Learning The Limits Of Grand Theft Auto V

Are video games societal microcosms wherein deviant behaviour flourishes and spills into "real life"? Or are they just harmless fun in which nobody really gets hurt? This endless debate usually concerns violent games; so much so that many are now inured to the discussion. But a disturbing hack involving sexual assault in Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5) threatens to achieve the impossible: swaying the opinion of gamers themselves.

What is a mod?

Videogames let players simulate being almost anyone: a battle-hardened soldier (Call of Duty), a boy navigating his father's alcohol addiction (Papo & Yo), and even a god (Populous). This is part of gaming's appeal.

Often, when games lack some aspect players wish existed, hackers in the community create a modification that allows them to add the desired feature. Hackers find ways to modify the game's protected computer code, usually to grant players more control.

Mods can bestow aiming assistance, unlimited ammunition, or the ability to see through walls. Developers respond by levelling the playing field, often by placing all players using the same mod onto a single server so they only play against one another.

Modding, however, can also have several benefits, and one of these is the power to expand the developer's vision or make a political statement. Last year a father swapped Mario and Pauline in Donkey Kong so that his daughter could play as a female protagonist. Such mods are not uncommon and they can be a powerful tool in which to explore issues surrounding gender.

The fact that mods can, by shifting the possibilities for interaction, lead to powerful inferences about social living, makes the recent GTA5 mod interesting.

When is a world open enough?

In the Grand Theft Auto games, protagonists navigate a criminal underworld. The virtual world is open, with players able to perform an almost endless variety of behaviours. Many of these are violent or sexual in nature, for which players earn rewards.

It seems, however, that too many options are barely enough for GTA5 gamers. After the release of GTA5 last September, there were discussions about whether players should be able to rape within the game. Wisely, Rockstar Games, the game's developers, did not take this suggestion on board.

But hackers did. They created a mod that allows a user to enter another player's game, often as a naked or near-naked man, lock onto another player and then thrust persistently back and forth. All players can equally fall victim, regardless of character or player gender. And there is no way to prevent or stop an attack.

As Lauren DiDonato put it at Viral Global News last week:

Players are recording the virtual rape on their computers, and uploading it to YouTube, as well as other popular social media networks. Through these videos it is abundantly clear to see that virtual rape is indeed occurring in the game.

What can we learn?

It's worth being clear that comparisons between this sort of virtual assault and rape are inherently limited, particularly with respect to their consequences. But can the fact that this mod exists teach us anything new? More to the point, can it teach gamers anything at all?

Discussions about rapists' motivations often polarise between sex and power. American journalist Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975) remains a foundation of the view that rape is all about power and not in any meaningful way about sex.

And yet the importance of power does not logically exclude a sexual dimension. From time to time, arguments surface, usually to great controversy, that rapists motivations are also, or even mostly, about sex.

The new mod in GTA5 and similar developments in other games certainly underline the importance of power, and especially the powerlessness of those victimised.

The GTA5 mod that allows a player to sexually assault other players.

Grand Theft Auto, as a game, was already all about both power and a violent, coercive view of sex. Players get all the power and control they might desire. The mod removes that power in a most humiliating way. The largely male gaming population playing GTA5 virtually experience a small taste of the helplessness of being sexually assaulted.

The humiliation is amplified when videos of the assault get posted online. Many commenters on YouTube videos and Reddit threads appear to find the whole thing humorous. They appear to view these assaults as "simply part of the game", a chance to explore a new dimension of the gaming experience.

For others, the assaults, and the fact that they cannot be stopped, have destroyed their enjoyment of the game and caused much distress. It will be interesting to see how the responses of both male and female gamers unfold over the coming weeks. For now, Rockstar is not commenting on what cannot be anything other than a disturbing and unwelcome development.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened. Kim Correa wrote of an even more harrowing experience she had playing DayZ. In this post-apocalyptic third person shooter game, it is not unheard of to be held down, have a bag put over one's head and be forced to perform unwanted behaviours. One's character also cannot respawn until the current incarnation dies. As a result, victims are forced to watch and endure what is being done to their characters.

The dark side of gaming

Here there are parallels to the harassment that women and girls receive in the gaming community both while gaming and in the game industry. It's hard to see how the mod in GTA5 could make the game anything but a more dangerous and undesirable space for female gamers, as well as for less aggressive and dominant male gamers to inhabit. Is this the point?

Perhaps the most controversial, and arguably the most famous part of Susan Brownmiller's thesis in Against Our Will, is her assertion that rape is about the power that men as a class exert over women as a class:

rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.

It's the most succinct encapsulation of the idea that all men — whether they contribute directly or not — benefit from sexism, inequality and gendered violence. Controversial, because many men and women disagree. It's the kind of debate that defies resolution, visible recently in the hashtag war between #notallmen and #yesallwomen after Elliot Rodger's killing spree.

Is it possible that developments like the GTA5 mod provide an opportunity to observe, at one remove from "real life", not only how humanity's most repellent behaviours spread through (virtual) societies, but also the effects they have on social dynamics?

It's important to explore such questions, especially since we are on the verge of virtual reality where experiences feel more real and encompassing.

Should society and developers set limits to what players experience to ensure positive experiences for all? Or will this be a continuous war of attrition where limits are there only to be challenged thus leading to a virtual world that mimics real-life experiences.

If you are at risk of family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault, please seek support immediately. Free call the following helplines: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732); Mensline 1300 78 99 78; Kids Help Line 1800 551 800 or Lifeline 13 11 14.The Conversation

Michael Kasumovic is Lecturer and ARC DECRA Fellow at UNSW Australia. Rob Brooks is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia. Michael Kasumovic receives funding from the Australian Research Council for his research. Rob Brooks receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Comments

    I wonder if it will be harder to pull this crap on the xb1 and ps4 versions of the game.

      I should point out that (and anyone who plays the games knows), this is done for the lols.
      Check out some of the youtube channels where people go around and all try and rape each other - its like a game of tag but funny - especially when the Benny Hill music comes on :)

      As usual, these things are taken way out of context to support an agenda and don't take into account the intent.

      Finally, as history teaches us time and time again, the more you oppress, the more they resent. Demonising people, causes or groups will only make them resent you, and thus potentially mutate into something dangerous.

      Let people explore their individuality within the harmless virtual environments....or be condemned to repeat history.

        Intent doesn't matter if it makes people feel uncomfortable. If you punch someone in the face and then say "oh sorry man please don't be upset I did mean to punch you in the face but I didn't mean to hurt you" the other person is perfectly justified in being annoyed. Especially for people who have been victims of rape/other forms of sexual assault this would be an awful experience, regardless of whether or not the person doing it has malicious intent or not.

        As for your "doing this will make the group of players resentful and potentially dangerous" argument...basically what you're saying is "if you guys don't put up with those players making you uncomfortable in your own game then you will face harmful repercussions". And like...that's not how we as a society should approach situations like this. If we say "don't try and stop the aggressors in this situation because they might get dangerous" it's kind of redundant because they're already being aggressive and potentially dangerous to some people. Instead of saying to the victims "hey don't be victims of this thing you can't control at all", we should be focusing on the aggressors and saying "hey don't victimise people" because it's a shitty thing to do.

        Also, this isn't taking it out of context. Part of video games, as I'm sure you'll agree, is a reflection of societal values. Taking an issue like this within video games and superimposing it onto a real-world situation is an extension of the sociological potency that video games have managed to garner in recent years. It's a good thing that people are taking things that happen in video games and analysing them on a real world level, and if the action that comes from it is feminism, or any sort of "agenda" that prioritises the removal of the aggressors of the situation, then that will be an incredible departure from history (because removal of the aggressors has never been possible - see: Britain, the USA, white settlers in Australia, the Crusades).

        The point is that regardless of why it's done, it's already potentially harmful and spreading awareness of it potentially harming people can only be a good thing because it can stop people being harmed and has no downsides to the aggressors except "hey maybe we should feel bad about this potentially harmful thing we're popularising".

      Would think so...
      It already felt like a great big beta test on the PS3/Xbox and they were always going to release for next gen and PC (Their reluctance to talk about it was a fair indication)
      I imagine they want things more solid to make buying more enticing for people.

    "Should society and developers set limits to what players experience to ensure positive experiences for all?" Fuck no.

    That's nothing short politically correct pandering to a group of people with nill intellectual fortitude.

    So I'm going to modify my behavior, be told what I can and can't enjoy by special snow flake children posing as adults who can't tell the difference between simulated 'raep' and the real thing?

    Fuck that noise.

      What?

      You think we should kowtow to the wishes of a couple of abberant deviants in the name of free speech in lieu of taking a stand and saying that this behaviour is not OK?

      Fuck that noise.

        Or maybe you just man the fuck up as an intellectual?

        How can we gamers honestly with a straight face defend this medium against people who that violent videogames desensitize people to violence and cause mass shooting, by citing perfectly reasonably that it doesn't. When we turn around and say 'rape' in videogames somehow prompts people to thinking that rape is ok?

        You can't have it both ways, you can't say GTA doesn't entice people to criminal behaviour but a rape mod does.

        Or are you saying, that the special snowflakes treatment, cause feeling and 'muh triggers'.

      Wow! Aren’t you a tool.

      Of course developers can (and do) set limits to what their products are designed to do.

      The game is designed by people to be played a certain way and bought by people who want to play it a certain way.
      In an offline environment it’s a bit different (I don’t mind if you want to draw penises all over your car in Forza and then race offline, for example) but when a hacker modifies a product to alter the experience online then it changes the experience of other users and developers should definitely have a role limiting the product in that case.

      I don’t want my character (or anyone elses) being “raped” by someone who’s modified Mario Kart for example, and if someone created such a mod then I’d fully expect that Nintendo would take steps to put a stop to it.

      As an aside, it’d be very interesting to see what the police would make of this if someone lodged a formal complaint.
      Sexual violence in games would be refused classification under all circumstances and modifying a product to allow you to harass others in a sexually violent manner is almost certainly a breach of online harassment laws.

      In all seriousness I’d expect that Police could charge someone with a fairly serious offence for downloading and using this mod.

        My god, you intellectual, statist coward.

        You really think someone should be charge and put through the justice system? You think that this mod comes anywhere near to the real thing to justify that?

        Either that shows a astounding arrogance to your own perceived rights, or how little you think of actual victims of rape.

        I can't convey in words how little I think of you.

        Your final sentence is nonsense, immature, alarmist and borderline hysterical - Would you apply the same logic to anyone who played a game where you shot someone (better arrest them for murder) or a game where you drove quickly (better arrest them for speeding).

        Insane!

      That's nothing short politically correct pandering to a group of people with nill intellectual fortitude

      I think you mean "nil".

      Also, nice use of "politically correct" - that is a great conservative attack phrase, but you have repurposed it well. It really denies agency to those you are accusing of being PC. They don't have a genuine problem with a rape mechanic, they are blindly following an ideology.

      Now, I am finding "intellectual fortitude" to be problematic here. Do you mean intestinal fortitude?

      So I'm going to modify my behavior, be told what I can and can't enjoy by special snow flake children posing as adults who can't tell the difference between simulated 'raep' and the real thing?

      Who is asking you to modify your behavior? You appear to be the one campaigning for all those rape averse people out there to get behind a rape as a game mechanic.

      You want a rape mechanic? How about a game where your daughter is raped? You, as the father, don't exact revenge in a bloody rampage... you have to deal with being a father and raising your daughter through the investigation, trial, depression, suicide attempts, rebellion and drugs, and the incredible strain placed on your marriage. You win the game if your daughter graduates high school and you lose if she slashes her wrists in the bath or ODs on meth. Does that sound like a fun game? Or do you prefer just making rape an annoying prank to play on other gamers?

      People don't like your opinions on rape in games because they are stupid. Grow up.

      Last edited 19/08/14 7:02 pm

        Woah look who just walked out of year 10 English.

        Honestly that second last paragraphs makes me think we are on the same wavelength. I'm all for rape in videogames, be it poignant and soul wrenching or comedic walking the line of trolling.

        Nothing is sacred, nothing is untouchable.

    If you graffiti a picture you don't blame the artists for what the thug did..

      No, you instead muddy the definition of "artist"
      That way you can blame the the thug and the morally objectionable painter and self described "artist" at the same time.

    Those idiots on youtube and reddit who find this sort of thing funny are such trolls. I don't blame Rockstar for this, but they should at least say they don't condone this sort of trash. Disgusting.

    This is insane. It's a game. The most this is, is annoying. Don't try and compare this shit to actual real world rape. The most that happens if this happens to you in game, is you put your controller down and go 'fuck, this is annoying'

      I think, with all respect, you're missing the point. The fact is that there are people out there who think this is okay behaviour. They think it's okay to create a mod that simulates one of the worst violations of someone. Whilst I do not believe/hope it would not ever encourage someone to perform this hideous act, it does belittle its seriousness.

        I'd be surprised if they had some agenda behind the mod, they were probably just messing around and figured they could assign this animation with another player and get stuck, thought it would be funny and then trolled some people online. I just think this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion

        As much as I am very much NOT condoning rape (in or out of games), I find it weird how people can rally against this and yet play games that involve the brutal murder of people (and sometimes torture) like that is any less horrific.

    This isn't new. They've been forcing animations for a while.
    What's the difference between a modder forcing you into the DJing animation, and another modder forcing your in-game model into a position that could be construed as sexual? The fact Kotaku and other media outlets can turn around screaming OH MY GOD I'VE BEEN RAPED IN GRAND THEFT AUTO.

    That's it.
    The only damn difference.
    An alarmist article, quickly jumping to the worst possible conclusion, passed off as gaming news.

    Last edited 19/08/14 4:16 pm

      What are you reading?

        [rewritten below without auto-mod triggering, sorry]

        Last edited 19/08/14 4:40 pm

        Quite a variety of media outlets, ranging from The Independent to the Huffington Post, have had the same alarmist drivel, but in this case I can point to the fact that Kotaku have chosen to link to http://www.viralglobalnews.com/entertainment/gta-5-virtual-rape-rockstar-refuses-comment/ from which I quote:

        The new trend of virtual rape in the GTA 5 and the upcoming games in the series has definitely left both fans and critics alike upset and wondering if Rockstar will some clean about the fact that its video game is being used to carry out rape fantasies on unsuspecting and unwilling players

        When it's not true at all. As I stated, the only difference between forcing a character into a DJ animation and a stripper animation is that a media outlet can produce a half-cocked article on the plight of these virtual "rape" victims. The fact the author of this, and every other related article claims to know the mindset and intent of these modders is indicative of the low-quality journalistic style they're aiming to perpetuate. When they make blind judgements about the intent of someone they'll never know, meet or in any other way interact with, they have become blathering editorialists with one eye on the headline, one eye on the scandal and no care for any actual facts.

        Hopefully I don't have to wait on auto-moderation this time. I'd imagine there's a few key terms that flag the auto-mod :P

        Last edited 19/08/14 4:56 pm

          Frankly I think all this "zomg I was raped in GTA5" is trivialising rape a tad. Shouldn't "rape" only be reserved for actual rape?

            That all depends whether you can spin a sensationalised article out of a misrepresentation.
            In this case, they're happy equate software hacking and unlawful sexual penetration for the sake of a story.

          "The fact the author of this, and every other related article claims to know the mindset and intent of these modders"
          We are all defined by our actions. You don't need to know what someone is thinking to know what kind of person they are.
          So, why a rape animation? Why not, as you said, a DJ animation? Or one where the character performs the chicken dance? Or any number of possible things? Why exactly does it have to be a rape animation? And what kind of person thinks that this sort of thing needs to be in a game?

            He's saying that's the only reason why this is 'news' And I totally agree. If players were being forced to chicken dance or dj no one would give a shit. But because it's something sexual it's a whoooole other story

              Yeah, the media is making an issue out of this. Most probably because rape is a very serious thing that affects countless people. It traumatizes people. Many victims of sexual assaults have even killed themselves. How do you expect gaming, and gamers, to be taken seriously when we can't even take something as traumatic as rape seriously?

                Rape is an extremely serious crime. No decent person would state anything other than that fact. Decent people would never think to dilute the seriousness of the crime by adding "hacking your GTA session and making your character dance sensuously" to the definitions for the word.

                My issue is that this article and all the articles on this non-issue do not point out the fact that most modders are just as happy putting you in dancing/cheering animations on a beach, or that the actual event taking place in these reports is that your character is being forced into an animation while the modder performs another animation, leaving you free to exit at any time you desire by simply closing the game.

                That is not rape. This is trivialising the idea of rape by clearly attempting to define the action of rape as hacking some software and making someone's GTA online character perform a stripper animation, rather than unlawfully performing physical sexual acts in real life. I consider that a horrendously-insensitive misinterpretation of what is clearly a monstrous criminal act.

                I'd go so far as to claim this misinterpretation is perpetuated for the sake of a headline and scandal, which is more of an insult towards any victim of sexual assault than the contents of the article itself.

                Last edited 19/08/14 6:08 pm

                  This article isn't just about a mere animation.

                  It's about the victims of attacks (both real attacks and virtual) and the helplessness and humiliation they feel. It's about the offenders, and their possible motivations, be they sexual, or about the empowering of oneself through making others feel weak and vulnerable. And it's about society; the spreading of the worst acts of humanity from the real world to virtual ones.

                  It is not a media beat-up. It is a serious, well thought-out article about humanity.

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