Grand Theft Auto V, arguably the biggest title of the current console cycle, is releasing to a lot of controversy. Some of it big and some of it small. Not being particularly interested in it I decided to check some reviews, particularly ones from Gamespot and The Escapist.
The Gamespot review is by Carolyn Petit and she has had a history of her reviews incorporating different social agendas. Most of the time it is done decently enough but her review of Grand Theft Auto V left a lot to be desired.
Politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic
There is nothing wrong with that little blurb (it is bad writing albeit par for the course in terms of video game journalism) but I do have a problem with what, unfortunately, did not come after. I expected Petit to elaborate on the issues of Grand Theft Auto V’s characterization but that was not the case. If you use such strong wording as “profoundly misogynistic” the least that you could do is explain it and reflect it in the review, whether it be in the final score or in the text.
I am neutral when it comes to pushing a political or moral agenda in a review but if you do you better have the integrity to go all the way with it. Noting stereotypical portrayals in gaming but doing nothing about it is just as bad as enabling it. The fact that she still gave the game a 9 tells me that she is perfectly okay with the game’s characterization as long as the gameplay is good, which to me is idiotic. Triumph of the Will is an exceptionally well shot film but it is still a propaganda piece. The same principle should apply here.
What she should have done was to go above and beyond with it, completely trash the game, and give it a low score instead of this drive-by display of activism that ultimately left me unsatisfied. The review blurb just seems like a way to collect hits and create a manufactured controversy even if she still gave it a very high score. To me, that signals Carolyn Petit’s lack of integrity even if minority portrayals in gaming is an area she cares deeply about. Better characters are something that everyone can benefit from.
The previous paragraph was speaking in general terms and not specifically about Grand Theft Auto V. I am of the belief that Grand Theft Auto V is satire and not meant to be taken seriously anyway. Everyone in Grand Theft Auto V is a caricature, all the way from the black drug dealer to the rich white psychopath in his mansion. Themes of capitalism, the American dream, and crime are parodied in these titles. Despite the fact that these titles are extreme parodies, they are still a scathing critique of contemporary America. For some reason, Carolyn Petit completely missed the point that Grand Theft Auto V tries to make.
Petit does eventually list some examples of misogyny such as “with ads that equate manhood with sleek sports cars while encouraging women to purchase a fragrance that will make them ‘smell like a bitch.’” And then right after follows it up with: “Yes, these are exaggerations of misogynistic undercurrents in our own society, but not satirical ones.” This is a slight contradiction on her part because exaggeration is a form of satire. The theme of exaggerated characters and situations are prevalent in the entire series.
The three men you take control of throughout the game aren’t even anti-heroes. They’re just scumbags.
The Escapist‘s review of Grand Theft Auto V was on the “low” end of the scale with a score of 3.5/5, but ironically enough it was the one that has made me most excited for the game. It was written by Greg Tito, who some might remember as the chap who gave Dragon Age II a 10/10. Tito spends most of the review praising the gameplay but then docks the game a few points because the characters are “scumbags.” That is some high praise and illustrates why I am now excited for this game.
Deplorable human beings and ones who could not at all exist in our world are infinitely interesting. Consider Breaking Bad. Walter White is an awful human being, yet everyone tunes in Sunday night and it is the highest rated show currently on TV. Walter White makes viewers hate him, but that is ultimately why he is so compelling to watch.
I applaud Rockstar for not being afraid to depict characters that are not perfect and do not try to be. Too many writers focus on their protagonist being a “good guy” and put too much stock into projection. I do not need to project myself on to every character to enjoy the game and since video games are escapism, being able to be control someone else appeals much more to me than a blank slate or drab good guys like Nathan Drake.
Despite a lack of interest in playing video games, I still follow the industry closely. Grand Theft Auto V‘s release is exciting to me because of all the discourse these titles generate. Who knows, maybe I will play the title to completion as well.