GTA V: Social Satire Or Political Sermon?
Grand Theft Auto V is a spectacle of a game. With a huge world that accurately represents the feel and scenery of west L.A., there’s tons to look at and explore, and it’s all beautiful.
One thing that makes this parody of the West Coast stand out is it’s huge amounts of social and political satire both within the game’s story and dialogue, and in the scenery and radio stations that players can listen to.
One advertisement that players can watch on the in-game internet is a campaign ad (may be NSFW) for Republican Senator Jock Cranley, saying “I’m formerly an actor and stuntman, and now, highly qualified candidate for governor. I hate immigrants, the crippled. I can’t stand unions, cops, and old ladies. The thing is, at least you know I’m a d**k.” While it may not be a personal low blow to the former California governor, it’s obvious this character was inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rockstar takes a unique spin on the campaign ad by having Jock expose his bad side on purpose in order to come off as a more honest politician than those who make themselves look good for camera.
The opposite candidate for governor is Democratic Senator Sue Murray, a “divorced school teacher who knows how to talk down to people like a real liberal.” Sue’s plan for restoring Los Santos is, of course, more government spending, putting a 49 percent federal and 28 percent state tax on citizens in order to invest in public radio and educators. This is a pretty standard exaggeration of Liberal politicians in the US, with some added humor.
The game is filled with advertisements and commercials like this. There’s a website for a TV show called “Kung Fu Rainbow Lazer Force,” a glaring parody of Power Rangers, featuring the only “upper-middle class superhero team that protects your innocence any way they can!” The squad fights against sex, gays, and the poor while promoting violence and well-rounded involvement in school activities. To throw in another stab at children’s TV, the only African-American kid in the squad is named “Quota.” Fight on token, fight on.
In the main storyline, there’s a mission where Trevor and Michael are blackmailed by the Federal Investigation Bureau to torture a hostage for information while going out to assassinate a nondescript, Arab stereotype who’s supposed to be a terrorist. In a cringe inducing set of mini-games that you’re forced to play in order to extract information, you’ll be waterboarding, pulling teeth out, and performing shock torture. No, it isn’t fun. No, it isn’t optional.
Afterwards, Trevor is told to dispose of the hostage. In an act of defiance, Trevor picks the guy up and drives him to the airport against his will, telling him “he’s one of the invisible people now.” On the way there, Trevor begins to make a rather out-of-character speech about torture, saying that it’s “useless as a means of getting information. The media and government would have us believe that torture is some necessary thing. We need it to get information, to assert ourselves. Torture is for the torturer, or for the guy giving orders to the torturer. You torture for the good times – we should all admit that.”
I believe that Rockstar truly meant to make a point with this mission by making it a required part of the main story. It was an effective way of taking a stand against torture, by making the player experience it and conduct it first-hand in an already off-putting experience. Then with the following dialogue and Trevor’s speech, they make a statement about how torture is not needed, and is only for the pleasure of the ones conducting it. To heighten the level of guilt and disgust, the man pleads for them to let him go, saying he’s willing to speak, but the FIB forces you to torture him to ensure that he’s giving authentic info. While I didn’t enjoy this part of the game, I appreciate Rockstar’s efforts to relay such a powerful message to people all around the world.
Rockstar North, a developing studio based in Scotland, is brutally honest and satirical with their parody of modern-day US life. Misogyny, drug abuse, and corruption run abroad all throughout this game. So much so, that the criminals that you play as are made out to seem like the good guys, or at least the lesser evil. While most of these stabs at American pop culture are made in great exaggeration and humor, there are some real reflections that can be drawn here. While I doubt any real-world change will come about, I hope the game will instill some self-awareness in people everywhere.
Image Credit: Rockstar Games