THE BLOG
10/30/2013 10:48 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

A Defense of Violence: the Cultural Impact of the Grand Theft Auto Series

The release of Grand Theft Auto 5 cemented the franchise's place not just in video game history, but in the history of US culture. In its opening weekend, Rockstar Game's crown jewel made over a billion dollars, making it the fastest selling game of all time. The game has garnered universal acclaim and a firestorm of controversy due to a rather gruesome torture section. The series has been attacked from all sides since the release of Grand Theft Auto 3 for anything from drunk driving to misogyny to racism. No stranger to controversy, Rockstar Games has brushed off the criticism and has managed to make one of the greatest franchises of all time.

Many current college students, including myself, have been raised with the series. A forbidden fruit of gaming that, at 12 years old, I couldn't keep curiosity away from it any longer. An old neighbor of mine, who was four years my elder at the time, had obtained a copy of Grand Theft Auto 3 through his brother. His house soon became the place to be for my after school entertainment. After finding a reason to leave the house, I would go over to my neighbor's and just sit and watch in awe at him and his friends switching off between deaths. There was nothing else like it at the time. When I finally got my chance to play, I was hooked. My visits turned into a daily ritual of public displays of murder, prostitution and creative ways to make explosions. All of this was done for the sake of getting your "star rating" up. One of the main parts of the Grand Theft Auto series was the ability to openly shoot, kill, destroy or steal anything at any point of the game. The disregard for human life in the game is something that has led many to believe that the string of school shootings is directly connected with the Grand Theft Auto series' depiction of violence, which at face value, is a ridiculous claim.

However, the biggest thing that a lot of groups that criticize the series fail to realize is the importance of choice in the series. There are no missions in any of the games that order you to murder a hundred random pedestrians or go blow up a school bus full of kids. Each game's plot was both engaging and complex, involving many different characters and locations. Grand Theft Auto 5 is a crime epic that involves a trio of unlikely friends that make their riches conducting high risk robberies. After a couple successful missions, the group gets involved with shady government agents that are trying to undermine a rival agency. Good character development, high quality voice acting and excellent game play and visuals make this game much more than a glorified violence simulator...if the player chooses it to be that way. Even the torture scene in GTA 5 can be short or long depending on what the player decides It's like my friend Rob always says, "You can learn a lot about a person by watching how they play GTA." The GTA experience is a personal one, shaped by the players and sometimes stealing a car and commiting countless acts of vehicular homicde is what some gamers consider fun. I prefer the classic car chain explosion.

No Grand Theft Auto game is complete without the radio stations. Each game has its own set of radio stations, each catering to a specific genre or group of genres. Grand Theft Auto games have often served as a gateway of music. Many of the songs featured on the radio stations are either old classics or current underground phenoms. Also, with every game taking place in a different version of a famous American city, the music is very regional, giving more exposure to some artists you may not hear on your local station. Since almost every form of popular American genres are covered, the game caters to music lovers as well.

Popular indie artist Flying Lotus' radio station in Grand Theft Auto V

The Grand Theft Auto series is something that will define the Millennial generation. With sales that surpass even the insanely popular Call of Duty series and a legacy of controversy that will debated for years, it is a perfect representation of the attitudes of young people. If you look at other famous bits of pop culture (i.e. South Park, Family Guy), the point of them is to make fun or make light of something that is a very serious issue. The Grand Theft Auto series can be considered to be part of this 21st Century attitude toward the violent and the taboo. With the other forms of exaggerated violence we are exposed to (torture porn and blood symphonies come to mind), the tongue in cheek attitude that the games have made them pretty harmless when it comes to exposure to violence in the media. Sure, there are times when the game's portrayal of things like sex and human life are trivialized, but the core of the game is far from some mindless murder simulation. The choice is in the player and after playing through GTA 3Vice CitySan AndreasGTA 4 and currently playing through GTA 5, it is safe to say that I came out of it okay, as did most of the people who I know have played them.

By Malcolm Aquino, Florida State University

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