It’s okay if we offend as long as we offend everyone…right?
One of the common defenses of GTA V’s heavy use of stereotype is that the game is an equal opportunity satire that holds a mirror up to our society and shows how ridiculous we’ve become. Offending people is fine, so the argument goes, as long as it serves the higher purpose of social commentary. The fact that just about everyone is in GTA’s crosshairs means that no one is left out and so no one can be offended. As far as the basic argument goes, I don’t object. Satire is a legitimate form of social commentary that often takes extreme and objectionable views to highlight the flaws in an idea. Furthermore, GTA V can honestly make this claim. That doesn’t mean it does satire well, just that it is doing it.
I wrote earlier that Rockstar populated its world with a non-stop barrage of vapid stereotypes . As I have progressed through the game, I can honestly say that the only exception to this rule is the inclusion of Trevor and Michael. Both are well developed with interesting variations on old clichés that make them fun to watch and discover their character arcs. Everyone else is just a one note cardboard cutout designed to facilitate a section of gameplay and pass along GTA V’s big message: Everybody is shallow these days. That’s right, GTA V is your crotchy grandfather who is angry at the world for not raising its kids right anymore. I wish I could say there was more to it, but that’s it. From Michael’s daughter Trisha getting hump for fame to joining a Scientology knock off cult that very clearly is taking your money, every bit of satire in this game is calling the modern world shallow. That’s all GTA V has to say.
Good satire explores the ideas that it targets. Satire doesn’t just ask that you laugh at an idea; it says things about those ideas and points out the silly or contradictory nature of the idea. The shame about GTA V is not that it is offensive, but that it wastes its voice to make intellectually stupid comparisons that have been made many times elsewhere. It’s no longer enough to have an entitled millennial who just wants everything handed to them on a platter. That stereotype is well worn. The stronger statement is why that is or is not a fair evaluation of that population and what that means for society. Instead, GTA V just collects all the stereotypes in one place and lets them roam free in the most mindless incarnations. Good satire says something. GTA just repeats it. Ad nauseum.
This is not to say that Rockstar’s approach isn’t entirely without merit. In some areas, such as the aptly named Facebook knock-off “Lifeinvader”, the game speaks more intelligently about the loss of privacy and cult of self involvement that results. Occasionally, Rockstar even drops satire in favor of ranting on a soap box such as when Trevor monologues on the ineffectiveness of torture. GTA V can say things when its creators want it to. The game just needs to be smarter about it. Like realism and the mini games, Rockstar needs to pick on a few ideas and work with them rather than dumping underdeveloped copies in the game. Less can be more, particularly when it comes to saying something worthwhile.
Next Up – The actual review!