This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

The Ethics of GTA 5

Posted by: James Lileks under Technology Updated: September 18, 2013 - 1:12 PM

Trying to download iOS 7, but have to upgrade iTunes first. Argh! Stop putting minor impediments in front of my desire for free shiny things! I mean, it’s been available fro 38 minutes, as if this writing, and I still don’t have it.

VIDEO To paraphrase Oliver Sacks: the man who mistook a package of copier paper for his iPad:

ETHICS The New Yorker looks at “Grand Theft Auto V” and asks how evil should a video game be allowed to be.

Last month, a user on a Grand Theft Auto V forum asked whether players would be able to rape women in the game. In the post, which was widely shared on social media, he wrote, “I want to have the opportunity to kidnap a woman, hostage her, put her in my basement and rape her everyday, listen to her crying, watching her tears.” This is alarming but, in a game that prides itself on player-led freedom and opportunity within virtual, victimless but violent worlds, is it unreasonable? If this freedom is necessary to maintain the artifice of the world, the designer surely has a responsibility to engineer the victim’s reactions in order to communicate something of the pain and damage inflicted.

That’s something of a slippery slope. The ethics of the game’s designer may be different than the players’, and if a character stops in GTA to eat a hamburger they would be unhappy to get a lesson on factory farming. But the issue posed by the sociopath cited in the example above is a different order of magnitude. If you are creating games that allow such things and insist that the freedom is a crucial, defining component of the open-ended world that defines the game’s experience, then make everything else just as realistic. Your character goes to sleep and the game is unplayable for eight hours. If you die, the game is over forever and cannot be played again. If caught for your crimes, the game takes over your computer and will not allow you do to anything else until a lengthy trial. And so on.

Obviously these things are unacceptable to the audience and the marketers and designers. They have decided that the game should be unrealistic, and hence have every right to deny certain types of behavior without losing “the artifice of the world.” If the purists insist that GTA V had better include a rape-simulator or it’s no more real than Tetris, there are many message boards where they are free to complain with all the unpunctuated ranting and abysmal spelling common to the breed. 

I have no idea if such a thing is possible in GTA; the author is raising issues about moral responsibility in games, a subject that makes the defenders of video gaming get white hot. I say this as someone who’s itching to get to Bioshock Infinite, and was never inspired by “Doom” to find floating demonic tomatoes and shoot them with my bazooka. The game looks incredible; it sounds like a vast, animated piece of social commentary. Just wish I didn't have to play a nihilistic crook to enjoy it.

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