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?