Target's Grand Theft Auto V Ban Leaves Us With No-One To Blame

How do you parse the news that Target has decided to give in to pressure, to a 41,000 strong petition, and removed Grand Theft Auto V from shelves. How do you react to it?

I've been wrestling with this from the second I heard the news.

The base instinct in me, in all of us I suspect, is to rush to battle stations. To man the video game cannons and blast mercilessly at the hypocrisy of it all, to blindly vomit chunks of rage at the moral panic brigade.

Because as a culture, Australian gamers are so used to this debate. We're used to being under attack. Crucially, we're used to video games being treated differently compared to other art forms. We've heard and seen it all. We know the counter-arguments by rote.

But here's the problem: in this particular situation those arguments are all but useless. They're simply not applicable. News that Target has removed Grand Theft Auto V from stores puts people who like video games in a weird, untenable position. Making a huge unruly noise will get us nowhere. It will move us backwards.

To begin with, we have to accept a few hard truths.

Firstly, Grand Theft Auto's depiction of women is problematic. Put aside the fact that the video game allows players to be violent — in equal measure — to both men and women. Place that aside for a second. That's a given. Female characters in Grand Theft Auto are poorly drawn; they're either 'prostitutes' or wailing, nagging buffoons. The handful that remain inevitably become damsels in distress. There are very few women in the world of Grand Theft Auto that exist outside this spectrum. That doesn't mean we shouldn't play Grand Theft Auto, that doesn't mean it's worthless as a cultural artefact — it simply means that we have to accept that the game has problems, specifically with its depiction of women. We have to accept this.

Secondly, we have to accept that Target's decision to remove the game is not censorship. Hypocrisy? Yes. Absolutely. Censorship? Not even close.

Target is perfectly within its rights to sell or not sell any product it sees fit for any reason it sees fit. Target doesn't sell a lot of things. It doesn't sell pornography, it doesn't sell the Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii. It doesn't sell Irn Bru. It doesn't sell Jenga as I recently discovered to my distaste after spending a whole day trawling through Westfield trying to find a box of the stuff.

Point being: this is not the same as the R18+ issue. In that situation government legislation was literally stopping stores like Target from selling video games rated R18+. In this case an individual retail group has made a decision. A decision it has every right to make.

As a consumer you also have the right to stop shopping at Target as a result of this decision. Crucially, you also have the right to buy the game at a number of other stores. I suspect many will choose to exercise those rights. This is fine.

Thirdly, we can't even blame Target for making this decision. You can accuse it of hypocrisy. You can point to the dozens of other R18+-rated products being sold in Target stores. You can complain about 50 Shades Of Grey, but to date no-one has produced a 41,000-signatures-strong petition demanding its removal. When a statement that powerful and grand in scale lands on your virtual desk, some sort of response is necessary. You might disagree with that response, but consider the tangibles.

Target is essentially a chain store which markets and sells to an older section of consumers who are, more often than not, parents. Much of Target's advertising is catered specifically to that demographic. It has to protect that segment of its revenue. Ask yourself how often you buy video games from Target. Ask yourself who normally shops at Target and what they buy. Target has made a strategic decision based solely on damage control and perception management. That's what businesses do.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, we cannot blame the women behind the petition or any of the men and women who signed the petition.

Think their concerns are misguided? Absolutely. Believe that the concerns are the result of broad moral panic? Worried that their success could set some sort of precedent? Sure.

But it's of paramount importance to understand and accept that this petition was the work of women with serious, sincere concerns. Important concerns about the portrayal of women and the impact it would have on young men's attitudes to violence against women. These are ex-sex workers who have experienced sexual violence from men. Their concerns are more than valid.

And their concerns deserve to be heard. It's important to take those concerns seriously. It's important to take them on board. Verbally abusing or threatening these women — or any of the men and women who signed the petition — is toxic behaviour and only serves to make the situation worse. It only serves to prove their point. Above all, it's wrong.

Essentially, what we should be fighting against here is the mainstream belief that video games are exclusively for children. More importantly we should be fighting against the idea that interactive media has a stronger impact on players compared to movies, television or music. These are the misconceptions that inform these petitions. These are the misconceptions that are constantly re-reported in mainstream media outlets as fact. These are the misconceptions media outlets routinely exploit for traffic and manufactured outrage.

With the introduction of an R18+ rating in Australia, part of me had hoped that those attitudes were a decaying, dying thing. That widespread education and the growth of gaming in across widespread demographics might change those attitudes. I had hoped that mainstream media would have gotten the message, but it appears I was wrong.

And nothing — absolutely nothing — will change until those attitudes are dead and gone.


Comments

    The one thing I find very interesting is that GTA V has been out on the market for over a year now (17 September 2013 was the release date for the last gen consoles).,..where were these complaints and petitions then??? I feel it's only because it got re-released for PS4/Xbone (and soon to be released on PC and R* added First Person View (don't know if the PS3/X360 versions got this) that this issue has come up.

    Target has made money on the sales of GTA V from orginal release to now and as reacted to public pressure and pulled the game but yet I can see (somehow, someway) why they did it.

    As @markserrels mentioned in the article
    With the introduction of an R18+ rating in Australia, part of me had hoped that those attitudes were a decaying, dying thing. That widespread education and the growth of gaming in across widespread demographics might change those attitudes. I had hoped that mainstream media would have gotten the message, but it appears I was wrong.

    And nothing — absolutely nothing — will change until those attitudes are dead and gone.

    I agree with this...Some people still see video games as something for children only when all the data has mentioned that the average age of gamers as way older...and I to would love to see these attitudes change but it's going to take a long...long time for it to change

    Essentially, what we should be fighting against here is the mainstream belief that video games are exclusively for children. More importantly we should be fighting against the idea that interactive media has a stronger impact on players compared to movies, television or music. These are the misconceptions that inform these petitions. These are the misconceptions that are constantly re-reported in mainstream media outlets as fact. These are the misconceptions media outlets routinely exploit for traffic and manufactured outrage.

    #MarkSerrelsforPM

    Progress through everybody dying and their children not caring what their parents hated.

    Unfortunately games are in a generational transition phase. In a few decades the majority will understand gaming and we can be done with the hyperbole panic and focus on the real issues in the medium without distraction.

    I was watching Sunrise when I heard about this. I wanted to shake the people who had no clue about anything talking shit.

    The game is rated so that parents shouldn't allow children to play it. It's that simple. If you want to get a game removed, get it removed because of violence, don't cherry pick a fucking gender. No mention of the interrogation / torture part against a male, oh no, we got to defend the helpless females. They're a bunch of goddamn hypocrites who don't care about equality or moving forward, god forbid they see something inappropriate against males, who gives a shit? Sure, play that game, torture that guy, oh wait a women was run over or set on fire? Better make sure no-one can ever play this game.

    They're helping no-one with this decision, by cherry picking a gender to focus on, when both males and females are both equally fucked in this game. Don't get me wrong, I highly enjoy the game, but if the decision is to be made to remove a game, remove it for the right fuckin reasons.

    I'd just like to point out the hypocrisy of the attacking party here by the way that they asked for the removal of GTA V but seem perfectly ok with Target still selling the GTA IV series of games...

      The problem is the new first person mode in GTA5 on the new consoles. Their argument is that it makes things more real. Sure you could still do the same thing on the old version of GTA5 but it wasn't first person...
      Not that I agree with Target removing the game though!

        Except that argument isn't present in their actual protest. If they want to argue that, they should actually *argue* that.

        And then, Target should only remove copies for the XBone and the PS4, not the 360 and ps3?

    Sorry, but the personal history of a person does not magically transform a factually incorrect position into a correct one.

    In some ways using a very serious issue like violence against women to pressure people is actually a lot worse than using a frivolous one.

      I see it as flailing around for an easy target, no matter how irrelevant or unjustified, just out of some kind of desperation to get some kind of win in a world where they're not getting any wins when trying to tackle the real issue.

      Last edited 04/12/14 11:39 am

    My reaction, is Meh, already have it pre-ordered for digital delivery. Target can choose to sell what they want, somehow though I don't think these war-pathing ladies are going to stop at target now they have a win under their skirts.

    As someone who thinks petition's are bullshit, I find it weird that Target would react this way to 41,000 petition. I mean if they kept the game, how much business would they lose if they didn't remove GTA, would 41,000 actually stop shopping at target? How many of that 41, 000 actually give a shit about this problem? Is it actually 41,000 different people? It worries me that companies and people are so accepting and willing to make a big change on such a flimsy form of protest.


    But it’s of paramount importance to understand and accept that this petition was the work of women with serious, sincere concerns. Important concerns about the portrayal of women and the impact it would have on young men’s attitudes to violence against women. These are ex-sex workers who have experienced sexual violence from men. Their concerns are more than valid.

    I think part of the problem though is that their experiences have coloured their perceptions. They have this idea in their head that most / all men are going to treat women like this and that entertainment like GTA V is what pushes them to do it. They have experienced the worst that men have to offer, so they're natural reflex is to assume that all men are willing / capable of doing it if they're given a little push in that direction from a game / movie / whatever. They are not arguing from a rational position but an emotional one with no basis in substantiated fact. Fortunately for their campaign, there's nothing the internet likes more than a campaign driven by emotion rather than fact.

    Is violence against women a problem? Absolutely. Is this game a cause of it? I don't think so. Will taking this game off Target's shelves prevent even a single assault against a woman? Unlikely.

    It's a well intentioned campaign that, even in success, achieves nothing.

    *Deleted*

    Last edited 04/12/14 6:14 pm

      No it is not. Comparing the two is utterly disgraceful

        You're absolutely right. I was in a foul mood all day because of this and over-reacted with that quote.

        Whoops.

    GTA V, at least for me, is damn-near the closest thing we have right now to a perfectly realised virtual world. I have a brand spanking new PS4 that just arrived at the office this morning, all so I could get the high-def GTA V release (already have it on PS3). GTA V is basically a real-world simulator (with an emphasis on crime should you choose to engage with the storyline - but you could totally NOT engage in crime and just explore the game world if you choose).

    In real life, I can (if I choose) go to strip shows, engage prostitutes, and murder them to get my money back. I choose not to do these things in real life. I can do the same in GTA V.

    Like in real life, I choose not to (weeellll ... I do visit the Unicorn sometimes to watch, but I don't kill veople (virtual people) when I do it, and I've used a prostitute all of twice I think and didn't kill her either time).

    Last edited 04/12/14 10:27 am

    "There's no reason to hit a woman"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlvvCYUDHrQ

    Mr. Mark Serrels, that article was a pleasure to read. Thank you.

    Chastising and abusing the people who signed the petition, going off what you have written, only serves to prove their point. And even more so, would bring GTA even further into the realm of violence against women.

    However, I feel as though we as gamers, the community and the industry, once again, have been backed into the same corner. A corner with a sign that reads; "Behave and accept, or our point will be proven". The "our" on the sign represents different groups at any given time, but never has it represented gamers. Never does it serve OUR community, OUR blogs, OUR consoles or PC's, OUR beloved games, or simply OUR rights to a voice like every other consumer in the country.

    If we all signed a petition stating that knives are dangerous and sent it off to Target, would they stop selling knives (butter, steak, cheese knives etc.)? Yet knives ARE dangerous. Just as GTA V does depict women in a less than appropriate way at times.

    I am certainly not going to lambast any of these women, especially those who have been victims of violent assault. I am going to lambast some of the statements of claim they have laid against the material in GTA V as a gross distortion of the truth however.

    I'm struggling Mark. What approach do we, as a community, take? Blaming Target for making an executive business decision is nonsensical. Criticising women who have first hand accounts of sexual harassment and violence puts us in a pair of shoes more closely resembling those worn by their aggressors than their own.

    I like to consider myself a man of actions and morals. But I feel like I have been presented with two incorrect paths and would be better off staying in our corner, as a spectator, under the sign that reads; "Behave and accept, or our point will be proven".....

    Last edited 04/12/14 10:16 am

      This, I agree 100% with everything in the article but I know that it really sucks that by voicing our disapproval will mean we are supportive of 'rape culture' and misogyny.

      I think though that we need to take umbrage with parts of this debacle, for me the stand out points are the distortion of the truth of what GTAIV really is and the fact that were surely individuals who signed that petition with a lack of critical thinking and reasoning. Signing a petition that has been doctored to blur the lines between truth and fiction is perhaps the greatest indictment on society that we just accept what is presented to us, sharpen our pitchforks and head out to sign a petition that is factually incorrect.

      This isn't to say that I don't empathize with sufferers of sexual abuse and think their concerns are invalid, I just feel the petition mislead individuals for greater impact. I hope the sufferers of sexual abuse find some closure and can begin to repair their lives, however I will defend my right to voice my concerns about what this survey highlighted about society in terms of critical thinking and habit of mind.

    I think we can blame the uninformed masses jumping on the band wagon and for being slightly retarded about it.

    OK, Target took it off their shelves. Just buy it somewhere else.

    And in the grander scale of things; if this applies pressure to the industry to review the tropes and themes they use for their games, good. The industry needs this.

    While most of us will say we don't want to play a video game with a bad story, in most cases we will play the game if it has good gameplay. This reasoning allows the industry to be lazy with their stories; as a result, they use tired tropes and themes that don't properly reflect the world we live in now.

      Doubledizz the problem is the 'snowball effect'. Apparently Sunrise ran a segment on Target banning it this morning, with a pat-on-the-back 'good on you' angle (as if it would be anything else). Not beyond the realms of possibility these idiots will try pressuring other retailers to follow suit. We could end up with a situation where a perfectly legal R18+ title is dropped by most major retailers.

      Or even worse - if there's enough 'noise' the government could re-classify and 'refuse to classify' (couldn't they Mark ?), which I wouldn't put past the wowsers we have running the joint at the moment. This is, without a doubt, bullspit - the kind of thing that happens in America, not here. I'm totally signing the 50 shades of grey petition :)

        Will other retailers follow suit? Maybe. Will the government or Attorney General intervene and request the CB to re-evaluate the classification? Doubtful. Will the game continue to be available via a myriad of online retailers? Most definitely.

        And even if the CB DID re-evaluate the game and DID give it an RC, I'm fairly certain Take 2 and Rockstar would be within their rights to take the government to court over it. And considering the party in power and their hospitality towards big business, I reckon they'd win. And the government/Attorney General knows that, which is why they'd never have the CB reclassify the game in the first place.

    Excellent article with some very well thought out points. It is great to see some measured (I wont call it journalism as its opinion...) opinion on the matter from an important gaming site.

    Yes we could jump in and up the ante, yes we could counter file petition after petition to make a point, but the reality is is you break it down enough - there shouldnt even be a "we". When the discussion starts in terms of "us and them" its already game over. When we fail to empathise, when we fail to seek out the reasoning behind the petition, when we fail to be prepared to move away from our starting stance - theres no point even starting. Its just noise and fury...

    I don't agree with Target's decision... when hearing the news I rolled my eyes... It's Dungeons and Dragons, its Suicidal Tendancies, its Doom... all over again.

    But if I stopped rolling my eyes, took a moment to empathise with those on the other side, then engage in *discussion* that can somehow be productive... well, it might be a pipe dream but its something worth aiming for.

    Thankyou Mark for highlighting the points on which I need to think about - to empathise with - in regards to this. We cant just keep rolling our eyes for ever, gamers, non gamers... everyone... could do with a big dose more of trying to understand and engage in a positive way.

    It's definitely a very delicate issue, one that I would like to think adults can decide for themselves if to buy the game. Seeing as the game is R18+, only adults are "meant" to be allowed to buy the game but more often than not parents buy the latest craze because little Jimmy demands it. Hell, I know my (then) 15 year old nephew got it, then yelled at his younger brothers for playing it when it's R18+. Now they're all playing GTA V.

    I haven't played a GTA game since San Andreas, but from memory all interactable (story and cut-scenes) males in GTA games were always depicted as heavily into crime, gangs, mafia, drug dealing, bank robbing. You then also kill your rivals to get ahead with the story. I would argue this isn't a fair depiction of males either.

    Violence against any gender is never on, males typically don't report violence as they feel too emasculated to ever report it so the numbers will never be accurate. Informed decisions about purchasing games is what needs to be spouted, not disallowing the choice to be made.

    I don't want to be that guy but...who cares? There are many more outlets that one can purchase the game from.

    The one and only problem I have with this is it sets a precedent for other chain stores to follow suit if they choose. The way they are now, I usually price match at EB against stores like Big W and Target for a sizable amount. Without the competition, I see us paying 'normal' price in the $90< range for AAA titles. As for the violence against women, it's players choice really. I don't see the RSPCA trying to get Far Cry 4 off the shelves of chain stores.

    The Sex Party just got an Upper House seat in the Vic Election. Can we get a comment from Fiona Patten?

    History has shown that Australian gamers are a force to be reckoned with when they manage to organise themselves for a common goal. (eg. We started the ball rolling on R18+ ratings for games) I'm kind of hoping that this will start a huge reaction where gamers just obliterate Target's stock piece by piece simply because we can easily gather thousands of signatures on a petition.

    It's a worrying precedent though. I can easily see more games being blatted just because one facet of them doesn't sit right with a person regardless of all other details or the hypocritical nature of their statement. It does highlight something that bugs me though, that in our culture the life of a woman is sacred but men are expendable. What happened to the days where all life was sacred?

    JB Hifi, EB Games, Big W, K-Mart, Dick Smith, Harvey Norman, David Jones, Myer...and that's without considering the countless online choices.

    Seriously...I think we'll survive.

      That's not the point though. This could be the beginning of something much larger. Imagine if this petition had addressed, or even plans to address, all the other stores you mentioned? Some baseless and incorrect statements made against GTA V by some feminists who haven't played the game ends up dictating what we can and can't buy from department stores? Ridiculous. This whole process deserved a lot more discussion, yet it only listened to one side of the argument.

    Total hypocrisy and also ignorance of other games it sells. For example, Target is still selling Red Dead Redemption, where players can lasso a woman (or man), hog tie them and throw them on train tracks for a train to run over them. That's the players choice, they don't have to do it. Of course RDR is a little different to GTA with the time setting, but also with the morality system for John Marston (RIP), whereas GTA is pretty much a free for all. (A morality system in GTA could be a cool addition?) But has GTA been banned purely because of the ability to pick up a woman on the street, and then kill her later? Because everything else in the game is available to do in RDR.

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