Last year’s immensely popular “Grand Theft Auto V” returned this week with a souped-up version that is bound to have parents, politicians, critics and even some fans reaching for their pitchforks and gathering throughout the country.
The updated version hit the PS4 and Xbox One systems on Tuesday, Nov. 18. A PC version is set to release in January.
The latest incarnation of “Grand Theft Auto V” includes several enticing features to get people to buy the same game twice — including a first-person mode that was clearly the game’s biggest draw.
This mode gives players an intimate, firsthand perspective when committing the thousands of murders, robberies and assaults required to progress through the game. First-person mode also gives players a front-row seat during simulated sex with prostitutes, reaching a drunken stupor at bars and tripping out on Peyote, which transforms the main characters into birds in a few scenes.
Perspective is a strange thing. Most of these acts aren’t new features for the franchise. GTA players have always been in control of violent, hedonistic sociopaths.
But it has always been from a distant, third-person perspective. I wasn’t the one killing these people, it was the protagonists — Michael, Trevor and Franklin. They were the crazy gods of this misguided cartoon world, and I was just watching it all happen.
With this new mode, that feeling is gone. I now feel as if I am the one blowing the convenience store clerk’s head off. I am paying for a lap dance from a topless stripper. And I don’t really like it.
The main issue of contention — at least in America where violence is often an afterthought — is undoubtedly the sex scenes.
In previous GTA games, players could pick up prostitutes by honking their horns to get the woman’s attention and driving her to a dark alley. The car would shake and players would hear muffled groans for a few seconds. She would then exit the car, and the main character’s bank account would lose money.
The latest version of “Grand Theft Auto V” now puts the player inside the car. You pay the woman for one of several available sex acts, then you watch the act performed on your character from a first-person view. There is no nudity, and the player has no control during the sex act.
Technically, this is still an implied sex act. I never actually saw my character have intercourse — I only saw the prostitute get on top of him.
It is important to note that most of the sex acts in the game are triggered voluntarily — players don’t have to pick up prostitutes.
As a 26-year-old, this doesn’t bother me that much. I was more disturbed by the violence.
However, I was 13 years old when I first picked up a prostitute in 2001’s “Grand Theft Auto III.” I knew I was doing something my mother wouldn’t approve of, but most people wouldn’t consider that shaking-car scenario totally obscene.
Parents today have even less control over what games their kids play. If the child set up the console — and I find that many teen gamers set up every electronic device for their family — they may have already purchased and downloaded the game without anyone noticing using modern console’s digital download features.
If you let your son or daughter use your credit card to set up anything on the console, there’s a chance that the child is with a digital prostitute right now. And I understand how that could be troubling.
The strange thing is that I — like so many other gamers — viewed this first-person mode as the major selling point of the game. It is without question what made me want to buy the game, and it is without question what turned my stomach about the game.
I’m not alone. Most video game critics are speaking out against the new feature, and quite a few of the avid gamers that frequent their websites agree with them, which I can tell you from personal experience is rare. Parent groups and the mainstream media are slowly learning of the new features and have started to light the beacons of typical video game outrage.
Strauss Zelnick, CEO of “Grand Theft Auto V” distributor Take-Two Interactive, defended the game’s choices this week on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.” During an interview, Zelnick said the game deals with gritty underworld themes and stands shoulder to shoulder with many popular movies and television shows — most of which show the same subject matter in exactly the same light.
Zelnick is right. The game is undoubtedly art and fits very neatly into the hyper-violent world of American media.
“Grand Theft Auto V” is also worthy of great praise for its many staggering achievements. It is a fantastic game.
But I can’t help feeling queasy when I play it. I feel as if I am doing these horrible things — something not possible in a TV show or movie — and it puts a bad taste in my mouth.
I think it may be time for the GTA team to take a step back and reflect.
Last year’s version was one of the most successful games in history, so why take the graphic content even further for a release that was almost assuredly going to be a hit?
Developers are well within their legal rights to provide this type of gameplay, but that doesn’t mean that they should. I was one of the gamers who wanted this first-person mode, but maybe the gaming community needs to be saved from itself from time to time.