Target Australia has announced it will be pulling all copies of Grand Theft Auto V from stores after an online petition demanding that the retailer withdraw the game acquired over 41,000 signatures.
According to Target Australia's general manager corporate affairs Jim Cooper, it was this feedback that directly influenced the decision to remove Grand Theft Auto V.
"We've been speaking to many customers over recent days about the game, and there is a significant level of concern about the game's content," Mr Cooper said. "We've also had customer feedback in support of us selling the game, and we respect their perspective on the issue. However, we feel the decision to stop selling GTA 5 is in line with the majority view of our customers."
The petition was launched by a group of women who have suffered directly from sexual violence and abuse.
"We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence," reads the petition. "It haunts us, and we've been trying to rebuild our lives ever since. Just knowing that women are being portrayed as deserving to be sexually used by men and potentially murdered for sport and pleasure — to see this violence that we lived through turned into a form of entertainments is sickening and causes us great pain and harm."
The fact that the petition focused on one single outlet, on one single game, resulted in a singular point of pressure that, for Target, was impossible to ignore.
Despite the fact that it will be removing the game from shelves, Target will continue to sell other R18+ rated content.
"While these products often contain imagery that some customers find offensive, in the vast majority of cases, we believe they are appropriate products for us to sell to adult customers," explained Cooper.
"However, in the case of GTA 5, we have listened to the strong feedback from customers that this is not a product they want us to sell."
New Zealands's largest retailer, NZ Warehouse Group, previously removed all copies of Grand Theft Auto V from shelves. That decision was made after the Stop Demand Foundation approached the group. According to founder Denise Ritchie, the first person mode in the new, updated version of the game was the reason why her group decided to act.
"GTA has always been a deeply misogynistic, hyper-masculine game that reduces women largely to strippers and prostitutes," she said. "However, the new 1st person interactive mode released globally last week significantly ratchets up gamers’ experiences."
There is no mention in the petition regarding the first-person mode being a catalyst for the ban. However, in an interview with news.com.au, one petition founder, Nicole, mentioned the first-person view specifically, claiming it had "upped the ante".
"You get to feel what it feels like to do this to somebody,” she said.
As a former sex worker and a victim of violence Nicole found Grand Theft Auto V desensitised people to violence against women.
"[T]his is about torturing and the ritualised murder of women," she told news.com.au. "It’s frightening that people are desensitised to it."
Grand Theft Auto V was initially classified in 2013, receiving an R18+ rating. It was re-rated in 2014 for the HD re-release, although this rating wasn't the result of in-game violence but rather the use of drugs within the game, which was deemed "high impact" by the Classification Board. The latest version of the game also received a high impact rating for its 'themes', but it received only a 'strong impact' for its violence. If Grand Theft Auto V was to be rated on its violence alone, there is a good chance the game would have been rated MA15+. It's worth noting that before the R18+ rating came into effect most Grand Theft Auto games managed to make it past the Classification Board at MA15+.
Reaction to the news was swift:
@Targetaus What a laughably uninformed decision
— Josh Whittington (@Mario__Bones) December 3, 2014
@Targetaus so you're suggesting you are above the decision making skills of adults, and the classification board? Crazy decision.
— Matt Tarrant (@MattTarrant) December 3, 2014
But there were also tweets from people who approved of the decision:
— Deb Malcolm (@DebMalcolm) December 3, 2014
On Target Australia's Facebook page the debate was more heated with a 4000-strong comment thread.
A large number of petitions have emerged as a result of the decision, but the situation is fragmented. Some are playing it straight, like this one; others are petitioning Rockstar themselves to "not give in". Other petitions are claiming that Grand Theft Auto provides players with the choice to perform "equal opportunity violence". Some took a different tack, demanding that if Grand Theft Auto V was removed from stores, the book 50 Shades Of Grey should also be taken off-sale.
Grand Theft Auto V's publisher, Take-Two, expressed disappointment at the decision.
"We are disappointed that an Australian retailer has chosen no longer to sell Grand Theft Auto V — a title that has won extraordinary critical acclaim and has been enjoyed by tens of millions of consumers around the world," said Strauss Zelnick, Chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software. "Grand Theft Auto V explores mature themes and content similar to those found in many other popular and groundbreaking entertainment properties. Interactive entertainment is today's most compelling art form and shares the same creative freedom as books, television, and movies. I stand behind our products, the people who create them, and the consumers who play them."