Satire or Sadism: Interactive Torture and GTA V

Posted by Vermisean (154 posts) -

Social commentary through the pulling of teeth?

Note: This blog contains minor spoilers pertaining to Grand Theft Auto V. Read at your own risk if you have not completed the game.

I look through digital eyes at a selection of tools – pliers, a wrench, a jerrycan, and a car battery – and I wonder which is the most humane. I choose the wrench. CRACK! The man tied to the chair jolts upright as his genitals are smashed. I recoil. I desperately grab the pliers for the next segment, hoping to get this terrible experience over with. Now I am pulling a tooth from a bloodied, broken, possibly-innocent man’s head, complete with a mini-game of twisting my analog stick to simulate the real act. What am I doing here?

I am playing a video game. I am torturing a man for information in a video game. Thanks, Rockstar.

I am an advocate for the maturation of games. I believe the industry needs creative thinkers like David Cage (say what you will about the man – he does have some solid points). I crave the next generation of hardware for the increased realism that comes with more power. I want games to grow up, but I don’t need an interactive torture segment to nudge me in the arm, hollering, “Aren’t we adult? Look at our heavy themes!” to convince me that we’ve left the juvenile stuff behind.

Grand Theft Auto V is not the first game to feature torture – the Metal Gear Solid franchise has shown the act as well – but GTA V is the first to really make me cringe. Some may applaud Rockstar, citing the repulsiveness of the scene to be a job well done. Some will cry, “It’s satire! A brilliant parody of American interrogative practises!” as they hungrily replay the segment, utilizing different tools and giggling in their sadistic glories.

Is satire a fair justification for what is ostensibly a needless scene? Furthermore, would the game be drastically different without it?

We are repeatedly reminded of Trevor Phillip’s lack of a moral compass in our forty-plus hour romp through the criminal underworld of San Andreas. We know the FIB is corrupt. Do we need further reinforcement of these concepts? I would argue that we don’t. These ideas are well represented throughout the rest of the story. The torture sequence is simply capitalizing on shock value with no real justification.

Perhaps Rockstar hoped that after Trevor’s brutal introduction (a cut-scene, mind you) – in which he stomps a man’s face into the ground after being (rightfully) accused of having relations with the man’s wife – the player would be desensitized to this disgusting character’s actions. Trevor is an unlikeable character, – he was clearly designed to be – but in forcing the player to interact with the torture, we become accomplices and just as despicable as him. Can this even be called satire?

Keep in mind that I am not calling for censorship in games; I simply believe that we need to take a critical viewpoint when faced with situations like these. Yes, torture is a heavy subject, and one well worth exploring, but why did the developers feel a need to include it in this title? Does the player gain anything by actually partaking in the scene? Is this really satire or is it just sadism?

You decide.

#1 Posted by Clonedzero (4056 posts) -

Sadism? How is it sadism when no ones actually being hurt?

Personally i think its a well done sequence. You learn next to nothing from torturing the dude. You learn that he smokes, he;s left handed and has a beard. (the target i mean) It clearly shows the guy is in too much pain to think clearly so he can't focus on proper facts to give the guys. Trevor even gives a pretty blunt force speech driving the whole message home.

I don't get why everyones so up in a tizzy about this scene, there are FAR worse sequences in games, and especially movies.

Honestly if something like this offended you this much and got you upset and offended, thats fine. But you probably shouldn't be playing a game where you play as a horrible criminal. Just saying....

#2 Posted by JasonR86 (9587 posts) -

Like a lot of GTA 5, it tried really hard to be 'something' and fell flat.

#3 Posted by Morningstar (2128 posts) -

You kill hundreds of people in that game, you run over innocent civilians. It's a little strange that this torture scene is seen as so much worse, even though I felt the same way myself. Food for thought, certainly.

#4 Posted by PSNgamesun (394 posts) -

I felt the scene were Trevor kills his buddy's cousin and gf was worse. It was weird even though they didn't even show it.

#5 Posted by Darji (5294 posts) -

The scene made me feel very uncomfortable and I am sure this is what Rockstar wanted to do and in my opinion they succeeded. But as someone has already mentioned that It is funny that in a game in which you kill tons of people on very cruel ways has a scene which makes you uncomfortable. And we need exactly these moments to make gaming more than just having fun. Videogmes can be so much more immersive than movies and to grow as a media and art form I applaud Rockstar o this scene.^^

As for David Cage and Beyond: Beware spoiler:

There is also a torture scene in it. But this time not only you get tortured which you "sadly" don't see but instead you get to see how a possible love interest of you is getting his eyball cut out unless you talk and tell them what they want to know which is also an interesting way of doing it.

#6 Edited by lusence (345 posts) -

lol yah pulling that guys teeth out was pretty raw. but its a GTA game and we have to come to expect they raise they bar in new ways. least people are not complaining about the boobies.

#7 Posted by ZeForgotten (10397 posts) -

What about the people who I killed when I decided to blow up a skyscraper and have it collapse in places and crush the men, women, and the children brought there for "bring your kid"-day?
Oh that's fine? also the folks I run over in the streets constantly and cops as well? No? That's alright?


Just this one scene is the one to break the camels back?

Online
#8 Posted by Brodehouse (9523 posts) -

In your mind, the scene exists purely for people to get sadistic thrills from harming another human being. At no point do you consider that the entire point of the scene was to cause revulsion in the player, to highlight the ineffective results granted by torture, and to criticize governments who torture. In your mind, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery is not a cautionary tale about conformity overriding basic humanity, it's a sadistic thrill ride designed to make readers enjoy the deaths of the townspeople. No Country For Old Men is not a morose story about the human cost of violence, it's murder porn.

The fact that you result in 'you decide' is a joke. Why bother deciding when you've done it for us?

#9 Edited by JadeGL (700 posts) -

I can totally understand the aversion to playing the torture scene. I was watching it play out as my husband chose the torture devices and the order in which he used them and I could handle watching it, but it certainly wasn't something I expected out of the game and it wasn't anything I would want to relive. There is a huge difference between shooting or running over people in a large open world, where the bodies rag doll and look much more like puppets or toys than actual people, than an actual in game cut scene where you see the violence being inflicted on a person that is emoting and looking much closer to a real human being. It was also why I tended to cringe when a person would be killed in a cut scene in fully rendered glory as opposed to the player character running them over, blowing them up, or shooting them. It's an increased level of realism and intimacy that I don't think just playing the open world game affords to the player.

Another layer of this is that I think there is a big difference between the violence of shooting someone and the violence of torturing someone, at least to me. In most games the way to get from point A to point B is through violent conduct, clearing a room full of enemies, stealthily killing people to get to an exit safely, punching someone until their life bar depletes, etc. Even games that don’t deal primarily in violence as a solution to problems can still be steeped in violent material, such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. There are few games that deal with ways to progress that don't involve violence of some sort. And that's totally fine. I have no issues with violent games. I expect violence in games and I enjoy violent games almost exclusively. However, if one of my favorite FPS games, like Halo, were to insert an interactive torture scene, I would be just as averse to playing it. It doesn’t follow in that situation with what the player has been doing up to that point. A game conditions you to expect a certain type of gameplay element. It's an interesting game that will turn that around and make you play something that you never expected. But it's also a risk that the developers take when they include something that the player wasn't expecting. This example springs to mind, as well as the *rape* in Hotline Miami 2. In both instances a person playing the game was expecting specific gameplay or storytelling, and when they got something they didn't expect, they weren't comfortable with the result. I think it’s fine to discuss that disconnect between what the game offers you and what your expectations are.

I find the scene successful for different reasons. I think I find it most successful as a character moment for Trevor. It’s also successful at disgusting the player in a way that other violence in the game does not. I personally find it heavy handed and less successful as satire. I suppose for some people it may work better, but to me it falls a bit flat. I know that the United States tortures people and that torture does not work as an effective means to get information. I abhor torture and I would hope that most people in the world feel the same, although I know that there are those that don’t. Maybe I find it less successful because it’s such an easy target. There is no real controversy to what they are saying. Torture is bad, duh.

An individual player’s mileage may vary as to how effective the scene was for them and for what reason. As a piece to instill disgust and revulsion in the player, it works well. As an overriding satire, it’s a bit too blunt for me, but a lot of the satire in GTA games seems to be blunt over a more subtle approach, so it fits the universe. In the end, I would much rather have a game try something new and risky and fall short than to play safe and be forgettable and mediocre.

#10 Posted by joshwent (2056 posts) -

Haven't played it yet so I really can't argue a point, but I just wanted to add that I'm all for more parts of mature games that make me uncomfortable. One of the primary beneficial functions of Art is to make one reassess their beliefs and morals, and whether or not this specific part of this specific game is truly 'successful', it's certainly made many folks do just that.

#12 Edited by alwaysbebombing (1525 posts) -

Man, I don't give a fuck.

#13 Edited by believer258 (11569 posts) -

why did the developers feel a need to include it in this title?

Shock value. You said this in your post.

Rockstar has not made it to the top by crafting worthwhile stories and fantastic worlds. They can do those things, but that isn't the reason their games sell. They certainly don't sell because their mechanics and mission design are fantastic (uh, they aren't). Grand Theft Auto has become one of the most well-known AAA franchises because of shock value. But nobody is really shocked by running over pedestrians and killing prostitutes after fucking them. I mean, Fox News might bring it up, but few people really give a damn anymore. So naturally they do something that's pretty shocking.

But, well, I haven't seen this on the evening news or anywhere. The general public doesn't seem to know or care that there's a torture sequence in a piece of (very) popular entertainment. Who cares? It's a video game. Everybody plays those now, right?

Anyway, yes, video games are still having growing pains aplenty and this is part of it.

EDIT: Also, when I finished with that sequence I was having the same thoughts of "does this belong?" And then I remembered the policemen that I shot in the beginning mission, all the guards that I killed in that morgue, and all of the pedestrians that I'd run over, punched, and/or shot throughout the game. This is not a game that one turns to for moral actions, and a torture sequence isn't completely out of whack with everything else in the game. It certainly isn't out of whack with Trevor.

#14 Edited by tunaburn (1879 posts) -

The torture scene in GTA5 was nothing.

#15 Posted by tsutohiro (364 posts) -

I don't understand how this is even an issue. Murdering hundreds is okay because? Torturing one person is bad because?

Is it that anything we've already been desensitized to is fair game?

#16 Edited by JazGalaxy (1576 posts) -

What about the people who I killed when

I decided to blow up a skyscraper and have it collapse in places and crush the men, women, and the children brought there for "bring your kid"-day?

Oh that's fine? also the folks I run over in the streets constantly and cops as well? No? That's alright?

Just this one scene is the one to break the camels back?

Because, as the title of thead illustrates, it's emphasizing sadism.

Honestly, it's like our culture doesn't know the word, but practices it almost nonstop.

There's a differnce between commiting or witnessing acts of violence and enoying the acts of violence and the pain they derive.

I mean, everyone is different. I was really annoyed when I started playing GTA that people die so easily. One of my favorite things to do in Saints Row is to pick people up and throw them in the river. It's hilarious because it's absurd. It's cartoon violence. That's worlds away from liking to kill people to watch them die.

I remember when I was doing theatre, we did a sketch where one of the kids in my group had to stand on a chair on top of another chair. When we were done with the sketch, my drama professor told us it wasn't funny. She said we were all very good and the writing was funny, but the whole time, the audience was just afraid the kid was going to fall off the chair. Physical comedy is only funny when the audience has no expectation that anyone is going to actually be hurt.

Driving down the sidewalk bowling over crowds in GTA is funny because it's so absurd. Nobody looks like they are REALLY getting hurt, even if the die. That's totally different when a character is showing all signs of being in agony and the player is forced to continue doing it.

#17 Posted by Aetheldod (3495 posts) -

Sadism.... but so what? You are playing criminals who harm other people without remorse , torturing them is no different.

#18 Edited by tsutohiro (364 posts) -

Yeah, we're splitting hairs here. Shooting ppl at random isn't sadist, but pulling their teeth out is?

Define "absurd". ...sadist.

#19 Edited by SlashDance (1801 posts) -

I'm fine with it being in the game. Some of the things you can do in the open world are even more disturbing to me. Maybe that's because I never ever do that, but watching youtube videos of people running over dozens of pedestrians makes me feel genuinely uneasy.

You can straight up shoot up a University campus in this game (as seen in the quick look), people running and screaming everywhere, blood gushing out of the wounds of the random innocents you decided to murder because they looked at you funny... but the torture scene is somehow too far? I don't know.

The giant wrench to the peepee was pretty fucking gross though. My god I don't even know how he could walk after that one.

#20 Edited by egg (1450 posts) -

Torture is fine, all that matters is whether the game is offensive to women!!

#21 Edited by ZeForgotten (10397 posts) -

@zeforgotten said:

What about the people who I killed when

I decided to blow up a skyscraper and have it collapse in places and crush the men, women, and the children brought there for "bring your kid"-day?

Oh that's fine? also the folks I run over in the streets constantly and cops as well? No? That's alright?

Just this one scene is the one to break the camels back?

Because, as the title of thead illustrates, it's emphasizing sadism.

Honestly, it's like our culture doesn't know the word, but practices it almost nonstop.

There's a differnce between commiting or witnessing acts of violence and enoying the acts of violence and the pain they derive.

I mean, everyone is different. I was really annoyed when I started playing GTA that people die so easily. One of my favorite things to do in Saints Row is to pick people up and throw them in the river. It's hilarious because it's absurd. It's cartoon violence. That's worlds away from liking to kill people to watch them die.

I remember when I was doing theatre, we did a sketch where one of the kids in my group had to stand on a chair on top of another chair. When we were done with the sketch, my drama professor told us it wasn't funny. She said we were all very good and the writing was funny, but the whole time, the audience was just afraid the kid was going to fall off the chair. Physical comedy is only funny when the audience has no expectation that anyone is going to actually be hurt.

Driving down the sidewalk bowling over crowds in GTA is funny because it's so absurd. Nobody looks like they are REALLY getting hurt, even if the die. That's totally different when a character is showing all signs of being in agony and the player is forced to continue doing it.

Haha, what a load of bull.
But sure, I see where you're coming from but clearly I don't agree.
I ran into many people in GTA V who are just casually walking around, people screaming in pain when they get hit by a car.
But no, totally, you're right, the torture thing was the only thing that could be considered sadistic.

Good grief

Online
#22 Posted by GERALTITUDE (2862 posts) -

Eh..

This is the most heavy-handed scene in the game, as far as "Rockstar addresses America" goes. Obviously, they think torture is bad, and they think the way the American government justifies it is pathetic. The scene isn't supposed to be funny, but awful. The comedy comes from the ineptitude of the federal agents as well as the "hilariously" useless results you get from the victim.

As a coloured dude with some pretty strong feelings about guantamo bay and other America-sanctioned torture, I really loved this scene.

All your talk about enjoying the torture, etc., is just your own reflection. Which is fair, I suppose, but I don't see the value of discussing this scene without discussing the major message, which is that torture is terrible and pointless.

#23 Posted by Deathstriker (307 posts) -

People are so silly. Like others have mentioned, you can kill hundreds of people, but pouring water on a guy and ripping his tooth out is too much? That's dumb. The scene doesn't have to be satire nor sadism. It wasn't even that bad in-comparison to other media; 24, Zero Dark Thirty, The Shield, and other shows/movies have had worse scenes and those were with real people.

I also disagree with the industry needing more David Cages. He seems like a confused guy who really wants to make movies, but does gaming instead. Telltale out does him in his own, barely interactive, style. We need more devs like Naughty Dog, Irrational, Rockstar, Bioware (in their prime), and others... not more Cages and Kojimas IMO. There's room for people that have their style, but I'd hate for them to be the majority.

#24 Posted by Demoskinos (14523 posts) -

I think the scene was fine and it accomplished what it needed. If you're offended or disgusted by it then congratulations the scene accomplished its goal. Nothing about what these guys get up to is wholesome in this game.

#25 Posted by PerfidiousSinn (724 posts) -

Torture scenes are okay in movies because you're just watching that. But you're actually committing torture in this videogame, and that's terrible. It would be fine if it was a cutscene.

#26 Posted by JazGalaxy (1576 posts) -

People are so silly. Like others have mentioned, you can kill hundreds of people, but pouring water on a guy and ripping his tooth out is too much? That's dumb. The scene doesn't have to be satire nor sadism. It wasn't even that bad in-comparison to other media; 24, Zero Dark Thirty, The Shield, and other shows/movies have had worse scenes and those were with real people.

I also disagree with the industry needing more David Cages. He seems like a confused guy who really wants to make movies, but does gaming instead. Telltale out does him in his own, barely interactive, style. We need more devs like Naughty Dog, Irrational, Rockstar, Bioware (in their prime), and others... not more Cages and Kojimas IMO. There's room for people that have their style, but I'd hate for them to be the majority.

THANK YOU! Geez.

My problem with Cage is less with what he's trying to do, but more with how he's doing what he's trying to do very, very poorly. Yet everyone defends him because of "the cause", which seems to be the bizarre premise that videogames need to be indistinguishable from movies.

#27 Posted by mbr2 (559 posts) -

GTA is not satire. If that's what they were trying to do then they've done a terrible job. Go watch Dr. Strangelove.

#28 Posted by JazGalaxy (1576 posts) -

@mbr2 said:

GTA is not satire. If that's what they were trying to do then they've done a terrible job. Go watch Dr. Strangelove.

agree 100%. GTA fails at Satire because it fails at constructing any actual point or point of view. For instance, they kept trumpeting that GTA IV was supposed to be "about the American dream", but if I showed it to anyone and asked them what it was about, and they replied "The American Dream" I would be flabbergasted.

#29 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -

I found GTA V to be more a dramatization of life than satire. Everything that's happening could happen in real life, but dramatized for an artistic endeavor of video game goodness. The torture scene was a means to end for me. What can I do without killing the dude and get the information I needed. It wasn't Trevor, it was me being Trevor. I did what I had to do.

#30 Posted by Vermisean (154 posts) -

Thanks for all the input duders! You've all given me a lot to think about regarding the scene - as well as the game in general.

I sort of hastily wrote that blog, going on my kneejerk reaction (Not trying to justify it, just sayin'!).

Some really thought-provoking comments here! I dig it!

#31 Edited by Korolev (1694 posts) -

It's an uncomfortable scene - it is intended to be uncomfortable. They purposefully put that in there to make a point about how the US is obtaining intelligence - it is rounding up people, sometimes even semi-randomly, shipping them off to prisons in "black-sites" or to Camp X-ray and then torturing them - sorry, enhanced-ly interrogating them - for information. The thing is, someone who is being tortured will say anything, ANYTHING to get the torture to stop. That is the point - the FiB have nabbed someone simply because the IAA had them. They never stopped to question if the IAA were wrong in nabbing the guy - they have him, so he must know something. Similar to how the US operates in Afghanistan - we found them near area X so he must be a terrorist. MUST BE. No questions asked. This has happened - there are NUMEROUS people in Gitmo RIGHT NOW who were held there for years because some dubious informant "said" that they were a terrorist or because they happened to simply walk too close to an area the US deemed sensitive. The US has even ADMITTED that a fair few of the people in Gitmo (like some Chinese-Muslim Uighers that it nabbed in Afghanistan - Look it up!) aren't terrorists! But they can't release them, because, and this is the kicker - their horrible treatment at Gitmo might have turned them into terrorists. Gee - ya think?! You can't help but laugh and the ridiculous system they've set up.

Now honestly, if any of you care about justice, just how FUCKED UP is that? How FUCKED UP is it that the US army has arrested people with very little evidence, water-boarded them, held them for years and years, only to realize that they aren't terrorists after all, but gosh darn it, since we treated them so badly they may hate us so we can't let them go. How fucked up is that? I understand that there are REAL terrorists in Gitmo - I really do. But the truth is, a fair number of them aren't. And the US knows this. They grabbed people with very little in the way of evidence (and what evidence they do have is classified).

GTA V was drawing attention to that - it's not as far from reality. Sure, the US doesn't (itself) use wrenches or tooth-pulling in its interrogations (it gets its Egyptian, Polish, Czech and Jordanian allies to THAT for them) but it does water-board (funny how the US considered water-boarding torture in WWII when the Japanese did it to Americans, but now that the US does it, it no longer is torture. Funny that) and it does treat the people it has very badly. It gains information that may be near useless. I would really love to see how many operations the US has conducted based on bad intelligence gained from "enhanced" interrogation. I really would.

Trevor, after torturing the guy, doesn't kill him. He lets him go, against orders. The reason why he did that was so that the victim could then tell people what had happened - the US government grabbed somebody who "seemed suspicious", tortured him until he said SOMETHING, then used that dubious "information" to kill someone. All the while the characters are commenting on how stupid the entire situation is. It's not subtle - it's HITTING YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH BLATANT CRITICISM OF HOW THE INTELLIGENCE SERVICES ARE OPERATING. It's not clever, but it is satire. Very, very pointed satire.

#32 Edited by SASnake (308 posts) -

You know what? I played this scene and didnt give a shit, its just a video game? I dont get why people make mountains out of ant hills with stuff like this. Its pretty fucking stupid.

#33 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -

@korolev: I felt Trevor letting the interrogated go was more of a fuck you to the FIB. The guy was a nothing, what could he do? And if you ever did some random missions with Trevor where he helped out people, it felt the same way. A fuck you to who's haunting you, have a nice day kind of thing.

#34 Edited by Claude (16254 posts) -

@sasnake said:

You know what? I played this scene and didnt give a shit, its just a video game? I dont get why people make mountains out of ant hills with stuff like this. Its pretty fucking stupid.

It's not a mountain out of mole hills, dude. It's a discussion.

#35 Posted by Vermisean (154 posts) -

@claude: Agreed.

Discussing these things - no matter how insignificant you believe them to be - is important. Being critical or thoughtful is a way to press the industry forward. Is discussing or criticizing a game based on issues or segments you experience with it "making a mountain out of ant hills"?

If you believe that to be the case, being on a site that discusses games may not be the place for you.

#36 Posted by Oldirtybearon (4522 posts) -

@jazgalaxy said:

@mbr2 said:

GTA is not satire. If that's what they were trying to do then they've done a terrible job. Go watch Dr. Strangelove.

agree 100%. GTA fails at Satire because it fails at constructing any actual point or point of view. For instance, they kept trumpeting that GTA IV was supposed to be "about the American dream", but if I showed it to anyone and asked them what it was about, and they replied "The American Dream" I would be flabbergasted.

Really? The story of an immigrant coming to America for a fresh start only to find that the new homeland is the same corrupt, rotten, festering shit pile as the old one? That... sounds nothing like targeted assassination of the "American Dream" to you?

Maybe I have a better perspective since I just finished the game again yesterday, but it's so fucking blunt by the end of the game that I'd be flabbergasted if someone missed the point of GTA IV's story.

#37 Posted by Klei (1768 posts) -

@jasonr86 said:

Like a lot of GTA 5, it tried really hard to be 'something' and fell flat.

I disagree with you. GTA5 doesn't try hard to be anything.

#38 Posted by JasonR86 (9587 posts) -
#39 Edited by The7thDraconian (14 posts) -

Some reviewers have said that the purpose of the torture scene is to show you real torture techniques used in the real world and show you how horrible they are. The idea is that after you finish the scene you start to think about the fact that these things do happen and how horrible they must be. I think this is a good idea because the terribleness is in your face so you have to deal with the idea, but I do think that there should be an option to skip it for the people who can't stomach it. That scene is one of the reason's I don't think I will be picking up the game.

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