Grand Theft Auto 5, fifth in the series of games developed by Rockstar Games, recently hit store shelves to critical acclaim and massive sales (800 million in one day, according to IGN). The game, which retails for around 60 bucks, promises hours of exploration in a highly detailed “world”, biting social commentary on modern life in America, and the ability to play as three criminals who gun their way across a fictional landscape.
However, with the release of the latest GTA game – as with all prior GTA games in the series – parents and various social groups have decried the explicit sexual content, and harsh violence contained within the game-world as a potential link to sexual exploitation and real-life violence. Their solution usually involves tighter government control and censorship of such products. On the flip side, game producers and individuals who enjoy this form of entertainment, vehemently oppose such efforts at censorship towards what they believe to be artistic expression. Meanwhile, the game-industry itself, which in some areas has begun to rival the movie-industry in the release of chart-topping blockbuster titles, would point to a largely ineffective ESRB ratings as a means to keep adult material out of the hands of minors. The end result is a big problem no matter how you look at it.
For some, the appeal of games may be difficult to understand. As someone who enjoys games, and believes in the power art can have in conveying a meaningful message, I recognize the countless hours of creativity that an individual or entire team can pour into their creation. I also understand that the game medium – much like books, music, or movies – represents unique new opportunities in interactive story telling. And granted, while games as story-telling devices are still somewhat in their infancy, the beautiful games with meaningful stories have never generated the millions in sales that a game filled with violence and sex has. Why? Well, simple really. Because gaming is mostly a young-man’s pursuit, when you combine an overtly sexual culture, lack of purpose, confusion about the male role, and the unwillingness to face the difficulties of life – you can pretty much put two-and-two together.
Still, while we’d certainly be the amongst the first to commend the talented team at Rockstar for their ability to create a virtual world comprised of artwork, creative direction, and powerful writing – we can’t help but feel that something is amiss. Kind of like the drug dealer who claims to be creating a unique experience for their users – but then, because they’ll never witness or comprehend the end result of their actions – convinces themselves that it’s not really their problem who uses their dangerous product. The point? Personal responsibility. Just because you can do something, doesn’t always mean you should. No, we’re not talking about the state swooping in and censoring whatever it deems inappropriate, or waging a billion dollar “war” against whatever it deems as dangerous. But we are talking about people recognizing right and wrong, and attempting to refrain from living in their own little bubble pretending as if their life is all that matters.
This doesn’t mean artists can’t deal with dark subject matters like violence, sex, or the problem of evil. Some of the most successful artists throughout history have dealt with complex subjects like these without taking the easy route of dumping a bucket of filth over their audience. In the same way, some of our finest books and movies have dealt with themes of crime and the troubled individual without ever creating explicit sexual situations, utilizing gratuitous language, or gaping gun-shot wounds.
Because the fact of the matter is that our actions – the things we do, say and create – have consequences. And perhaps artists, through the ability to bring to life ideas and the beauty of truth, have a greater responsibility than most.