Case Study: Grand Theft Auto


The mission “By the Book” generated controversy from reviewers and commentators for its depiction of torture. In the mission, protagonist Trevor Philips interrogates a man, Mr K, to extract information about an Azerbaijani fugitive who poses a threat to the FIB. Trevor uses torture equipment (such as electricity and pliers) on the restrained man, which players select from a table. Once Mr K provides the FIB with the information, Trevor is asked to kill him, but instead drives him to the airport, providing him an opportunity to escape. While driving Mr K, Trevor monologues about the ineffectiveness of torture, pointing out Mr K’s readiness to supply the FIB with the information without being tortured, and expressing that torture is used as a power play “to assert ourselves”


Some reviewers claim that the game’s portrayal of women is misogynistic. Chris Plante of Polygon felt that the supporting female characters were constructed on stereotypes, and wrote that the game’s “treatment of women is a relic from the current generation”. Todd Martens of the Los Angeles Times considered the satirical portrayals of women uncreative, and added that violent and sexist themes hurt the game experience. Edge noted that while “every female in the game exists solely to be sneered, leered or laughed at”, it treated its all-male lead characters in a similar vein through their stereotyped tendencies towards violence. Dave Cook of VG247 reinforced the sentiment that the female characters were constructed on stereotypes in an editorial: “They’re either there to be rescued, shouted at, fucked, to be seen fucking, put up with, killed, heard prattling away like dullards on their mobile phones or shopping“. Sam Houser, Rockstar Games co-founder, felt that the development team sometimes overlooked their portrayal of women in Grand Theft Auto games, but that the weight towards male characters “fit with the story we wanted to tell”.

Games in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, including a teenager confessing to robbing and murdering a taxi driver while trying to recreate a scene from GTA IV). Dr. Craig Anderson at Iowa State University and his colleagues conclude that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and a decreased empathy and prosocial behaviour. Researchers argue that the inherent structure of violent video games limit young people’s abilities to develop perspectives of victims and does not encourage affective sympathy in children, as any negative effects of being harmed or killed in the games are minimised ignored, or even rewarded.


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