GTA3: Violence

I haven’t even yet touched on the aspects of GTA3 that tickle the pundits: the violence, the amorality, the corruption of the youth, etc. This is because I’m looking at the game as a player, not as a pundit, and as a player, these issues aren’t particularly interesting. Even if games of this sort desensitize children to real violence (which has not been proved to my satisfaction), they are unlikely to have such an affect on me, a grown-up gamer with a healthy appreciation for the difference between games and reality. 1Reality doesn’t have save points. Approximately three decades of gaming have, however, pretty effectively desensitized me to violence in games. After Doom and God of War and so forth, the combat and assassination missions in GTA3 just don’t seem notably violent to me. The fact that you can kill innocent bystanders, without consequences in most cases, is a little unusual, but not unprecedented. The fact that it’s happening on a backdrop that resembles my neighborhood might provide a bit of a frisson if I were paying much attention to the scenery during firefights.

But there is an aspect of the game that’s starting to make me uneasy: the juxtaposition of violence with ethnic stereotyping. I suppose this has been part of the game all along, part of the juvenile humor in the random comments of passersby, but it wasn’t so visible at first. The first gang encountered in the game is the Mafia, and they’re presented as more of a generic mobster stereotype than an Italian stereotype. 2For example, they’re never seen jumping on goombas. But as the easy courier missions end and the combat missions come to the fore, I’m seeing more of the Latino and Chinese mobs, usually through crosshairs. They’re shown to be ridiculous caricatures, and then you kill them.

It’s funny that this didn’t bother me in GTA1. Perhaps it’s because all of the dialect humor in GTA1 was delivered through text in textboxes, which makes it seem less part of the gameworld. It’s also worth noting that I’m not bothered in this way by games, such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein or the various Indiana Jones games, that feature Nazis as caricatured German stereotypes which you kill. Nazis are something of a special case in our society.

Ultimately, the designers of the entire GTA series are going for shock value here, as elsewhere in the game. Paradoxically, this means there’s no real reason to be shocked. If this mock-and-slaughter stuff wasn’t considered socially offensive, then we would have cause for alarm.

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1. Reality doesn’t have save points.
2. For example, they’re never seen jumping on goombas.

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