For decades, research studies such as Sandvoss and Bruer et al. have interrogated the ethical correctness of different games especially in relations to the values they espouse. The monumental question is who between the game’s publisher and the game player should be held liable for the adverse influences of the game. This is especially essential where children form a part of the audience. While the findings of the research studies have largely been inconclusive, it is evident that violent games promote aggressive behavior that is symptomatic of violent tendencies. This paper investigates one such violent video game that I grew up playing delineating the outstanding ethical concerns in its design.
The video game under consideration is the Grand Theft Auto series, popularly known as GTA. The game revolves around building a criminal reputation in the criminal underworld and rising through the ranks through committing various criminal acts. As such, the game incorporates various tasks and scenes that are morally questionable primarily because criminal activities are presented as good options rather than evils. The first ethical concern is the use of violence. The player is on several occasions forced to kill police officers, military personnel, and even other gang members to survive or gain friends and favor from the criminal underworld. Perpetration of mass murder is presented as an acceptable option. The second concern arises where the player is forced to pick up prostitutes to recover his health. The option is not only fundamentally flawed in logic, but also morally incorrect as it normalizes prostitution. The third concern exists in the form of drug dealing. The player is in some instances the player is forced to peddle drugs in the neighborhood so as to raise money and gain profits that enable him to purchase cars and weapons to be appropriated in the later stages of the game. Children will pick this cue and conceptualize drug dealing as just another means of navigating financial difficulties.
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Furthermore, there is the promotion of negative ethnic stereotyping. The criminal gangs are stereotypes as promoters of moral decadence and superficiality. Each ethnic gang is stereotyped by how they are perceived. African Americans would be wearing jeans, with vests, and bandanas on their necks and head. Italian gangs are stereotyped as mobsters while Asian neighborhoods have suit-wearing triads. The negative stereotyping reinforces a single story about these ethnic groups. Another ethical concern exists in the form of gender stereotyping. The women have not been allocated any meaningful roles. In fact, their role is to be sneered at and laughed at among other degrading actions. There is also the use of highly abusive language especially towards the ladies characters in the game. Children can easily pick this vituperative language as an acceptable way of addressing others even those older than them.
Ethnic discrimination and racism are also prevalent in GTA. In their bid to make the game realistic and enticing, the publishers of the game compel the player to cause ethnic tension between rival gangs. In the GTA Vice City, there is a scene where the lead character Diaz is tasked with instigating a gang war between Haitian and Cuban gangs in an instance even declaring “Kill the Haitian dickheads.” A further ethical concern is drunk driving. In GTA IV, the playable character Niko Bellic gets drunk yet he still drives risking the lives of pedestrians and other drivers. This incidence normalizes driving under the influence of alcohol. Another ethical concern exists in the form of street racing to win money. Again, it advances the perception that endangering the lives of pedestrians and other drivers is acceptable. The last major ethical concern is witness torturing. In the latest release GTA V, there are gruesome scenes of player-initiated torture. The player is mandated to perform graphic acts of electrocution and dental extraction among others to coerce information out of the witness that enables the player to proceed to the next stage. Against the better judgment of the society, witness torturing is presented as an ethical option that is extremely helpful.
In summary, it is evident that the GTA series has a host of ethical concerns. They range from committing murder, use of abusive language, negative gender and ethnic stereotyping, prostitution, drug dealing, drunk driving, street racing, and witness torture among many others. Portrayals of these acts in favorable light can corrupt the moral compass of the audience, especially children.