Thursday, December 11, 2014

No, GTA is not a game about killing prostitutes

Clueless critics of the Grand Theft Auto series, without fail, attach importance to the idea that the game involves murdering prostitutes. This is somewhere between an urban legend and a red herring, and four years ago I summed up neatly why it's wrong.

Grand Theft Auto games notoriously allow players to murder prostitutes, a point never missed by its critics. However, the games have never suggested players do so - they merely present an open world where people can shoot anyone, if they so choose. In the same vein, someone can draw a swastika in MS Paint or write racial slurs in a word document. The games also feature taxi drivers and there's nothing stopping a player from getting a ride somewhere then shooting the driver to "get their money back," but that point is never made to demonstrate how violent the games allow people to be.

This is pretty simple. The game has an open-world environment and a city filled with different people, and the player can choose to kill any of those people. Since some of those people are indeed prostitutes, yes technically, the player can kill them. The people who make this point are clueless about the game. Often they appear to be clueless about games in general and aren't worth responding to.

But then this article came out, where a "senior journalist" from video game website Polygon glossed over this fine detail and whine about the social justice ramifications of GTA games and how they prominently feature the murder of prostitutes.

This is something we absolutely should be talking about. It's one thing for games to portray the slaughter of soldiers and gangsters and even vanilla members of the public. It's another to show us victims being kicked in the teeth, and then pretend this is not worth talking about.

The entire piece rests of a foundation of sand, and Campbell takes his false premise and heaps more and more onto it. He informs us that all prostitutes are desperate, trod-upon victims of society. This is a false notion but not one worth exploring here, because even if that was universally true, his starting premise would still be false - that the game somehow encourages the murder of prostitutes, instead of a game that tolerates the murder of civilians in general.

Campbell attempts to address this issue, and by address I mean he tosses a half-baked conclusion out the window of a speeding car, fails to justify it, and resumes polishing his false premise.

I know a lot of people desperately want to believe that killing a prostitute in GTA 5 is the same as killing any other character, but it's really not. Unlike gangsters or cops or business dudes or hot dog vendors, prostitutes, as a class, are despised, marginalized and abused in real life, all the time. This means that GTA 5 takes its pleasure in humiliating and abusing victims of humiliation and abuse... 
My point is that this portrayal of them reinforces hard ideas about the worthlessness of prostitutes, in ways that are unique to this class of characters in the game. My point is that it is deeply distasteful to gleefully portray victims being shat upon by privilege.

Please note that homeless people are not mentioned even once in his entire piece, even though they exist in the game and fit his definition of a marginalized group in society. But then again, there's no legends in the popular culture about killing homeless people, and fewer social justice credits for defending homeless men than for female prostitutes.

Keep in mind, this was posted on a world-famous video game website, and the author is supposedly an expert on video games. That doesn't make any sense at first blush. The only way it makes sense is if one realizes that this is a Gawker Media website where social justice advocacy comes before anything else.

1 comment:

  1. I know quite a few people frantically need to believe that killing a prostitute in GTA 5 is the same as killing some other character,however its really not.Dissimilar to gangsters or cops or business dudes or hot dog vendors,prostitutes, as a class,are detested,underestimated and ill-used in real life,constantly.This implies that GTA 5 takes its pleasure in humiliating and misapplying victims of humiliation and misuse.
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