Firstly, I write this before having actually played GTA V, although I fully intend to soon. In addition, I only played a portion of GTA IV before moving on to other things; not that I consider it poor quality, it just didnt hold my interest enough that I was prepared to devote the days of game time it clearly needed to see all it offered. The same thing happened with Oblivion, Skyrim and AC:Brotherhood. However this is not a review of GTA V, more a review of its early impact.
Gaming is a footnote in mainstream news, not surprising and no less so than movies or TV; but even dedicated entertainment media seems to treat it like the strange uncle at a wedding; too closely related to not be invited, but then parked at a table well away from the happy couple lest he start getting drunk and telling rude jokes again. And the analogy holds up when we consider what sort of games do manage to gain attention in none gaming media outlets; the ones that cause controversy.
This controversy is usually spearheaded by a politician or journalist who doesnt know a PS3 from a 360, see Mass Effect Alien Sideboob shocker. There is of course the continuing debate regarding the effects of violent video games and their contribution to real world violence which gains brief notoriety every time a politician needs something to turn the voters attention to (or perhaps away from). Is there a link? The broad spectrum answer from research is a resounding dont know, could be, I believe it can be a factor but only among many others and in the absence of sufficient stabilising influences, but back to GTA V specifically.
What I mean by the metaphor getting drunk and telling rude jokes is that games currently only get media coverage for two reasons. Either they break records, or they break new and controversial ground, GTA V appears to have done both. If a game breaks a sales record, the non-gamer view tends to be concern that the younger generation is becoming obsessed with this new type of entertainment which they know nothing about, and fear breeds in the absence of understanding. Never mind that the average age of a gamer is now around 30, gamers = kids in many minds. Never mind that the game is rated for over 18s, its a game so non-gamers think that kids will be playing it and that it is aimed at kids. Many people have lost site of the definition of an age rating; 18+ means that those with the skills and knowledge you should trust about the suitability of games have decided that all things considered, you should not play this game unless you are over 18 and/or are mentally and emotionally prepared to handle fully adult content as regards language, violence and sexual explicitly. The rating means that if you are a parent, it is recommended by professionals in the field that you do not allow your child to play this unless you are satisfied that they are ready for the content it contains.
Regrettably, GTA V is likely to spark another round of argument about the supposed danger of games. Gaming is still treating with suspicion by the public at large, this will change if the number of gamers increases sufficiently and will almost inevitably become as socially safe as TV, films and books in time. But the gaming community to which it is referred, further subtly reinforcing its minority status in society, does not help itself. The thing we do is called playing and we play games, these are defining features of children. Theres nothing we can do about that, and I dont see that we should, it will have to wait until people remember and accept that adults play games all the time, they are just a little more complex than pressing X to jump and involve real people, and collectively they are known as life. The other thing we do as gamers is attack ourselves.
Not in the headshot double kill sense but actually seek to damage and hurt one another personally. If a game such as GTA V contains politically sensitive material, there are no shortage of politicians and other uninitiated but outspoken persons waiting to call Rockstar on it. As any industry does, ours possesses professionals who identify such issues and question them without the prompting of MPs or attack journalists, this causes debate among gamers as it would among film goers, drivers, golfers or the interested parties of any other subject which has discovered a point of contention, and whenever debate is reasoned it is invariably constructive. Unfortunately this is where gamers suffer from an almost unique problem, we communicate primarily via the internet , its kind of hard not to seeing as without it there wouldnt be a gaming community, excepting local gaming arcades and friends youve actually met, and the internet continually proving that it is not (hopefully perhaps just not yet)a suitable platform for reasoned debate. A debate has been opened surrounding misogyny in GTA V; is it suitably satirical to be funny? Has it strayed into actually promoting the thing it aims to satirise? Perhaps Rockstar really are bunch of women hating chauvinistic pigs? (I doubt it) But drowning out the grown up discussion of a grown up topic we get a torrent of abuse hurled at those who raise the issue, then more abuse at those who raise that one. Message boards tick over and over with claims that the score should be a perfect 10, and those same boards spin at an equal but opposite rate when reviewers do give a perfect score. We are mired in a structure which allows anonymous attacks on notes of caution and concern, attacked because they challenge not because of what they challenge. Which brings me to the thought which set me to writing this post, if I was one of those outspoken persons, with power and influence over the public perception of gamers and I decided to learn a little about gamers, I might start by finding out what they say, how they think and so I would read the message boards under topics currently controversial, GTV V for example and find them saturated by vitriol and under the rule of a mob with luddite attitudes. What conclusions would I draw regarding the viability of defending their interests in parliament?
I know this bile hurling not remotely representative of gamers any more than radical elements of many religions represent the faith they identify with. This is because I know a little about those religions; but they get the media coverage and in our case the wider public knows nothing contrary about us, so they believe what they read.
We want social acceptance for the gaming society? Then our society needs to behave in a socially acceptable way. Or we could just wait 40 years or so until we have politicians who played Postal 2 when they were 9, and then we're all ok. :P