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Controversies surrounding Grand Theft Auto V

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Grand Theft Auto V is an open world, action-adventure video game developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. Upon its release for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on 17 September 2013, the game generated controversies related to its violence and depiction of women. A mission that requires players to use torture equipment in a hostage interrogation polarised reviewers, who noted its political commentary but felt that the torture sequence was in poor taste. The mission also received criticism from politicians and anti-torture charity groups. The game became subject to widespread online debate over its portrayal of women, particularly in the wake of backlash against GameSpot journalist Carolyn Petit after she claimed the game was misogynistic in her review. After Petit's review webpage received more than 20,000 largely negative comments, many journalists defended her right to an opinion and lamented the gaming community's hostility towards criticism. Television personality Karen Gravano and actress Lindsay Lohan both filed lawsuits against Rockstar in allegation that characters in the game were based on their likenesses. Target's Australian division pulled the game from their 300 stores following a petition that claimed the game "encourages players to commit sexual violence and kill women", despite the petition being criticised as misleading and portrayals of sexual violence in games already being illegal in Australia.

Depiction of torture[edit]

A man is strapped to an overturned chair with a cloth concealing his face. Player character Trevor stands over him with a canister, about to pour water on his face. A text prompt in the upper left-hand corner reads "Hold [left stick] to pour water."
The mission "By the Book" involves a sequence wherein players use torture techniques including waterboarding to interrogate a man. Journalists noted the mission's function as political commentary, but some felt that the use of torture was in poor taste.

The mission "By the Book" generated controversy from reviewers and commentators for its depiction of torture. In the mission, protagonist Trevor Philips interrogates a man, Ferdinand "Mr. K" Kerimov, to extract information about an Azerbaijani individual who is believed to have links with terrorists and poses a threat to the FIB (Federal Investigation Bureau, the game's version of the FBI). Trevor uses torture methods such as electrocution, removing teeth using pliers, hitting Mr. K with a monkey wrench, and waterboarding on the restrained man. Once Mr. K provides the FIB with the information, Trevor is asked to kill him, but instead drives him to the airport, providing him an opportunity to escape. While driving Mr. K, Trevor monologues about the ineffectiveness of torture, pointing out Mr. K's readiness to supply the FIB with the information without being tortured, and expressing that torture is used as a power play "to assert ourselves".[1]

Reviewers echoed that while the mission served as political commentary on the use of torture by the United States government, its use of torture was in poor taste. IGN's Keza MacDonald felt the torture sequence "pushed the boundaries of taste"[2] and Polygon's Chris Plante commented: "The script plays it for laughs. I felt nauseated".[3] Carolyn Petit of GameSpot felt that placing the torture scene in context with the monologue created a hypocrisy in the mission's function as a commentary device.[4] In an editorial, Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer discussed whether the political commentary was overshadowed by the violent content and compared the mission to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's "No Russian" controversy. He said that the close-up camera and quick time events accentuated the sequence's impact beyond the violence depicted in previous Grand Theft Auto games. Summarising its function as "flawed", he considered the sequence lacking enough context to justify its violence.[5]

Keith Best of Freedom from Torture said that developer Rockstar North "crossed a line" by forcing players into the role of torturer.[6] British Labour Party MP Keith Vaz said he was "astonished" by the mission's violence, and Alison Sherratt of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that parents should be aware of children being exposed to the game because of its realistic graphics and violence.[6] Independent journalist Tom Chick defended the torture sequence, and wrote that unlike the "No Russian" mission or the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty, the underlying political commentary on torture in "By the Book" necessitated the violent content.[7] Asked about performing the torture sequence, Trevor's actor Steven Ogg said that he treated it like "just another day at the office", and was focused more on not making mistakes during filming than the scene's ethics.[8] In Japanese versions of the game, the torture sequence is censored.[9]

Portrayal of women[edit]

Some reviewers claim that the game's portrayal of women is misogynistic. Chris Plante of Polygon felt that the supporting female characters were constructed on stereotypes, and wrote that the game's "treatment of women is a relic from the current generation".[3] Todd Martens of the Los Angeles Times considered the satirical portrayals of women uncreative, and added that violent and sexist themes hurt the game experience.[10] Edge noted that while "every female in the game exists solely to be sneered, leered or laughed at", it treated its all-male lead characters in a similar vein through their stereotyped tendencies towards violence.[11] Dave Cook of VG247 reinforced the sentiment that the female characters were constructed on stereotypes in an editorial: "They're either there to be rescued, shouted at, fucked, to be seen fucking, put up with, killed, heard prattling away like dullards on their mobile phones or shopping".[12]

Sam Houser, Rockstar Games co-founder, felt that the development team sometimes overlooked their portrayal of women in Grand Theft Auto games, but that the weight towards male characters "fit with the story we wanted to tell".[13] His brother, Dan Houser, Rockstar head writer and vice president for creative, also referred to the criticism in an interview a year earlier: "But is their argument that in a game about gangsters and thugs and street life, there are prostitutes and strippers—that that is inappropriate? I don't think we revel in the mistreatment of women at all. I just think in the world we're representing, in Grand Theft Auto, that it's appropriate."[14]

In her review, Petit of GameSpot felt there were misogynistic aspects to the treatment of women as "strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humourless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists", and disputed its satirical intention that many had accepted.[4] Her review was met with backlash as users responded with 20,000 largely negative comments on the webpage and a petition for her firing.[15] Petit's comments and the backlash against them prompted a wider discussion about the role of women in Grand Theft Auto V and the gaming community's hostility towards criticism. Helen Lewis of The Guardian noted that Petit's observations were valid, but were stigmatised by gamers who have become "hyper-sensitive to criticism".[16] Tom Hoggins of The Telegraph wrote that the misogynistic backlash against Petit was predicated on an audience that has become accustomed to women being "shallow and sidelined" in the game.[17] Public school teacher and journalist Cassie Rodenberg of The Guardian wrote that having sex with prostitutes, beating them up, and killing them afterwards to take back the money is allowed in the game itself and encouraged within the Grand Theft Auto V community, including chat rooms and YouTube videos.[18]

Rob Fahey of wrote that debate about games' thematic concerns would become stigmatised if unpleasant gamers opposed criticism, writing, "This isn't just about women—it's robbing every single one of us of the opportunity to have intelligent, interesting discussions about how our medium deals with..... complex topics..... It's frustrating, it's stupid, and it's downright boring—and it risks making our games stupid and boring too".[19] Journalist Tom Bissell noted Petit's "defensible position", and wrote that gamers respond to game criticism more aggressively than fans of other entertainment mediums.[20] Over a year after her review's publication, Petit stated in her personal blog that the "average straight male player" would likely oppose sociopolitical criticism of video games because Grand Theft Auto V's "so-called satire" would reinforce his own worldview.[21] She stated that the prominence of "straight white men" in online forums marginalises women, different ethnic groups and the LGBT community, and that those who attack the former, along with “social justice warriors” and the notion of similar criticism cannot "put themselves in the shoes of people different from themselves".[21]

Target Australia removed Grand Theft Auto V from their shelves following concerns raised about its violent depictions of women.

In December 2014, Australian department store Target removed the game from their 300 stores after customers complained about "depictions of violence against women" and a petition amassed more than 40,000 signatures.[22] In a public statement, Target corporate affairs manager Jim Cooper said that the decision was reached following "extensive community and customer concern about the game".[22] The same week, another division of Wesfarmers, Kmart Australia, also pulled the game off shelves.[23] Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick publicly expressed the company's disappointment that the game had been pulled from the retailers, and affirmed that he "stand[s] behind our products, the people who create them, and the consumers who play them".[22] IGN's Luke Reilly called the petition "misinformed", stating that its complaints about incentives for committing sexual violence in the game are untrue; sexual violence in games is forbidden by the Australian Classification Board, and thus the game would have been refused classification.[24] Kotaku's Mark Serrels said that the depiction of women is inherently problematic, and that Target were within their rights to refuse to stock the game and were obligated to respond to the petition's wide support.[25] David Keogh of ABC News' The Drum felt that Rockstar depends on controversy and were "burned by the fire they voluntarily decided to play with" since the gaming industry is no longer on the margins of popular culture.[26]

Legal actions[edit]

In October 2013, hip-hop artist Daz Dillinger issued a cease and desist letter to Rockstar Games and Take Two Interactive for allegedly using two of his songs without authorisation.[27][a] American television personality Karen Gravano of the reality television programme Mob Wives filed suit against Rockstar Games in February 2014 in allegation that a character in the game is based on her likeness and story and was depicted without her consent.[28][b] Rockstar filed to dismiss Gravano's lawsuit in April, and stated that the allegations are foreclosed by the First Amendment.[29] In July, actress Lindsay Lohan also filed a lawsuit, claiming elements in the game, including the Lacey Jonas character, were influenced by her image, voice and clothing line without permission.[30] Rockstar responded in court papers that sought a dismissal of the case, saying that the case was frivolous and filed for publicity purposes.[31] In 2016, both lawsuits were dismissed.[32]


  1. ^ The songs are "C-Walk" by Kurupt and "Nothin' But the Cavi Hit" by Mack 10 and Tha Dogg Pound, which were both produced by Dillinger and included in the West Coast Classics station.[27]
  2. ^ Gravano is the daughter of former Gambino crime family underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano and she featured in the first three seasons of Mob Wives, which follows women whose husbands or fathers have been arrested and imprisoned for Mafia-related crimes.[28]


  1. ^ Rockstar North (17 September 2013). Grand Theft Auto V (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) (1.0 ed.). Rockstar Games. Level/area: By the Book. Trevor: The media and the government would have us believe that torture is some necessary thing. We need it to get information, to assert ourselves. Did we get any information out of you? / Mr. K: I would have told you everything. / Trevor: Exactly. Torture's for the torturer. Or the guy giving the orders to the torturer. You torture for the good times – we should admit that. It's useless as a means of getting information!
  2. ^ MacDonald, Keza (16 September 2013). "Grand Theft Auto V Review". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on 16 September 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  3. ^ a b Plante, Chris (16 September 2013). "Grand Theft Auto 5 review: golden years". Polygon. Vox Media. Archived from the original on 18 September 2013. Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  4. ^ a b Petit, Carolyn (16 September 2013). "Grand Theft Auto V Review: City of Angels and Demons". GameSpot. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  5. ^ Bramwell, Tom (16 September 2013). "Is the most disturbing scene in GTA5 justified?". Eurogamer. Gamer Network. Archived from the original on 18 September 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  6. ^ a b Hern, Alex (19 September 2013). "Grand Theft Auto 5 under fire for graphic torture scene". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Archived from the original on 20 September 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  7. ^ Chick, Tom (21 September 2013). "Is Grand Theft Auto V the most relevant story about torture since Zero Dark Thirty?". Quarter to Three. Archived from the original on 17 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  8. ^ Sliva, Marty (14 October 2013). "NYCC: How GTA 5's Trevor Views the Controversial Torture Scene". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on 21 January 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  9. ^ Farokhmanesh, Megan (26 October 2013). "In Japan, Grand Theft Auto 5 doesn't include playable torture scene". Polygon. Vox Media. Archived from the original on 21 January 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  10. ^ Martens, Todd (20 September 2013). "'Grand Theft Auto V' review: Stubborn sexism, violence ruin game play". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Archived from the original on 23 October 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  11. ^ Edge 2013, p. 88.
  12. ^ Cook, Dave (23 September 2013). "GTA 5: misogyny, teeth-pulling and subjectivity". VG247. Videogaming 247 Ltd. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  13. ^ Suellentrop, Chris (16 September 2013). "Grand Theft Auto V Is a Return to the Comedy of Violence". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 25 November 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  14. ^ Suellentrop, Chris (9 November 2012). "Americana at Its Most Felonious — Q. and A.: Rockstar's Dan Houser on Grand Theft Auto V". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 10 November 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  15. ^ Parfitt, Ben (18 September 2013). "Gamers petition for sacking of GameSpot writer who criticised GTAV for misogyny". MCV. Intent Media. Archived from the original on 20 September 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  16. ^ Lewis, Helen (22 September 2013). "Yes, it's misogynistic and violent, but I still admire Grand Theft Auto". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  17. ^ Hoggins, Tom (4 October 2013). "Grand Theft Auto V is designed deliberately to degrade women". The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  18. ^ Rodenberg, Cassie (27 December 2013). "Grand Theft Auto V makes it cool to pick up – even kill – prostitutes". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Archived from the original on 27 December 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  19. ^ Fahey, Rob (20 September 2013). "GTA V may not be misogynist – but its 'supporters' are". Gamer Network. Archived from the original on 10 October 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  20. ^ Bissell, Tom (25 September 2013). "Poison Tree — A letter to Niko Bellic about Grand Theft Auto V". Grantland. ESPN Internet Ventures. Archived from the original on 21 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  21. ^ a b Petit, Carolyn (18 November 2014). "A Game of Me — A Quick Note About Politics, Video Game Reviews, and Grand Theft Auto V". Tumblr. Yahoo!. Archived from the original on 22 December 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  22. ^ a b c Makuch, Eddie (3 December 2014). "GTA 5 "Violence Against Women" Criticisms Spurs Ban by Australian Retailer". Yahoo! News. Yahoo. Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  23. ^ Makuch, Eddie (3 December 2014). "Grand Theft Auto 5: Target, Kmart pull game off shelves over sexual violence controversy". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  24. ^ Reilly, Luke (3 December 2014). "Target's GTA 5 Snub is Misinformed and Achieves Nothing". IGN. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  25. ^ Serrels, Mark (4 December 2014). "Target's Grand Theft Auto V Ban Leaves Us With No-One To Blame". Kotaku. Gawker Media. Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  26. ^ Keogh, Brendan (5 December 2014). "Grand Theft Auto: lesson learned the hard way". The Drum. ABC News. Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  27. ^ a b "Daz Dillinger accuses Grand Theft Auto V of Stealing his Beats". Pitchfork Media. 11 October 2013. Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  28. ^ a b Jackson, Mike (27 February 2014). "Mob Wives' Karen Gravano suing Rockstar over GTA V character". Computer and Video Games. Future plc. Archived from the original on 7 July 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  29. ^ Donahue, Bill (23 April 2014). "Video Game Makers Say Free Speech Bars 'Mob Wives' Suit". Law360. LexisNexis. Archived from the original on 29 April 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  30. ^ "Lindsay Lohan is suing the makers of Grand Theft Auto V". Newsbeat. BBC. 2 July 2014. Archived from the original on 3 July 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  31. ^ Phillips, Tom (27 August 2014). "Lindsay Lohan sued Rockstar for attention, Grand Theft Auto 5 dev says". Eurogamer. Gamer Network. Archived from the original on 30 August 2014. Retrieved 27 August 2014.
  32. ^ "Lindsay Lohan loses lawsuit versus 'Grand Theft Auto' makers". CTV News. 1 September 2016. Archived from the original on 2 September 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2016.