When I first became the editor-in-chief of GameChurch.com, I was convinced that the world didn’t need another game website with consumer-oriented game reviews. No one needs us to tell them whether or not a particular game is worth their money. There plenty of websites already doing that more efficiently. Instead, we asked our writers to explore the spiritual side of videogames. What do the games we play say about human nature, the world around us and our place in it? What value do the games they play add to their lives?
We were still technically posting reviews, but those reviews were distinct from those found at a typical videogame site. Initially, we included a numerical score in all our “reviews.” This was, in some sense, a way of throwing a bone to our readers who wanted clarity on the reviewer’s opinion of a game. In another sense, however, we saw it as a way for the writer to summarize a game’s cultural and personal worth.
Eventually, however, we started feeling weird about scoring games given the unique nature of our reviews. Like Jason Schreier of Kotaku we were convinced that review scores discouraged “nuance” and “criticism that strays from the norm.” We wanted GameChurch to be a site where people come to read such analysis–games criticism from a unique Christian perspective. We were determined not to undermine that perspective.
Grand Theft Auto 5 changed all that. If there ever was a time for GameChurch to quantify a game’s value with a number, it is now.
When I was 12 years old and my friends and I had just discovered alternative rock, we would play Offspring’s “Smash” over and over because it was the song with the most “bad” words. We would laugh at the line in Green Day’s “Basket Case” where Billie Joe Armstrong sang, “I went to a whore. She said my life’s a bore.” We drew comics about thugs who shot up strip-clubs and used an insane vocabulary of misogyny. When we went to the mall, we would dare one other to steal candy from the collectible card store. These things were hilarious to us.
Eighteen years ago I would have laughed at Trevor’s incessant penis jokes, Lamar’s stunted vocabulary, and Tracy’s naive sexual posturing. It is important to note, however that I would have laughed at these things not because they are actually funny but because I would have thought I was supposed to laugh at them.
A twelve year old should not be playing Grand Theft Auto 5.
GTA5 shines brightest during its heists, as these missions are the most elaborate, most likely to incorporate the game’s most impressive settings, and deliver the game’s most memorable moments. But the build-up to these missions is often excruciatingly boring–you go to stores and buy clothes, steal multiple slow vehicles with little-to-no resistance, and drive back and forth from the same location over and over.
GTA5 gives players more to do than any previous Grand Theft Auto game, but I never really found myself enjoying anything. I played tennis, watched a movie, played golf, watched television, invested in the stock market, raced jet skis, and rode roller coasters. I did these things because I assumed that their presence in the game meant that they would somehow add to my enjoyment. While racing cars and planes was pretty fun, the vast majority of these experiences add very little to my experience. My twelve year old self would have been impressed by this vast array of activities. My thirty year old self sees through the veneer.
I am told that GTA5 is a satire of the American Dream… kinda like GTA4 was satire of the American dream. Satire, however, generally has something to say. GTA5 makes fun of social media, videogame addiction, women, minorities, drug abuse, and promiscuity but it is never really clear whether the game has any goal in mind in doing so. Satire seeks to improve humanity by arousing our disapproval of an object or idea. GTA5 just wants us laugh at how misguided its black characters are, how annoying its female characters are, and how many penis jokes Trevor can recite.
Much has been said about GTA5’s misogyny. Chris Plante said that there were “more interesting female characters on Grand Theft Auto 5’s disc art than there are in Grand Theft Auto 5. Carolyn Petit called the game “profoundly misogynic”:
. . . GTA V has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at.
Characters constantly spout lines that glorify male sexuality while demeaning women, and the billboards and radio stations of the world reinforce this misogyny, with ads that equate manhood with sleek sports cars while encouraging women to purchase a fragrance that will make them “smell like a bitch.” Yes, these are exaggerations of misogynistic undercurrents in our own society, but not satirical ones. With nothing in the narrative to underscore how insane and wrong this is, all the game does is reinforce and celebrate sexism.
Petit’s review, which was largely positive despite pointing out the game’s problems with women, was met with over 22,000 comments, the majority of which took issue with this section of her article. Commenters, most of which were male, called Petit names, dismissed her as a mere “feminist,” accosted her for giving the game a lower score than most other outlets (an impressive 9 out of 10), and accused her of devaluing games as an art form.
It shouldn’t surprise us that a game with a largely male audience has large and vocal male support, but what should infuriate us is how recklessly GTA5 depicts women for a vocal male audience. GTA comes closer to reveling in the misogynistic undercurrents in American society than it does illuminating them. When a game devalues 50% of the population, that merits mentioning in a game review.
GTA5 isn’t particularly fun or funny. It is a well-crafted dumb action game in a long line of well-crafted dumb action games.