Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Byte: Grand Theft Apathy

Could there be any game released this year I care less about than GTA 4? A quick scan of the PC release list on Play.com reveals that, actually... NO.

If you ask me, and I know you didn't, but I'm going to give you my opinion anyway, the GTA series has been all downhill after Vice City, and nothing I've seen about GTA 4 excites me in the least. Take the recent BBFC classification statement, which reveals that GTA will feature "strong violence, very strong language, very strong sex references and drug use."

Of course, it's the availability of "three levels of service" from the in-game prostitutes that has caught the eye of most journalists and commentators, especially that GTA now features masturbation! Hurrah! Terrific! NOT. Thirty years of home computing, and what's the pinnacle of videogaming achievement? Hand jobs... Weep. Cue a million "videogamers are all wankers" jokes.

It's not so much that the game contains sexual content in the first place, more that the game cops out instead of puts out. So blood-splattering-on-walls graphic violence and cocaine snorting is fine, but any sex has to be "un-detailed". Of course, this is so middle-America doesn't have a collective heart attack at the sight of an exposed nipple, but it still strikes me as utterly ridiculous. I mean, at least be even-handed. Though given the amount of flak The Witcher got last year for daring to go halfway towards showing "sexualised nudity" (as the BBFC so inelegantly puts it), perhaps it's not surprising. How much do you want to bet that GTA 4 will get rave reviews that talk about how cool it is to get "private" lap dances or their cocks sucked in cars... Because modern, forced prostitution is such a morally noble service and far more socially acceptable than the consensual sex between two willing adults you got to have in The Witcher... Granted, there was prostitution in The Witcher as well, but the context in the game was that of women organising themselves for mutual safety, rather than being in hock to violent, money-grabbing pimps. And context, as we all know, is everything. So let me just wave my hypocrisy flag now if people start praising (or ignoring) the sex in GTA 4 when they were so quick to criticise it in The Witcher.

Frankly though, if an audience can cope with blood splattering on walls or over the camera lens, I'm pretty sure it can deal with a little sex, so the fact that the developers feel the need to hide the sex seems overly prudish. (Or is it a tacit admission on the part of Rockstar that they expect the game to be played by 12 year olds who haven't quite discovered the joys of girls yet? Who knows?) Graphic violence, graphic drug use, but cartoon sex. Where's the consistency? A lot of gamers complained about the removal of blood from the European version of No More Heroes, but it didn't bother me in the slightest. Firstly, if you've got an energy blade weapon, the discharge from the blade will cauterise the wounds as you make them, so there wouldn't be blood spurting everywhere anyway, and secondly, the graphics of the game are so stylised that having bodies vapourise into black pixels is more in keeping with the aesthetics of the game than having huge fountains of blood gushing like a newly-drilled oil well. Realism isn't exactly high up on the priority list of the design document. So I'm forced to conclude that the people who complained about there being no blood only complained because they get a kick out of seeing blood. Which just goes to show that videogames, and the vast majority of their audience, still have a lot of growing up to do.
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