Public enemy No. 1
UB considers Grand Theft Auto V’s massive impact on society
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 00:10
Pulling out a prisoner’s teeth or shocking him with electrodes are just two of the options given to a gamer in Grand Theft Auto V’s controversial torture scene. The other options include water boarding and beating him with a gigantic red plumbing wrench.
The mission tests the player’s willingness to commit increasingly violent acts upon a whimpering, beaten hostage for information, which could prevent a terrorist attack in the virtual city of Los Santos.
The torture sequence in Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) is just one of the many controversial moments that has surrounded Grand Theft Auto over the past 16 years. Originally, the games were graphically two-dimensional, but improved three-dimensional graphics and a third-person open-world experience have made the game more realistic with time. This has raised concerns over how the gaming experience translates into real-world activity.
Grand Theft Auto has been at the center of a growing debate regarding the role of violent video games in society. With the trend in mass shootings and other violent acts being committed around the country, many wonder if violent video games are to blame.
Despite the increasing controversy surrounding the series,GTA V’s launch on Sept. 17 was the most successful of any entertainment property in history, passing $1 billion of sales in just three days.
The perceived effects of the violent game on human behavior don’t seem to be stopping fans from playing the game.
“The literature is clear that violent video games, much like other forms of violent media, are a cause of aggressive behavior and aggressive cognitions or thoughts,” said Dr. Jamie Ostrov, a professor of developmental psychology at UB.“This statement is based on several experimental, correlational and longitudinal studies.”
Ostrov believes the effect of violent video game play is greater than other, more passive media.
Communication professor Matthew Grizzard, who studies the effects of entertainment media and cognitive science, said the significance of this evidence is not simple. He thinks it’s important to make a distinction between aggression and violent behavior.
Professor Josephine Anstey – chair of the Department of Media Study and professor of Gaming, Gender and Society – agrees.
She said there are only two sides today: You either play games like Grand Theft Auto and they have no affect, or you play these games and then go out and murder people in real life – a view far too simple and divided.
Anstey thinks the media is behind the two-sided conversation of the effect of video games. Grizzard agreed and said blaming a new form of media as the cause for much larger problems isn’t anything new.
“If you look back throughout history, you see moral panics with the inventions of all sorts of new media,” Grizzard said. “When comic books came out, people talked about how the violence in comics would cause kids to be violent. When movies came out, people talked about how they would cause kids to be violent. When video games came out, you see the same type of argument.”
English professor David Schmid believes “media scares” like Grand Theft Auto focus their attention on the youth of society, who are usually the most heavily involved with new forms of entertainment.
“People seem to mistake symptoms for causes, and this is the case with violent video games, and Grand Theft Auto in particular,” Schmid said. “Violent video games are a symptom of a much larger problem.”
He said video games are often cited as a reason behind various violent acts in society, when there are other factors at play.
Ostrov said most experimental studies focus on children and adolescents when they attempt to look at the role of violent video games on thought processes and violent behavior.
“Most psychological research has clearly affirmed the causal link between violent video game playing and aggressive behavior,” he said.
Schmid thinks this belief of a connection between video games and violence is because of a highly outdated and extremely narrow view of who a “gamer” is today. The term has become more diverse following the release of hit games like Grand Theft Auto, and this new, more diverse gamer is rarely discussed today.
“The first thing I always like to emphasize in connection to Grand Theft Auto is that it initially started off as a satire of American culture, but that point that was quickly lost,” Schmid said. “It’s important to remember [the game’s satire] because [video games], and Grand Theft Auto in particular, are meant to be excessive and over the top and fantastical. And a lot of the criticisms of games don’t take that into consideration.”
Schmid believes the satire within Grand Theft Auto has gone overlooked in recent years partially because of the increasingly widespread view that the American Dream is becoming more accessible through criminal means.