After I posted my short and admittedly angry piece earlier today, several thoughtful readers suggested I elaborate on my objections to the IGN "Ladies of Liberty City" video. I agree that I didn't properly explain my point of view, so here goes. After this, I promise it will be back to normal programming.
I think it's unlikely I'll be able to persuade anyone of anything, especially given how polarizing this and other GTA-related issues tend to quickly become. But I can at least try to clarify my intentions in posting as I did. I'm speaking, obviously, only for myself here, but I feel strongly about this, so I'm sure my tone may be seen as harsh or dogmatic. I don't think there's much I can do about that.
What IGN did was morally and ethically reprehensible. They posted a video using stitched-together segments of GTA4 gameplay to show a series of incidents where women are paid for sex and then shot and killed, or run over by a car and killed. This montage was not delivered as some kind of ironic social critique. It was, essentially, a hip, funky homage to killing women.
A similarly heinous compilation pieced together in any other medium and posted on a highly visible website would be denounced immediately, if it ever saw the light of day. Why is it somehow acceptable - and why are responses like mine considered "hysterical" - simply because the video uses footage from GTA4?
I'm not the first person to suggest we're reinforcing the marginalization of the medium by falling back on the "it's only a game" argument (I would extend this to include "it's only GTA."). I recommend Mitch Krpata's "Sex, Violence, and Video Games" for more on this. He says it much better than me.
Of course it's possible to do all the things the video depicts while playing GTA4. It's possible to do all sorts of ugly things in all sorts of media, as well as in real life. The fact that it's possible doesn't make it acceptable to do what IGN did. If you want to play GTA4 at home and kill as many prostitutes as you can, that's your decision. It's another thing entirely to make a compilation video featuring one killing after another, set to music, and post it on your website that receives over 20 million unique visitors per month.
The video is a construction. It was deliberately made, edited, and posted. Someone made specific choices about what this video was intended to communicate. It's not simply "footage from the game." I am suggesting that whomever is responsible for it ought to be held to account.
I've played two hours of GTA4. I have no idea if it's a good game or a bad game. It's irrelevant to my argument. I admire Rockstar for their innovative approach to video game design. They have made an indelible impact on gaming and gaming culture. These facts are also irrelevant to my argument.
Finally, I don't mean to suggest there's some kind of monolithic entity known as the "gamer community" of which IGN is some sort of spokesperson. We're way more complicated than that. But there is a culture and community of gamers out here, even if we don't all think or behave alike. It's fair to say that video games continue to suffer a serious image problem in our culture at large. Making the case for video games as a legitimate form of human expression is a long uphill climb. I know this from personal experience as an educator facing resistance, misinformation, or simple ignorance from my peers and colleagues every day. I realize lots of gamers don't care how we're perceived. In my career, I don't have that luxury.
I'm trying to move the ball forward. That's why I started this blog. It's hard for me not to take it personally when a major media site devoted to gaming posts a video like this because they think it's funny or cool or subversive or whatever. From a purely selfish perspective, it makes everything I'm trying to do as an advocate for video games more difficult to justify or explain. This may not matter much to others, and that's fine, but it matters a lot to me.