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.


    Next time Kmart Tyre & Auto service my car I'm going to tell them I plan to use it to run pedestrians over.

    No one to blame? How about attention-seeking narcissistic feminists who get a game pulled for fabricated reason? What about the person at target who made the decision to pull the game off shelves when they should've known better than to listen to the feminist-SJW rabble. There's at least 2.

    Its just marketing. Creating social capital among its primary demographic using corporate social responsibility as a strategy. It says to it's loyal customers, we are more ethical and trustworthy than Kmart or big w. It's that simple. A successful media panic just before parents for out money on gifts. Cheaper than as placement, more tactical than TV.

    I blame the anti-choice "feminist" against the Collective Shout (could this be a hate group against women, posing as something for women?):

    How exactly is GTAs depiction of women anymore problematic than that of the males in the game?

    For every (for lack of a better word) ditzy female character there is a dumb male character or dudebro taking the piss.. for every hooker or woman in general killed to gain a small amount of cash you can get the same thing from any of the male NPCs or police officers..

    But lets be honest here, unless you're bored and killing time how many people are doing this instead of actually playing the game?

    Good article, but I am still a little irate that they continue to sell Fifty Shades of Grey. I can't talk about GTA though, only played the fourth which I started on Monday!

    So no more GTA at Target. What about all the movies that feature violence towards women?
    What about all those Rap lyrics that talk about women in a derogatory manner ?
    What about the G-String and bra sets for 6 year old girls? Oh thats right they already removed those. Maybe Target is just kind a stupid! Just like their customers.

    Lets get 1 million signatures to keep GTA5 on shelves

    This seems a tad misguided. GTA V is a very violent game, almost sociopathic in its disregard for treating people with kindness (which is why playing it can be cathartic, and I did have a fun time with GTA V). However, it's a people-murdering simulator, not a woman-murdering simulator. Yes there are prostitutes. Yes, you can kill them, just like you can kill beachgoers, store employees, people on the side-walk, people in restaurants, people in the military bases, police officers - in fact, about the only type of people you CAN'T kill are children, because they are conspicuously absent.

    I've only ever played GTA V to completion, and the only other GTA game I've played was IV, and I only played a few hours of that (the PC port was RUBBISH). I may be wrong, and if I am, please correct me, but I can't recall a mission in which you are rewarded or told to kill or maim prostitutes. I can't recall anything of that sort. Any violent action towards women also occurs against men - for instance, Trevor can take women to the cult on the mountain to be eaten, but he also takes men up there, too.

    I agree that the portrayal of women in GTA V is.... well... bad, but the game doesn't encourage violence against women anymore than it encourages violence against all people. I mean, Fallout games have prostitutes, and you can kill them as well, just like you can kill many people in the Fallout universe, but that's not being petitioned against, is it?

    I'm just curious as to why the petitioners feel that GTA V encourages violence against women. Is GTA V misogynistic? To a certain extent, I think, but I don't think it encourages anymore violence against women than it does against men, animals and the environment.

    I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened down under

    I really cannot blame Target. The very moment this petition was created, it put Target in an ethical and financial quandary where no matter what they chose to do, they would be losing the businesses of a group of people. Now, if you think about it, when the choice for Target is either enraging and losing gamers vs enraging and losing MOTHERS, you'll see there was not even a reason to doubt the outcome.

    And their concerns deserve to be heard.

    I don't know Mark. I agree that their concerns come from a genuine experience over a genuine issue but they used that very valid concern to raise damaging misinformation and panic in a very public, yet very personal channel. (Sent directly to people's emails via, a website that they have learned to trust to inform them about social injustice.) If I have valid concerns about whatever but I choose to use them in unfair ways that damage the businesses of an innocent third party and the reputation of a whole group of people, I believe that validity is revoked.

    In my view it's a poor quality company. It may be profitable but my experience with other Wesfarmers owned companies suggests the management is mostly clueless.

    I can't disagree more with this article.
    Name a single male character in grand theft auto that isn't a clown, a stereotype or a bad role model?
    If you are playing GTA hoping to find realistic depictions of people or role models or fair representation for males or females you don't understand the franchise.
    This is why it is oriented to ADULTS, and we as adults can choose to play whatever we want, you don't like it? Don't buy it, but don't play to have the moral high ground in order to tells us what can we or can't consume, specially if you don't have the capacity of being equally critic to the representation of other minorities, majorities and male gender in the games.

    Sorry, I couldn't be bother reading the whole thing, is it banned in Target only or is it banned in all stores around Australia?

    Oh no, Kotaku thinks something is "problematic".

    You absolutely can blame Target for their decisions. 41,000 signatures on an online petition can come from anywhere; ie. including people who do not shop at Target at all, let alone Target chains in Australia specifically. There is plenty of opportunity for likeminded people abroad to dogpile onto such a petition for the express purpose of making a statement, and has little to do with Target's actual, real customer base. Whether this move is a good or bad move is debatable, but their actions were not a result of a real consumer movement, and they are totally guilty of capitulating to dumb demands.

    And I don't know why you're so eager to build a pillow fort around these people. Did their expressed outrage not result in an action being taken? Was GTA V not available on Target shelves until they demanded its removal? Then yes, they are responsible and they can CERTAINLY be blamed. You are being extremely dishonest in your writing when you pass all fault onto the product and can't assign a single shred of culpability to anybody else involved.

    Get real. Same for your pleas for "respect". I don't know where we got this idea that everybody's concern has to be treated seriously by default. I don't care IF you're concerned. I care about WHY you're concerned. That's how we start to separate frivolous, meritless concerns and fears from real, legitimate ones. And what I see here is company caving in to a group of internet denizens (again, NOT Target customers), who think the solution to achieving female-positive media is banning all the others they don't like.

    You have really bent over backwards to justify this kind of crap; choosing to lecture people on how their pastime needs to mature before moral crusaders give it a seal of approval. Because THEN games will be totally serious and culturally significant, right? When we get rid of all the prostitutes and "problematic" stuff? How can you take yourself seriously. I'd actually be kind of shocked if you actually believed half of the crap you wrote, and weren't just furiously performing mental gymnastics to make this seem like some teachable moment.

    Please sign my petition asking to ban the offensive petition demanding Target remove 50 Shades Of Grey from their shelves. This petition attacks sufferers of mental ill-health and stigmatises the vulnerable.

    Banning a game because of you can treat women in the game the same way you can treat men, shows the sexism of the people attempting to ban it. I think this opinion piece says it best (NSFW) “Morons move to ban GTA V because… sexism?”

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