Mum, can I play Grand Theft Auto V?
Posted on May 6, 2014
This must be a question that is echoed around the world, accompanied by protests, arguments, pleading, and sometimes screamcrying. When my good friend’s son asked me this, presumably in the hope of getting me onside to convince her, I had to ask how old he was.
He said eleven.
I said no way, not possible – he made a sadface: he didn’t really believe I would say yes, even though many of his school friends seem to be playing it. He quite reasonably wanted a bit of rationale, which I happily provided him with.
It’s partly the game itself and all the depictions of sex and violence in its open world which is particularly problematic: it’s pretty widespread, in the game but also in popular media in the real world. It’s also the sense of player agency and the fact that players can ‘do what they like’ in the game, even though this young man in particular has a very good distinction between reality and fantasy, and like me isn’t going to become a sociopath through games like this. We shouldn’t overplay the ‘interactive=dangerous’ card.
The problem is the nature of the structured missions, the cutscenes, and the overall toxicity in the game’s social attitudes, especially towards women. These just take an adult sensibility to deal with.
While the open world can be seen as harmless fun, GTAV also provides a linear experience which is really only appropriate for adults. Trevor, while an entertaining and well-penned character, is also completely horrible, just a terrible human being. The voyeuristic missions for the paparazzi which require stalking and filming women in degrading situations might be shrugged off as misguided or distasteful by a worldly adult, but will cause confusion or just the wrong ideas for many children. The much-discussed torture scenes have complex political and moral nuances (either as irresponsible power fantasy or satire) that will be lost on many children.
Like it or not, classifications exist for a reason. If we dispense with mindless libertarianism and agree that some content needs regulation, then we need an agency to facilitate that regulation, and the Australian Classification Board has deemed GTV inappropriate for the following reasons:
While I do strongly believe that games are there to be enjoyed by everyone, and that games have huge potential in many ways, the general social environment of GTAV is just wrong enough that it shouldn’t be available to kids. This isn’t censorship and it’s not a great injustice: it’s just being reasonable in a civil society.
This will disappoint and frustrate many young players who feel the acute injustice of their friends having access to the game, but there are enough appropriate games out there to keep them happy until they get closer to the appropriate age to play this one. Stick with Minecraft; explore the many excellent franchised Lego games; try kart racing or a sanitised shooter like Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. Just leave GTAV until players are old enough to make sense of all its complexity.
What’s your experience? Has your child ever begged for a game that wasn’t appropriate, and how did you deal with it? Or have you ever been denied a game that you thought was fine for you, and why? Comment below!