by Diana Martinez
My first encounter with the video game Grand Theft Auto took place in my middle school years. I went to a friend’s house and her younger brother of about 10-years old was playing the game in the basement. In the game, he was driving through the city picking up prostitutes and engaging with them in the car.
At the time I remember being very shocked and quite frankly, grossed out. I mean, he was just a kid! As he played, the boy said, “Yeah, come here baby!” when he selected the option to pay for the prostitute. I was surprised at how the game had influenced him in a way that made him act like he was the man on the screen and making the same choices.
Grand Theft Auto is based in an arbitrary United States city. It reflects the media’s image of urban gang life. The objective in this game is to complete crime-based tasks given to you by the gang leader. But the subliminal goals behind the game are to promote antagonism and otherness between different races and to reduce women to sexual objects. There are very few women who have a powerful role in the game. Every once in a while there is a woman as a gang member, but the majority of the time the only women the player meets are strippers and prostitutes. Most of the men are members of a stereotypical race gang, who go against other race gangs in the city.
Out of all the characters in all video games sold, only 20% are females, while the majority of them are either, submissive, sexualized, victimized, or all three. I learned at the SPARK Summit that research conveys that both boys and men tend to believe gender stereotypes more after being exposed to video games. Even though Lara Croft’s character in Tomb Raider is strong and intelligent, a large number of men who play the game still make the assumption that she is stupid because of her clothes and breast size. I guess it makes sense, being surrounded with the ideals of the passive, dependent woman and the strong “masculine” men. These portrayals delve further into the societal belief that women must be delicate and acquiescent while men can only be men when they are violent, aggressive, or rebellious.
In Grand Theft Auto, A player can diverge from the main goal of the game to complete small tasks or to get more money or points. Some of those options include mugging people, but the player earns the most money for mugging a prostitute or stripper. Video games take an extra degree of influence because people are not just watching something being done, but they themselves are choosing to make the actions happen by their own freewill. By making it a choice to mug a prostitute and to earn a greater reward for doing so, it’s almost as if the game is encouraging violence against women, or at least views it as a viable option for earning cash.
True, this game (and many similar games) are rated M for “Mature” and are not targeted toward children or teenagers, but how many of you wait until you’re the suggested age to watch a movie or play a game? I was much younger than thirteen when I started watching PG-13 movies, and the same goes for R-rated films. And even adults are still susceptible to the media’s influence! Unfortunately, once you reach the age of 18, you don’t magically gain the ability to decipher between appropriate and inappropriate images on the television screen, or to understand sexism and racism at a contextual level. Not all of us know how to read the media or are blessed with an education on how to look at things critically, which makes these types of messages very harmful. Game Over.