Disappointingly, the usually excellent Kotaku has trailed the story with the headline "Another Stupid Australian Retailer Has Pulled GTA". Additionally, a counter-petition has been launched, and already has upwards of 14,000 signatures: "A game made for adults is being taken off the shelves by Target following a petition started by a bunch of misinformed feminists who inaccurately alleged that the game encourages violence against women."
Is it inaccurate, misinformed and stupid, though? And is the word 'feminist' being used there almost as a dismissive epithet? Is it just me who reads that as being written with a sneer?
Sorry, but let's not pretend for a moment that GTA doesn't at the very least encourage virtual violence against virtual women. Yes, we can all quote the studies that violence in games doesn't correlate to violence in real life, but that seems like a dodgy argument at the minute, when so many women in the games industry are being targeted with death and rape threats. A threat is still a form of violence, and misogyny seems rife among a certain sector of the gaming audience.
People complaining about this are basically complaining about losing their right to pretend they're having pretend sex with dull-eyed, female avatars before pretending to kill them. Shouldn't that make us all feel a bit uncomfortable?
Sure, in GTAV you don’t have to visit the strip clubs or beat up the prostitutes, or attack random women in the street with your guns and baseball bats, but the sheer fact that you can (and many probably do) is what's causing the issue here.
Rockstar has facilitated that by putting it in their games; it's not a bug. It was a conscious decision by the game's designers to give their players the option of behaving in that way. If you go to Homebase and do a poo in one of their display baths, don't act all affronted when you get into trouble.
While it’s arguable that all the characters in GTAV are equally appalling - male and female alike - the three controllable characters ARE male. There is no alternative viewpoint, and the game features an undeniable correlation between sex and violence - simply because it is allowed, as per the boundaries laid down by the game.
Yes, there are films that feature sexual violence and misogyny, but playing an interactive, open world experience like GTA isn't the same as watching a film, where the message and theme is being given to you. What happens in GTAV, for a large part, is down to the player, and how messed up he (and I think we can assume it's a he) is.
The reality is this: Grand Theft Auto V – indeed, all the GTA games – has gotten away with it, because it’s so damn good. Frankly, as a video game it’s virtually peerless. It’s wittier, better looking, better playing, better acted, and just all-round better value for money than pretty much anything else out there. It IS a brilliant game.
At first, nobody wanted to believe that Rolf Harris was a paedophile, and America has turned a blind eye for years to allegations against Bill Cosby. Similarly, we seemingly don't want to accept that this work of utter creative genius might be peddling something more unsavoury, so people fight to defend it. If we - particularly as men - enjoy it, does that make us complicit?
Let's not pretend you're on anything less than dodgy ground if you're complaining about GTAV being taken off the shelves, due to a petition by women who have suffered sexual violence. Whining that "The game features lots of violence against men too" - as the people behind the counter-petition do - is like terrible white racists who complain about Black History Month. “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” they harrumph with their terrible racist mouths.
Well, probably because white people spent a huge chunk of history subjugating black people, and – broadly speaking – rule the world. You don't know how it feels to be a black person any more than you know what it's like to be a woman who has suffered sexual violence, so - frankly - shut-up, and don't be surprised if the sexually violent video game you so love comes in for some stick.
If that's your position, you don't have an argument, and you can't possibly see the point of view of someone who's suffered something like that. Unless we've been through it, we can't possibly understand how the existence of a game like GTAV affects someone who has suffered an act as profoundly life-destroying as rape. But I can certainly see it making them feel less safe, or in some way condoning the actions of their abusers. Dismissing that as "stupid" is at best insensitive.
Rockstar doesn't have to make the game the way they do - surely there are ways around it - but that's the series now, and that's what's expected. Whether it should be available for sale at all is a different debate. This is about something sorely lacking in the games industry these days: empathy.
Maybe Kmart and Target are trying to protect their bottom line by removing GTAV from their shelves, but - given that it's one of the biggest-selling games of all time - possibly not. Could it be that they actually did something unexpected in business, and considered the feelings of real people?
If so, I doff my cap to them, and promise that if I ever visit Australia I shall make a point of not pooing in their shop.