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Is Grand Theft Auto IV an expression of hate towards women?
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Wed Jun 04, 2008 5:38 am Reply and quote this post
A pretty blonde mob princess, bound and gagged, is taken kicking andscreaming raw-throated curses out of the trunk of the player’s car.Tied to a chair in the hideout of the gangsters who hold her hostage,the player’s asked to snap a photo to send to her Mafia father.
She screams muffled protests through the rag between her lips, theimage on the camera phone screen reflecting her tormented, terrifiedeyes. As the player centers her face in the frame, she offers adesperate moan, a wracked sob.
“Smile for daddy,” the player tells her.
Click.
Is Grand Theft Auto IV an expression of hate towards women? Are those who enjoy it misogynists?
                             
Feminist interest blog Feministing certainly thinks so – though not because of this mission scene from later in the game. At the time of GTA IV’slaunch, Feministing poster Samhita came across a video called “Ladiesof Liberty City: Very Bad Things,” created by IGN. The video featuredsequences of the game edited together by IGN, and all of thesesequences depicted violence, with sexual overtones, toward theprostitutes and strippers in the game – such as soliciting a prostituteand then running her over with your car to get your money back.
Feministing’s Samhita was offended, and excoriated the game for what she called its “blatant violence and misogyny displayed towards women.”
Before we address an argument to her statement, it’s necessary first to pick out a few serious flaws in her opinion of the game.
Thanks, IGN
First, she referred to IGN’s video as a “trailer” for the game,which it was not, of course, being that it was neither produced,publicized or sanctioned by the title’s developer, Rockstar, and wasnot intended to be used as advertisement nor representation of thegame. The development of that video was entirely the doing of IGN, whowhen questioned by MTV Multiplayer’s Stephen Totilo, admitted it “messed up,” and removed the video, whose caption had read: “Grab a cup of hot coffee and enjoy the working girls of the city.”
If Samhita of Feministing was unaware enough of the game industry toknow the difference between a game’s trailer and its officialpromotion, one could certainly argue that she was unqualified tocriticize the game. Unfortunately, though, only a very small percentageof the world is especially educated on video games, and the majority ofattacks on the medium come from the outside looking in. With that inmind, a hearty portion of the blame for this misunderstanding issquarely on the shoulders of IGN, who should have known better, to saythe very least.
Who's Raising Our Kids?
Beginning with this misconception, Samhita, who hadn’t played thegame, expressed concern that young men might be having their firstsexual experiences with women in GTA IV’s prostitute-populated, violent city streets and strip clubs.
Because the modern school system encourages memorizing informationto regurgitate it, discouraging creative analysis, Samhita argued thatyoung boys playing GTA IV would not only be introduced tonegative stereotypes of female sexuality through the game, but wouldalso lack the critical thinking skills to understand that they were notbeing “trained” in a value system.
She wrote:

"It can be argued that they are being force fed heavily marketedviolent images (that often reflect the violence in the media, movies,government policy and in their own communities) that become normalized.And not only normalized, but given the popular nature of GTA, it iscool to be violent and kill prostitutes."

It’s a common position, and even a viable one, that media today andthe ready access to information may desensitize not only young people,but adults of all ages and creeds to heavy violence and sexual themes.But are children really “force-fed” any sort of entertainment, implyingthat there is no choice? If media really is the sole determiner ofchildren’s values, I’m afraid we’ve got a bigger problem than a violentvideo game.
Does Samhita suggest that parents have no power to create what’s“normalized” for their children? Assuming such a lack of influence onthe part of mothers is at least as misogynistic as any entertainmentmedium.
And even so – let’s pretend a moment that it’s possible for media tosingle-handedly ruin our youth. Even then, how can Samhita place blameon a title that, at the time she leveled her critique, had been onstore shelves for a single day? One that she never even played?
Of course, Samhita is neglecting the most essential point of all - Grand Theft Auto IV is not a game for children, period.
Those Virgin Eyes
After being evaluated by several ratings organizations worldwide,the game was assigned a “mature” rating - this is 17+ in the UnitedStates and 18 in Europe and the United Kingdom. Moreover, the ESRB hasrepeatedly urged consumers to use the ratings as a guide, and that theword “mature” in the ratings is equally as important as the number.
In other words, this game is not intended to be played by curiousyouth about to get their first look at a pair of boobs, Samhita.
Ironically, by the way, Feministing used the Australian box shot of that region’s heavily-edited version of GTA IV - with the “15+” rating sticker clear in the image.
Technicalities aside, Samhita’s post went on to wonder why “a gamethat depicts such violence towards women [is] so popular,” and asked,“How is that acceptable?”
Guilt Issue
To be fair, this is a more challenging question. In its eagerness todefend gaming, the game community has repeatedly stressed that GTA IVneither forces nor explicitly rewards you for engaging in prostitution,violence towards women, or random acts of brutality. But it would beuntruthful on our part to say that anyone plays GTA IV primarily for its engrossing story, its flawless driving mechanics or its watertight gameplay.
We play it to wreak mayhem, so let’s just admit it. Maybe then, we can finally stop feeling guilty.
GTA IV, at its core, is not a violence simulator, nor agripping television drama, nor a camp comedy – rather, it’s all ofthese, presented as an essay on freedom of behavior, a fantasy worldwhere morality is suspended, subjective or selective. What we do inthat fantasy world says something about us as a society, about thestate of the real world, rather than being a blatant advertisement forthe innate immorality of entertainment.
Rockstar’s Dan Houser recently told Playboy in an interview:

"We're trying to give gamers freedom. It boils down to critics notliking the fact that people can choose to do 'bad' things in a fantasyworld - which to me is silly."

Even Samhita admits that violent media is merely a reflection of a violent world. In that respect, GTA IVis merely truthful, an unwillingness to avoid the ugliest aspects ofsociety. Instead of avoiding them, it embraces them, a poignant satireof those truths. Why is Samhita so incensed that players in the gamecan visit seedy, low-lit and vaguely gross strip clubs, when thosethings are actually plentiful in reality?
And in real world strip clubs, the women choose to put their fleshon display. You can assume, then, that the digital women have electedto be there, also. Although not everyone always makes ideal choices fortheir lives, and many women become sex workers out of desperateeconomic circumstances, still more appreciate burlesque as an art andembrace the work they do.
And to Samhita’s quintessential argument – that a game that makes this behavior possible is “misogynistic”?
Freedom And Equality For All
As a mirror of society at its worst, no one is spared the harsh lensin the game. Rarely are any of the game’s characters portrayed in afavorable light, and it presents in fact a level playing field – themen are as mad for their addictions and bloodlust as the women are. Andif any of the characters are likeable, it’s because of empathy – orpity – for the nature of their human failings.
In fact, one of the game’s more powerful drug barons is thefull-figured, fierce and feared Elizabeta, whose treatment is no moreor less gentle than her male counterparts. Equality abounds. Yes, GTA IV is hostile to women. It’s hostile to everyone.
To call misogyny here is divisive, actually, implying that thetreatment of women needs to be elevated above the treatment of anyother group – as if “woman” were a separate, special "race" with aunified mind. We aren’t, thank you.
In fact, with all due respect for the feminist community, demand forthat sort of favoritism seems to breed resentment – perhaps even thevery resentment that GTA IV provides the framework to explore. Just who are those large-breasted logo silhouettes on Feministing's website supposed to be giving the middle finger to, anyway?
The imagery of the blond mafia princess held hostage is disturbing –but no more so than the scenes from film, television and novels withwhich humankind has been fascinated for centuries, dating even furtherback than the dramatic works of the ancient Greeks. These things don’tbegin with GTA IV, not by a long shot. And to argue thatmankind (and not merely “men”) have no right to the dark fantasies thegame allows us to examine is painfully naďve.
And GTA IV earns praise above all for delivering thatplayground in which to explore and reflect on our baser ideas, eventhose we don’t necessarily embrace in our real lives. It does appeal tomisogynists, who would have espoused those philosophies with or withouta video game, and to those who choose to focus only on the grossestelements. In IGN's "citizenmike"'s flippant defense of the IGN "Ladies of Liberty City" video, he wrote:

"GTA games, ultimately, want players to shoot innocent people. It’sone of the core tenants of the game design. In fact, GTA games fail inentirety if you try to play them without some degree of moraldepravity."

I think Rockstar's core tenet, actually, is to force people to consider moral depravity, not to beg them to embrace it. And that's why GTA IVappeals to the socially curious and the civil-minded, too – all of whomtire of having their intentions assumed, and of being told they’ve noright to their entertainment by those who haven’t even bothered to tryit.

Contributed by Editorial Team, Executive Management Team
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