The Tasteful Rape of Grand Theft Auto 5

Grand Theft Auto 5 came out earlier this week, to a massive reception. Now, out a few days, its stirring controversy again. The series has long been controversial for the casual and realistic violence it offers first hand. Included in that  violence has always been violence against women. The subject isn’t new with this 5th rendition of GTA.

The subject returns this time in the wake of a blog post at PlayStation Universe, describing rape in GTA 5. Here’s some of it:

“Rape happens. In a game, it can be shown tastefully–with a fully clothed victim, a flaccid aggressor, and the opportunity for the player to intervene. What comes next is introspection and thought-provoking conversation about the medium of video games and the merits of such an occurrence. Controversy be damned, though this game element will undoubtedly stir some.”


This is the kind of language that we often encounter, and pass by, without significant pause. It sounds like a sincere attempt to engage sexual violence in gaming. But it truly is an astonishing notion, that rape in any situation or representation, can be done tastefully. And it is a reminder of the difficulty and danger of attempting to include sexual violence and rape in our popular stories.

It is true that rape happens. And I don’t believe that any story element–including rape–is off limits to anyone. We need quality stories that help us learn about the world as it exists, rape included. But if you make the decision to include rape in your video game, or your jokes, or your TV show, you had better understand what that decision means, and how it will impact your audience. Which consists not just of game players, but observers as well, including victims of sexual violence.

By attempting to make rape tasteful–as described in this post–, even for the sake of stopping the act, PlayStation Universe and GTA 5 have immediately shown an ill-considered understanding of how to present rape and violence against women. A post like this, explaining the ‘player agency’ involved in stopping a rape as it occurs in the game, is inherently defensive against accusations that it makes light of rape and sexual violence. It hopes to allow gamers free reign in digital domain–for hero fantasies as the post suggests or for darker purposes– without any of the nasty responsibility issues that accompany making the most popular video game in history.

As Alexandra at Feministing says, “They want just enough violence to feel good about themselves, but never enough to require recognition of off-screen harm. They congratulate themselves for thinking about rape for a minute, and in doing so, absolve themselves of the responsibility to do anything about it.”

*UPDATE: Rockstar Games has issued a correction on this blog post. The scene in question is not actually a rape scene, but cannibals, who are naked, engaged in cannibalism. Is that better?


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