Grand Theft Auto V's first person prostitution, The Daily Mail, Twitter, and moral outrage / by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Sex in GTA V

Here's some irony: I was the subject of some minor moral outrage yesterday because some other people incorrectly believed that I was morally outraged. So here is the series of events as I saw them:

I played Grand Theft Auto V for the PlayStation 4. I was testing the limits of the first person mode, and so I was going around seeing what was and was not actually included. I was most interested to see what would happen if I picked up a prostitute. I'm not entirely sure I've ever done that in a GTA game before, but I know what happens. I expected the camera to pull out behind the car and for it to bump around and then we're done. Simple, easy, now I know.

But that's not what happens. What happens is, quite frankly, kind of disturbing. I don't really recommend watching the following video, but if you're really curious what it's like, here you go:

That's uncomfortable, right? It's not the fact that there's sex in the game, it's the whole atmosphere and effect of it. Honestly, I felt dirty afterwards. In the days since, people have been writing about it, but I played it on Monday, the day before official release and the day before people knew that this was even an option. I was surprised, and not in a good way.

I tweeted the following:

I look at that, and I don't see moral outrage. I just see someone who is unhappy with an experience he had in a video game. There's no real context, because Twitter doesn't really allow for context, but that's not the point. I write about video games on the internet. In my mind, no one would assume that I am mad at a video game for having sex in it. (In fact, I think it's great that GTA V has first person sex in it, simply because that's a milestone for the industry. I don't like the presentation, and the sooner I can scrub it from my mind the better, but that says nothing about the medium at large.)

Suddenly, I got a message from a CNN reporter asking me about the sequence, and asking me if I would be willing to chat with him on Skype about my reaction. I wasn't sure how he found the tweet, but I wasn't thinking too hard about it. Maybe someone he knew reads The Daily Beast and pointed him towards me and whatever. It didn't matter, but the way it was worded made me wonder. Did he think I was outraged that the option existed? I didn't want him to think that, because I don't think that, so I said:

And that was, as I expected, the end of that conversation. He clearly was looking for outrage where he wouldn't find any.

And that's when the hate started. Things I was called in the ensuing hours:

  • Pussyfoot faggot
  • Sad cunt
  • Retard
  • Queerbait.
  • Asshat.

(I expect that if I hadn't used Randi Harper's Gamergate enthusiast auto-block tool on Twitter (Thanks Arthur Chu), I would have got even more.)

But here's the thing: Why? I got some more measured contempt as well, with one person telling me to watch an ISIS beheading video to get some perspective, but none of it made sense to me. As I said, I don't see inherent outrage in my statement, and I kind of just wanted it to go away. At some point during this, I tweeted the following:

And I did so for two reasons:

  1. It's true.
  2. I wanted people to stop thinking I was just fundamentally against the game.

I wasn't going to take the tweet down, because I stand by it, but I legitimately didn't understand why everyone was so angry. Who watches that video and thinks anything other than "Ew..." Now imagine being one of the first people to see that animation play out, on a big TV, and not being able to just pause the video. It's not pleasant. Whether that was intended or not (I have no idea) is irrelevant. That's the reality. But apparently people were angry at me for disliking something that is really, really easy to dislike.

And then things became clear to me: In an ensuing conversation with someone who was annoyed at me but refrained from actually insulting me, he mentioned that The Daily Mail quoted me. The Daily Mail being a notoriously anti-video game, anti-rationality, and anti-truth "news" organization in the UK. And suddenly it all made sense. That was why everyone was so angry with me, because The Daily Mail told them I was morally outraged. The headline for the story (which I won't link to here) was: "Outrage as new Grand Theft Auto game allows player to control their avatars having first person graphic sex with a prostitute"

Ugh.

I mean, that's the only word to describe it. Ugh. I'm certainly not surprised they didn't ask for permission to quote me, nor am I even inherently bothered by that fact. I've probably quoted people in the past without asking for permission as well. I couldn't give you an example, but at some point over the years I'm sure it's happened. Point is: Whatever. But here's where it becomes a problem:

They gave false context to my tweet. They claimed that I was morally outraged over the fact that this scene existed at all, rather than just bothered by the way it's presented. 140 characters really isn't enough to produce well-reasoned explanations, and so people will add their own personal biases to whatever they want, but come on.

Still, that wasn't the thing that got me. The Daily Mail is well-known for that kind of thing. What bothered me was the fact that people cared, and cared enough to come attack me on Twitter for it. Ignoring the fact that most of the people who insulted me used terrible grammar and generally incoherent sentence structure, I was struck by the fact that these people were defending this thing as though it mattered at all. It doesn't. The sex in GTA V matters on a bigger level, as I said before, because it represents a step forward in what the medium is allowed to portray, but as far as the game is concerned, who cares? Who cares what I think and really who cares what The Daily Mail thinks?

Because the moral outrage wasn't coming from me, it was coming from the people who attacked me. The people who called me a "sad cunt" and a "pussyfoot faggot" were outraged over something that doesn't matter. It makes me sad that there are people who seek out random people on Twitter to say that kind of thing to them. Even if I was outraged, what is the tangible benefit of attacking me? This leads to a much larger discussion that I won't really delve into further, but I just cannot fathom the thought process that goes into deciding to go after someone like that.

I mean, where do they even find the time? Whose life is so devoid of things to do that they have the time to go insult random people? Whose life is so devoid of simple pleasures that going to insult random people is the best possible thing to do?

But I digress. What I did find interesting was that multiple people commented specifically on what I said by asking why I wasn't angry about the violence. One person in particular said: "Forget the innocent civilian bloody murder and violence, the REAL issue is giving a virtual hooker money for consnsual [sic] sex."

Ignoring the fact that I'm not angry about any of it, what I found interesting about it was the assumption that one negate the other. What if I was morally outraged about the violence and the fact that I can murder innocent civilians? Just because I tweeted about one thing doesn't mean I'm inherently okay with a thing I don't tweet about. What if I'd had 280 characters and said, "I also am bothered by the fact that I can punch people to death in first person"? Then I would have opened a whole other can of worms with people saying things like, "WHAT DID YOU EXPECT FROM A GRAND THEFT AUTO GAME, DOUCHEMONKEY?" or whatever. But would it have stopped that person from saying anything? Would that have satiated that particular annoyance? "Oh, well he's angry about all of it, which is fair enough." Because I can totally understand why people would be angry about everything in this game, and those people have the right to say what they want about it. (People are allowed to be wrong.)

There is a time and a place for moral outrage. This really, really isn't it.