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

    All I'm wondering is what kind of sad, pathetic moron actually wastes the time in their day to bother getting upset over a video game being sold at Target.

    Someone call Tracey Grimshaw, this will be the biggest A Current Affair story of all time.

    THE CHILDREN HAVE BEEN SAVED!

    We can absolutely blame the petition.

    Some of them may be victims of sexual violence and that's horrible. But what they're doing is a completely misguided campaign that isn't based on fact. Their whole point is based on some idea that the game encourages sexual violence against women specifically and that such acts in a game influence real life behaviour; both of which are empirically false. that shouldn't be "put aside" any more than GTA's poor depiction of women should be. It's all relevant. I'd also like to add my personal opinion that the whole point of GTA is a hyperbolic negative portrayal of humans in general. EVERYONE in GTA is an insufferable asshole, not just the women. And EVEN IF the portrayal of women is unfair (which I agree with to some degree) that isn't what the petition is claiming.

    Furthermore, regardless of whether you feel Target is guilty of cencorship (I don't blame Target per se, just disappointed) it's undeniably what this petition is trying to achieve. If they were just trying to spread awareness about what they perceived the content of GTA to represent, that would be one thing; but they're not, they're trying to actively restrict people's access to it because they don't agree with it (based on unsubstantiated claims), a very authoritarian approach if you ask me.

    So the way I see it, we're left with two conclusions. Either they lied intentionally for effect (which I'd rather not assume) or knew very little about the item they were trying to censor but did it anyway. Either way, it's pretty bad and I hope this doesn't set a precedent.

      ...the whole point of GTA is a hyperbolic negative portrayal of humans in general. EVERYONE in GTA is an insufferable asshole, not just the women.

      Cool. You managed to say in one sentence what took me a few paragraphs. :P

      Last edited 04/12/14 11:36 am

      A good point - if we're going to accept that violence in video games doesn't produce violent people, then we're going to have to accept the same argument for violence against women in particular, or any subset of 'violence'.

    Not sure if posted already: https://www.change.org/p/target-continue-to-sell-grand-theft-auto-5-in-australia

    Petition for Target to keep selling it.

    There are too many comments on here, in my opinion that are just looking at the surface level and saying the same thing, "Oh they're just targeting games again RAAAAGE" and "why is this game any different from any other form of media that show the same thing".
    I'd like to remind people that this petition was raised by a legitimate person who was affected mentally and physically by what is possible in the new console versions of GTA5. Sure, the same thing can be done in the version released last year but their argument is based on the new first person mode and how they believe it is much more realistic.
    The sex-workers themselves should not be ridiculed because of their profession and thought of as someone less then others, they are still human and deserve respect. No-one knows what they have been through and clearly they think that this petition was for a good cause. It wasn't like it was a bunch of old uninformed people created the petition. If the petition was signed by so many people then clearly people have an issue and deserve to be heard.
    Don't get me wrong, I thing GTA5 is an awesome game but that's my opinion. Other people have theirs and I respect that.
    We can all still get GTA5 from other sources so let's not get carried away here...

      I'd like to remind people that this petition was raised by a legitimate person who was affected mentally and physically by what is possible in the new console versions of GTA5

      The claim is that you can commit sexual violence against women in GTA5. This is not true. It's not possible. The only sexual acts are either paid for or are achieved at the end of a date. There's no violence that then provides any sort of sexual act at all. Go on a date with a romance interest in the game and hit her and see what happens. Are people getting confused as to what sexual violence actually is? I think people are getting mixed up between violence against women and sexual violence. Whilst not mutually exclusive they are actually two different things.

    Maybe people should fact-check what was written in that petition before making a decision. "Killing women for health points" or anyone in that game is false. The statement about the mortality rate are true but she pins the cause of death on men specifically - women on women violence, drug overdose, motor-vehicle accidents and other relevant factors don't exist?

    "It also links sexual arousal and violence" - Where does she get her sources from?

    I have played the game thoroughly and I don't recall a mission/storyline quest where I enacted a heinous crime and a female character was made to take the blame.

    I am sorry for their authors' experience with violence but the article is extremely opinionated. The most irritating part is that the statements are openly made without the backup of where they obtained their sources from.

    It seems they pulled the pic from an article from an Australian Business article:
    http://www.businessinsider.com.au/grand-theft-auto-features-first-person-sex-with-prostitutes-2014-11 - That doesn't seem to help the situation.

    Not seeing a lot to support, here, aside from the obvious tip-toeing around victims of horrific abuse, which really just means politely and firmly saying, "No, you're wrong, here's why," instead of grabbing the torches and pitchforks.

    Sensitivity does NOT mean being so leery of offending delicate sensibilities that we simply fold in the face of any complaint, no matter how unreasonable.
    They're fundamentally misguided and making a lot of the same arguments we've seen from the pro-censorship lobbyists for years. Arguments which have been proven wrong, and shouldn't be allowed to stand.

    Point 1: There's plenty of evidence against video games altering your values and influencing your behaviour. Games don't make us more violent, no matter what FOX 'news' tells you. Against men OR women. We're over this, but it's something we need to keep refuting when assholes use it to push an agenda that interferes with us.

    Grudging Counter-point 1: I can see some reason behind (which I don't agree with, but only by my gut) arguing that there may be a difference between the effect on children vs adults. And I can see that 'softer' unwanted elements can be more insidious for being less obviously absurd.

    Walking around the city with a rocket launcher and blowing up cop cars is so patently and obviously unrealistic and unbelievable that there's no potential for it to blur with reality at all. With your in-game immortality, lack of consequences for actions, and an infinite supply of eventually-faceless civilians, machineguns are treated more like super-soakers.

    But when 'that crazy guy who is kinda cool in some ways' slaps a woman to keep her in line? It's less obviously absurd, to some kids. Especially in households where young kids see that behaviour in real life. THERE can be an argument for the hazards of normalizing behaviour.

    Point 2: Even if we accept the flawed premise that children are more impressionable and video games have greater influence in their formative years... it's an R18 game. They're not meant to be playing it.

    If you have a problem with kids playing an adults-only game, take it up with the parents who are buying it for them, or get the stores who are breaking the law to enforce it better. You don't tell stores not to stock it so adults can't buy it either. Just like we don't tell Coles/Woolies to ditch their alcohol section because under-18s have got their hands on booze, or tell the local servo to stop stocking smokes because they could be harmful to kids.

    Point 3: And this is probably the most important one: What they're asserting (that the game endorses and rewards violence against women) is untrue.

    GTA5 portrays some violence against women - and women specifically, as part of the narrative, not just gunning down bystanders in a sandbox - but it portrays it in a negative light. As something ugly and violent, a negative behaviour of a bad person.
    The game does the fucking opposite of endorse this behaviour. It puts a funhouse mirror magnifying glass over various aspects of society to expose and distort so that we can see, through the exaggeration, just how ridiculous 'normalized' behaviours are.

    Nothing escapes unscathed. Radio shock jocks, welfare-state know-it-all liberals, greedy heartless selfish conservatives, stock traders, new-age englightenment, LA hardbody yummy mummies and trophy wives, paparazzi, celebrities, big government, law enforcement, beach bums, meth-head rednecks, strippers, hookers (and their clients), gangsta thug wannabes, homophobes, disco-muscle beachside bodybuilders, twitter-twats, everyone gets a serve. No-one comes out looking good. No behaviour is endorsed, only mocked.

    The entire game is wall-to-wall parody of everything America and everything 'MURICA. Everything shown in its worst light. Something as simple as seeing a therapist gets lampooned hard to show all the ugly imperfections. And domestic violence, violence against women is no exception. It is not glorified. It is not endorsed. And it is no more 'normalized' than is necessary to show it in the ugly light it deserves.

    Maybe if the complainers bothered to play the game, they'd get that. But it seems it's far easier to blame something you don't understand because it's faster and easier and maybe you'll actually see some results that can let you pretend you're making a fucking difference because god knows any REAL differences are just so hard to make that you NEED a stupid and obvious lie to get by.

    And I can sympathize with that. But I also want them to leave my bloody video games alone, especially if all the other assholes who want games gone think they can use this as a foot in the door to fuck with my hobby. So yes, it's still worth pointing out how very, very wrong they are.

    I think this is a false dichotomy "Female characters in Grand Theft Auto are poorly drawn; they’re either ‘prostitutes’ or wailing, nagging buffoons"

    To back this up think of the heist members you can choose Paige Harris an expert hacker and Taliana Martinez a getaway driver. Neither fall under this narrow character dichotomy you have drawn.

    The outrage of this whole situation for me is that the petition lies about in game content. for example you can run over as many women as you like in this game. its not going to increase you HP. Makes me think that the people who put this petition together never actually played the game they just read some biased reviews or articles on it and there was no further research required.

    Male characters in Grand Theft Auto are poorly drawn; they’re either ‘degenerates’ or narcasistic, criminal buffoons. The handful that remain inevitably become simpleton stereotypes. There are very few men 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 men. We have to accept this.

    How about instead of a petition we get the #whatshouldtargetbannow going.

    Also wonder what will happen if you have it on lay buy?

    Last edited 04/12/14 12:00 pm

    The issue isn't in the games themselves. The issue is that if a kid wants an R18+ game all they have to do is get a parent up to the counter to say yes to it. The law needs to be made equal to that of alcohol or cigarettes, whereby a game can't be sold to someone if it's thought they're buying it for a minor. The way the law stands today, nobody understands the severity of the rating. Nobody even looks at it.

    Because as someone working in games retail, I'm sick to death of explaining ratings and reasonings and describing scenes, and parents buying it anyway because 'they've seen worse on TV' or 'all their friends play it' or, my personal favourite, 'this game is strong violence? The WORLD is strong violence'.

    "Firstly, Grand Theft Auto‘s depiction of women is problematic" NO ITS NOT, its in line with Hollywood movies and TV dramas in general. What a pathetic world we live in. Games that are 18+ are for ADULTS not children, I don't see this being done to remove movies from the cinemas or tv shows from the air. again what a pathetic world we live in and women just get all emotional and run on their emotions and DONT THINK, yes its ok for men to talk about these things regardless of how much women want to silence us. all I can say is grow up and get a life.

    I didn't read the full petition so correct me if I'm wrong but from what I did read it was wanting to prevent young males (i read that as under 18) from getting a warped view on how to treat women. If parents aren't seeing the R18 rating and questioning whether they should buy it for a 12yr old I think the blame falls on the parent not on target for selling it.

    Apologies if this has already been talked about, I didn't have time to read all the comments cos I'm at work

    I am male, I never liked GTA, never played any of them. My GF loves GTA, she has every single one and I have watched her play it and laugh at her as she giggles as a woman in her mid 30s now as she does unspeakable things to men and women in the games.

    We are not a monkey see, monkey do species. GTA when you reflect on it is a parody of life, it makes a mockery of pretty much every stereotype. Even in GTA5 it does not encourage you to be violent to women, it just doesn't have limitations other games typically do so you can be violent, if you want.

    I think it is good that Australia has an R18+ category now and it is probably best for kids not to play any of the GTA games, however, refusing to sell R18+ games to adults is more perverse than any of the content in any of the GTA games. Thankfully, one retailer making a stand to meet the whims of people overseas who do not shop with them is only going to make the real customers go to their opposition who actually listen to their local customers.

    I believe women are crying wolf over a lot of trivial bullshit of late, the more feminists pull stunts like this the more it is going to drive the moderate majority against the self-destructive third wave. It is not men that are pushing this, my GF went from feminist to moderate to now anti-feminism, it is losing a lot of women over crap like this and hounding the bad shirt scientist that are driving women away that don't want to be associated with unhappy women and their chronic negativity.

    Man. So many goddamn comments already.

    But! I would 1000% back a female main character in a GTA game. And let her be accosted by random men catcalling or trying to sexually assault her. But, and here's the kicker, you can then kick the ever loving and absolute shit out of them. That's a power fantasy I can absolutely back.

    Hopefully this will inspire Rockstar to focus on creating games with more imaginative IP's and avoid all this mess. Such a waste of good open world programming talent.

    Criminal culture has always been a useless and terrible IP, whether it be in video games, movies or tv.

    Is it possible that we can talk about this rationally without it turning into a whole "Violence against women? What about violence against men!?" thing? That just devalues the whole issue for both sides...

      Sure we could. Is there any chance that the sycophants that created this pile of half truths and misinformed moralisations will be rational though? Of course, pointing and saying 'they started it' is no way to have a constructive conversation but we're not exactly dealing with stable people here.

    Sorry if already posted - this is an interesting mainstream article::

    http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/games/grand-theft-auto-and-the-problem-with-banning-violent-video-games-and-media-20141204-11zq3h.html

      Holy crap! Have you seen the comments though? Talk about willful ignorance!

    GTA:V First Person Prostitute Australian Censored…: http://youtu.be/pywJ0vpSq4s

    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.

    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.

    This is something I constantly struggle with. People's concerns over violence against women are valid but arbitrarily singling out a video game as the cause of this is not. Is the issue here education? Is the issue that people are making base value judgements and generalisation on video games without properly understanding the medium? I mean shouldn't we maybe try and up our discourse? Shouldn't it be capable of clearer, holistic communication where concerns from everyone are able to be heard and put into perspective?

    If there's one thing I think people should learn from this is to maybe let there be discussion. Don't assume that everyone who thinks differently is an ignorami and incapable of understanding your position. This isn't how progress is made. It boggles my mind that people just throw blanket generalisations about being in a "PC world" whilst ignoring social concerns but I find it equally as frustrating when people would like to decide what others experience with having almost zero knowledge of exactly what they're fighting against. On one hand, I'd like to support the sentiment and I hope a whole lot of victim-blaming doesn't go on here but on the other hand I really think this needs to stop in the form it is now. Video games are becoming a scapegoat and whilst increased discussion on the depiction of women in gaming is a great thing, how is it beneficial when the entire medium and its potential for storytelling and experience is boiled down to looking at representation of women in specific scenes, in a vacuum, coupled with misconceptions from a singular perspective?

    Why isn't there a discussion where not just men and women, game designers and journalists are actually able to challenge these consistent accusations in a respectful way with the intent of education without fear of blanket condemnation. I think that we can criticise these arguments without demeaning the sentiment or the people behind them, the only fear I have is that they don't see it that way. It's frustrating to have to stay away from huge blanket statements over the medium that are flat-out misguided and allow these misconceptions to mould into truth over time because no one seems capable of holistic discourse besides Mark.

    I'm afraid we'll never have the Trainspotting or Monster of video games that actually explores ideas like apathetic youth, poverty, misogyny, violence against women etc. through entirely unconventional means. If these films were video games we'd point our finger and say Aileen was demonized and poorly represented, we'd say Trainspotting promotes drug use because Renton loves heroin. Games use entirely different means to put these ideas in perspective and I've had a lot of these games (including GTA V) actually open myself up to prejudices I didn't understand I had. I think that GTA V is far more conscious of itself than people believe and whilst the game is clearly for men, I don't agree that its depiction of women is poor. I think people actually hold prejudices or find it easier to just say it presents women poorly because it's GTA and it OBVIOUSLY does. I mean it's not like it specifically comments on a woman's role in media at all. It's not like game show hosts are depicted of exploiting and sexualising women and young girls, it's not like the main character isn't presented as being out of touch and controlling, it's not like the first prostitute you meet in the game actually SHOWS you she can do a man's work better but basically tells you a prostitute is all she can be in this world.

    Does that forgive the lack of female perspective to explore these ideas fully? No. Does that excuse questionable attempts at gender-related humour? Not really. But these exist and by not speaking about them people have no idea of the breadth of representation any fragment of society can have in games and we're STILL exploring how to do that. People simply aren't going to know or respect it until the basic level of discourse improves.

    Last edited 04/12/14 1:32 pm

      I think a lot of people really fail to see GTA5 for what it was. A very masculine story, dealing with some very real male issues. The dichotomy of the testosterone-fueled family man Michael, reconciling aggression and ambition with stability and sensitivity. Franklin's lack of father figures or mentors in a society with no fixed rites of passage. Him looking up to Michael, with the only alternative sources of elder guidance being the rock-and-a-hard-place options of gangsta thugs or his new-age feminist Aunt, unable or unwilling to provide guidance. And Trevor, despite his devil-may-care front, very obviously sensitive about so many issues - whether his complicated issues with his mother, or the difficult-to-express and not wholly requited fraternal love. (He genuinely grieved for his surrogate brother. Check his tattoos. He felt true betrayal by the unrequited feeling, with Michael staying out of contact.) An issue that men are conditioned not to talk about, unable to effectively communicate about, thus resolve.

      They're real issues, and they're masculine issues. And when you crop away the 'all things to everyone' sandbox of ludo-narrative dissonance in all its well-publicized tank-rampage/hooker-killing glory, the actual story hit a lot of really mature notes. It didn't seem to come up with any resolutions, but it at least showed how those struggles play out, and how they affect the world around us to create the evils we see.

      So it wasn't a feminine story, so it couldn't be all things to all people. When will the women get their well-told, deep, mature narratives? I don't know. That's not relevant to what GTA5 set out to - and did - accomplish. It's annoying that it gets criticized for what it wasn't and didn't try to be, never promised to be, rather than what it was.

      Last edited 04/12/14 2:26 pm

    With the petition I wonder how many people signed it on what they think grand theft auto is. Grand theft auto since the very first game has been labelled as a game where you can beat up prostitutes and has never been able to shake that label. If it was just about this it would never sell as well or have lasted this long.

    There are some interesting female characters in GTAV like that fantastic bounty lady (It always bugs me no one mentions her). I know there's no 'cool gangster' female character but there's some depth and humanity to Amanda, Tracey, and even the hilarious aunt Denise. You see their lives (through little events and interactions) and they make human choices. At the end of Michaels story I felt a genuine love for his messed up family.

    I feel a bit bummed that this ban is happening to a game whose story and characters I really loved.

    I agree that the petition was the wrong way to go about things - I don't think it does anything to address the overall issue. I do think that retailers like Target however fail at realising that not all games are for children. I would like to see the age checks enforced, and to not display the game alongside games for kids. This photo is pretty telling of the lack of awareness on Target's part. http://edge.alluremedia.com.au/m/k/2014/12/GTA.jpg

    I also think that it makes visible the bigger cultural issue and I think you touch on that quite well already, but it's worth mentioning that it makes visible the overall issue within our mainstream culture around women and violence. it adds to the permissiveness that says violence toward women is no big deal. That's not intentional on the game's part, it's inadvertent, but so much of the toxic stuff in society is like that - it's insidious and we don't realise it until we really scrutinise things in detail.

    I am not angry at Target, I am angry at the petition. This game isn't aimed at them, and sexual violence is still going to exist when it's gone.
    I find the majority of problems is that people do not understand that there are games designed only for adults. this game is for adults only. I don't care if the game is hidden, it's just silly that we've had to remove it, simply because some people were offended and misinformed.

    @markserrels you made the headline story on news.com.au

    I'm not sure if being mentioned on news.com.au is good or not though :P

    http://www.news.com.au/technology/home-entertainment/gamers-fight-back-against-targets-ridiculous-decision-to-ban-grand-theft-auto-v/story-e6frfrt9-1227144736337

    I might be wrong, but is 'Game of Thrones' available at Target? If so why the hypocrisy?
    The derogatory sexual behaviour and violence towards women, in multiple media forms of this story should also be banned from Target!
    Just sayin!

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