Setting the record for most sold entertainment product ($800 million in the first day alone) is beyond impressive. But Grand Theft Auto is stuck in a vacuum that began back when GTA 3 first revolutionized the open world concept: Controversy sells games.
GTA is the only series where negative press benefits sales numbers. All the talk from horribly wrong politicians about how “killing prostitutes gets you points” heightens the profile of the game, netting it more press and more attention. It works in Rockstar’s favour to be as vile as possible. But that backwards marketing doesn’t always work. The attempts to rob headlines distract from the plenitude of other activities to complete.
Take one scene from Grand Theft Auto V. In one mission, Michael and Trevor are out looking for an Azerbaijani man. Michael sets up across a highway to snipe into a building to kill this man. Without any background, Trevor & Co. kidnap another man and torture him for information about the target. Even if playing through torture works with Trevor’s psychopathic personality, to play through that scene is unnecessary. I had to close my eyes when Trevor bashes the guy’s head in with a wrench.
As a veteran of the series, if I have to glance away at a scene, that’s going too far. But because GTA sells on controversy, Rockstar needs to go that step above to sell more games. Torture is something new for the franchise; the controversy after has undoubtedly sold more copies. It’s a marketing move.
These scenes spur articles like this, from The New Yorker, writing at length about the torture scene and “how evil should a video game allow you to be”. Rockstar and 2K see that article’s existence as a victory, further fuelling the trigger happy attitude of its fan base. The effect is psychological: players take out their daily frustrations when playing GTA and other games of that nature, and the opportunity to take revenge on society without actually committing a crime entices some people.
Even I’m guilty of doing this. After a miserable day in high school, I would boot up my PS2 and go on crime rampages for hours through the streets of Liberty City. Of course, I could separate reality from a virtual simulation. But it calmed me down–pointing all the aggression towards GTA 3 and its poor, lifeless citizens was therapeutic.
To Rockstar: What ranks above torture? For the inevitable sixth game, past all the mountains of advertising and commercialization, what other scene will cause every magazine in the world to question GTA 6‘s evilness? How far can Rockstar go?
I guess we’ll find out when the next game arrives in 2017.
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