I was kind of hoping that my first post on Grand Theft Auto IV would be a positive one, a gratifying confirmation of a triple A video game delivering on expectation, but sadly wherever Rockstar’s incendiary series does go, controversy will surely follow. What’s interesting is that this time instead of it being the typical external bitching, sorry – criticism, it’s actually controversy regards the coverage of the game.
On Thursday IGN posted a video trailer titled “Ladies of Liberty City: Very Bad Things”. The video contained game-footage of Grand Theft Auto IV’s central character Niko going to the strip club and picking up hookers, but more notably it also showed clips of Niko shooting and running over said hookers after they had serviced him as well as the drive-by shooting of another woman. It should be said that the killing of the women was not part of a cut scene or any storyline but actual player-controlled action.
The trailer, as you’ve probably guessed, was not received well at all, not just in its list of angry comments but most significantly by some esteemed gaming bloggers (I’ll post a link dump at the end of this article to their respective thoughts). A few hours later presumably enough complaints had been made for IGN to remove the montage and release this statement:
In this case, we crossed a line in how we portrayed some aspects of the game and we’ve taken this video down.
After watching said video, my first thoughts were that whoever had given it the green light should and probably will be looking for another job come Monday morning. That anyone thought it wasn’t going to cause the backlash that it has in the gaming industry’s current climate was beyond foolish, especially when you consider that it’s only Grand Theft Auto IV¸ by some length the most high-profile game release of this year, maybe even this decade so far. Seriously, IGN, what were you thinking? When you add in the fact that IGN have already been in hot water and therefore under inevitable scrutiny for their “exclusive review” of GTA IV, it does boggle the mind just a smidge how the video ever made it on to their site. Really, guys… just not smart.
The real question, however, is whether the video should have caused such a backlash. The trailer is obviously in bad taste – violence and objectification of women is of course a terrible thing, but then again Grand Theft Auto IV is a game that prides itself on being in bad taste. You, as Niko, do kill people, sometimes innocents. You do go to strip clubs. You can validly describe GTA IV as satirical and intellectual but at the end of the day the game asks you to go around committing awful and inhumane crimes.
In this regard, I find the overwhelming denigration of IGN‘s video somewhat hypocritical. If we are to herald GTA IV as the best thing since sliced bread, which it would seem as a collective those within games coverage are pretty much doing, it just feels like hypocrisy to start saying that the video IGN put out is glorifying violence against women, as some people have suggested. Yes, they cut it up in a way that wasn’t bright, but to go one step further and essentially accuse IGN of releasing a video that is all but promoting such awful behaviour is harsh. If I’m wrong, and it’s not harsh, then how can the same people turn around and say that Grand Theft Auto IV doesn’t glorify violence against innocents, objectification of women, and all the other crimes and social incorrectness to be found in the game?
One comment I’ve heard repeated is that people don’t play GTA IV that way. That is absolute bull wacky. Are you trying to tell me that people out there don’t play the Wanted Stars Game, where the aim is to commit as much crime as possible to increase your wanted status and try to evade the cops for as long as you can? Are you telling me that GTA IV would sell just as much if the game limited crime to within narrative context? Of course some people play GTA IV that way. It’s a sandbox playground of crime, for crying out loud.
Here’s an interesting question: at what stage would the video have been okay? If you take out the shooting of the prostitutes after they’ve been paid for sex, would that be acceptable? After all, what’s left would be actual game footage with little player control beyond choosing to have the scenes played out. They’re acts that the game in many ways encourages the player to do. So far in my time with GTA IV, I’ve received three calls from various non-player characters asking me if I want to go down to the strip club with them. As long as there’s no violence, footage of a player soliciting women for sexual favours in exchange for money is totally okay because that’s what you can do within the game without interference, right?
Where do you draw the line? What’s okay and what’s unacceptable? Somehow most people within the games industry think of GTA IV as being okay because it garbs itself in context, satire and a counterculture attitude. All IGN did was show scenes of possible gameplay footage from it. I’m not saying what they did was okay. What I’m saying is that if they did something wrong, maybe we shouldn’t all be so admiring and defensive of a game like GTA IV which arguably sells mostly because it lets you steal cars, shoot cops and sleep around with prostitutes, something that not many games do. Before I close, here’s the link dump of some related articles, and they’re all worthwhile reading:
The Brainy Gamer: “One More Take”
Sexy Videogameland: “Lowest Common Denominator”
MTV Multiplayer: “IGN Yanks ‘GTA IV’ Sex And Hooker-Shooting Video: ‘We Crossed A Line,’ Company Says”