It’s taboo to discuss the use of torture in a positive light. The movie Zero Dark Thirty learned that at the Academy Awards after getting thoroughly snubbed across the board over the horrific (but unfortunately truthful) concept that torture played a major role in helping the US government find Osama bin Laden. The opposite side of the coin does not seem to be nearly as taboo.
The wildly popular game, Grand Theft Auto V, opened to a huge launch, selling over a billion dollars worth of the game in less than three days while only launching on two consoles. It depicts three main characters who travel a vast virtual landscape committing crimes, helping the FIB (their fictional version of the FBI), and generally terrorizing the city in order to earn money to buy tattoos, cool cars, and nice clothes. That’s the game in a nutshell.
Throughout, there are various attempts at social commentary. The one that’s getting the most attention is the use of terror as a portion of the game. Unlike Zero Dark Thirty, the torture isn’t seen in the past as an attempt to accurately depict the actions taken to find the world’s most wanted man. In the game, it’s all part of the fun. In the game, the player commits the torture.
That alone is appalling enough, but they take their social commentary a step further by torturing a man for fun. He’s willing to talk the entire time. He claims that he was willing to talk when they kidnapped him 6 days earlier. He answers their questions before the torture begins. It even appears that the torturing is hampering his ability to answer their questions. The social commentary – torture isn’t necessary to get information.
While we do not condone the use of torture, those who question its effectiveness are ignorant. The sadness of this evil is that it works. Does that classify it as a “necessary evil”? That’s definitely up for debate, but to make torturing someone in the middle of a game a requirement in order to proceed is not simply irresponsible. It’s counterproductive. They wanted to use a satirical demonstration of torture to get controversy (got it), make a political statement about the use of torture (poor execution but the point was made), and to “educate” players about the lack of necessity of torture. It’s in this last goal that they failed miserable.
This portion of the game can have one of two effects on players. In the best case scenario, they play through and either dismiss it as another violent portion of an extremely violent game or make their way through it begrudgingly. In the worst case scenario, it may touch on a sadistic nature within players that they might actually like.
In other words, the fact that the player’s character and the FIB puppetmaster seem to be doing the torturing because they enjoy it cannot lead to anything positive. If they wanted to make a social commentary, they should have written an article, made a video, or marched with Ed Asner in Washington. There is absolutely no good that can come from this. It wasn’t fun. It made most players uncomfortable.
For the players that were not made uncomfortable or actually enjoyed this gameplay, well, that’s another depth of psychosis that we’re not qualified to explore.
Here’s the video. Be warned – it is video game gruesome.