Next Tuesday Grand Theft Auto IV is released, you know, adult content and violence, prostitutes, being rewarded for murder etc etc and so forth. It’s so popular now that even Chanel’s uber dude Karl Lagerfeld has even put together a playlist of his favourite toons for one of the in-game radio stations.
What to make of this game? Is there a spiritual response to it and if so what does that involve?
- Point of interest 1: One of my friends used to get beaten by their father as a child, so harshly they once went to hospital. They loves violent horror films.
- Point of interest 2: Brian Sutton-Smith in The Ambiguity of Play notes that often play is way of making sense of events, removing their power.
These two things are of interest when approaching a play that positively encourages and rewards attitudes and activities that would be considered to be seriously morally depraved in real world situations. There is a sense that there is violence in all of us that wants an expression – this may be born out of experiencing violence and needing to find catharsis or out of wanting to express violent tendencies that are not expressable in society. Any spirituality ignores this at its peril. The world is not sweetness and light, there is evil, and play can offer individuals a way of expressing and therefore dealing with that.
Having said which, is there a difference between classic shoot’em ups of “good” vs “evil” and games like GTA in which take expression beyond that into exploitation of the weak and subjected in society is encouraged – I am thinking particularly of point scoring for running over prostitutes etc. (No, it isn’t nice nor is it healthy.) Most people do not experience this kind of life event, nor do they actually approve of criminal activity if they are honest about it. Particularly not when it affects them directly.
This game has an unhealthy pre-occupation with “the world” in all its worst expressions. Thinking of play as progress intimately linked with learning then you would have to say that it’s not a game that should be played by children or perhaps even teenagers. Learning that such casual violence is funny inures you to real suffering in real life. I woudln’t ever say that video games cause people to be violent – it takes a lot more for a person to break social norms in that way. But I would say that it contributes to our culture of indifference and ignorance. The game objectifies people in a particularly graphic way and once you objectify you can justify anything.
I’m sure it will be a great success.
And now for something lighter – how about this version of Grand Theft Auto instead?