Whether or not Grand Theft Auto V is deserving of all the universal praise it's been given, I cannot tell you. I'm in no position to voice my own opinion on the game itself because I'm one of the few who didn't buy it. But, I've been well aware of everything that has transpired since the game was released, and it has nothing to do with its controversial content or social commentary. This is something else. And it deeply troubles me.
Look around you. Everywhere you go, you see Grand Theft Auto V breaking records in sales, getting much love from critics and even having a few mentions here and there in non-gaming related media. If all of this is any indication, it's safe to assume GTAV is an excellent product; a must-own for the Fall 2013 season. With me, I have always made it a point in saying that the success or failure of any video game depends solely on the individual, because each experience is unique to the player. The number of folks who have picked up GTAV, resulting in well over a billion in first-day sales, is impressive, but that may not necessarily reflect the general consensus of favorable consumer opinion. People became influenced by the positive word-of-mouth, the perfect scores, and the general praise over its characters, storyline and gameplay framework. Of course, it helped that the Grand Theft Auto franchise had already been firmly established given the huge success of its previous games. The reason for its success? The game is a sandbox adventure casting you as a criminal who carjacks, robs banks, murders people and indulges in unsavory illegal activity to make a name for themselves in the underworld. Furthermore, the GTA series is a biding satire, an interactive social commentary of all the things that are wrong in the world around us; a guilty pleasure of faux criminal escapism.
Yet, the hype surrounding GTAV grew so immense that there seemed to be a concrete expectation that every gaming publication would hand down a great score. This was the same thing that happened, more or less, with the Last of Us. Although that game was an entirely new IP, nearly every publication gave the game a perfect 10. But when GameSpot's Tom McShea gave it an 8.5, which I think is a good score on its own merit, the GS community exploded in an uproar and demanded his firing via an online petition, accusing GameSpot of giving the review responsibilities to somebody who supposedly is not a fan of that particular genre. Someone even suggested a feature that would allow GS users to rate reviewers, a plan that was quickly shot down.
Likewise, as you're no doubt aware, when Carolyn Petit gave GTAV the score of 9.0, which I also think is a great score, the GS community again exploded in anger and accused her of having a political agenda when she expressed her concerns over the game's mysogynistic tone and undercurrents. It escalated with vicious personal attacks against the reviewer herself and, like McShea's case, a petition to remove her from GameSpot.
It all boils down to this. Games like the Last of Us and GTAV are not the problem. Reviewers like Tom McShea and Carolyn Petit are not the problem. And I realize now that GameSpot itself is not the problem, either. The issue is with the community and how they tend to react, or overreact, and their penchant for agreeing to disagree. It is the community of gamers who are seemingly incapable of engaging in healthy debates or worthwhile discussions. I don't speak for all of them, but the high volume of hateful comments I have personally seen in the comment feed of the GTAV review are a clear indication that something is very wrong. There's nothing bad about being passionate in your views on a product, a cause or an injustice. The issue stems with the manner in which people choose to behave, react or vent their frustrations. By spewing hateful profanities and criticisms like that, they have a sense of empowerment; an urge to satisfy their need for retribution---getting the absolute last word in the most hurtful way possible so that it makes them feel good making someone else feel terrible. They are soon followed by others who join in on the escapade, the so-called 'trolls' -- most of whom have probably never even played the game itself, much less heard of it. They chime in just for kicks, for fun or just for the thrill. And it escalates to a level of almost no return. This debacle has forced GameSpot to take measures on the matter that may be addressed fully when the website revamps next month.
It is not only the professional reviewers themselves getting attacked. Other community members have also been verbally abused by the majority of so-called 'haters' or 'fanboys'. In particular, the Wii U has been receiving negative press lately, and the majority of the community have jumped on the bandwagon expressing their disdain towards the company due to the Wii U's struggling sales and its stigma as a 'family-friendly casual' institution (something that is frowned upon by the hardcore demographic). Supporters of the Wii U have been targeted with vicious verbal attacks and insults in the message boards from people who associate with the 'hate on Wii U' crowd. People that have tried to rally in the Wii U's defense are overshadowed by a growing trend of verbally-abusive "Wii U 'haters"---most of which have probably never even touched upon a Nintendo product in their lives. I won't repeat what's been said, but it is almost relative to the same degree as the debauchery that occured with the GTAV and The Last of Us reviews. And it is truly sad and disheartening.
Every day, I'm reminded of how truly corrupted the gaming community has become. It is passion and loyalty completely out of control; a mindset of someone being right when everyone else is wrong. It is an arrogant attitude that has transformed the message boards and comment boxes from pleasant chatrooms into cesspools of hatred and degradation of the lowest sort. I've seen firsthand the ugliness of humanity---the monsters that people can become just by the words they say---and instantly reminisce of the Genesis/Super NES system wars of the 90s. That was a test of wills and a battle of egos, but it was all in friendly jest and even friendlier competitive spirit.
Given the atmosphere of the video game industry and the gears that turn it, I often wonder if we can go back to a time of healthy debates, and respect of opinions. Perhaps, with effort from the community, but only if they are capable of seeing their error of their ways; because we cannot change a person. Knowing is not enough, they must apply. Willing is not enough, they must do. It is they who must find the good in their heart, the restraint within themselves, and set an example for everyone else. We gain much by learning from one another, we learn much by applying what we have seen and putting into practice. Only then can change occur. And GameSpot, and all other websites like it, could become better for it.
Keep calm, game on and may the Force be with you.