Critics say it’s “morally suspect,” said Nick Gillespie in Time.com, but the immense popularity of Grand Theft Auto V has established the video game “as the defining popular art form of the 21st century.” The latest release in the Grand Theft series, which allows players to roam an enormous, incredibly detailed cityscape, made $800 million on its first day of release last week—more than Hollywood blockbusters make in a year. Today’s typical gamer is no longer an “acne-ridden, male adolescent shut-in”; 58 percent of Americans now play engrossing video games such as Call of Duty and Minecraft, and 45 percent of gamers are women. Admittedly, Grand Theft V is very violent, with players committing crimes from carjacking to torture to murder. But when novels, movies, and rock ’n’ roll were the new art forms, they were also widely condemned for “transgressing conventional morality” and allowing ordinary people the thrill of inhabiting other lives and circumstances.
Grand Theft V may be brilliant, said Simon Parkin in NewYorker.com, but success doesn’t relieve video-game makers of all moral responsibility. When we consume violent movies or books, we do so as spectators—but video games ask us to be “active, if virtual, participants” in the bloodshed. It is you who steals the car, beats up the prostitute, and pulls the trigger. In its torture scene, Grand Theft V even asks players to rotate the gamepad’s thumbsticks to “tug out the victim’s teeth with pliers.” By immersing his customers in a “fully functioning social universe,” a video game’s creator “does have a moral obligation to the player, who, having been asked to make choices, can be uniquely degraded by the experience.”
Oh, lighten up, said Keith Stuart in TheGuardian.com.There’s no clear scientific evidence that playing violent video games leads to violent behavior. When players switch off Grand Theft, they won’t become murderous psychopaths, but “carry on their lives as functioning adults.” As a longtime fan of the Grand Theft series, I wish I could be so sure, said Jesse Singal in BostonGlobe.com. After yet another mass shooting, I find it disturbing—and no longer funny—to snipe at people from a building’s roof or mow down pedestrians with a stolen car. “What does it mean that you can simulate a massacre in a pretty realistic way?” I don’t know, but dismissing an experience this immersive as harmless entertainment “isn’t giving this powerful medium its due.”
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