GTA V: When Almost Perfect Isn’t Good Enough

The Grand Theft Auto franchise is no stranger to controversy. So when the fifth installment came out a couple of weeks ago, it was almost daring the public to come up with something new to trump the tired, old criticisms with an innovative line of attack.

GTA V cover

The “public” did not disappoint, but it wasn’t what you’d expect. When the popular game review website Gamespot released its near-perfect review of GTA V, with a score of 9/10, its readers exploded into a frenzied rage of commenting backlash.

What were they so angry about?

These gamers, as it turns out, were absolutely furious that Gamespot didn’t give GTA V the 10/10 it deserves. If your eyes are rolling into the back of your head right about now, you’re with me.

eye roll

This story would just be that – yet another thing to roll your eyes at on the internet – if it weren’t for Gamespot’s excellent response to it all…

Not a day after the original review was posted, Gamespot posted a very frank retort to the review “revulsion.” Here are a selection of my favourite points:

This stuff is repugnant and it has no place being on Gamespot [on personal attacks against the reviewer].

There were so many comments this week saying that political discourse has no place in game reviews, or that it’s just a game and we should just shut up and deal with it. Really, though, honestly, what kind of attitude is that? How does that make the gaming community look?

If we ever want to see games being broadly accepted as an art form, or as anything but a slightly quirky pastime, we have to include politics, we have to ask questions about gender, about the portrayal of characters, and about the limits of satire.

Satire isn’t satire if it doesn’t challenge the thing it copies, that’s just repetition.

Don’t attack others for having reservations about a medium that’s supposed to be all-inclusive.

-Johnny of Gamespot’s Feedbackula

Can I get an amen?

The original review itself was, in my opinion, a pretty balanced review, showing off the many positive elements of the game, careful to situate the expectations within what we’ve come to expect from the Grand Theft Auto games. However, the review also did not hesitate to do what reviews are also meant to do: point out weaknesses and suggest areas for improvement.

What many commenters were objecting to was the review’s justification of the 9/10 score, wherein the reviewer charges that the game is “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic,” and laments that female characters are not allowed any relatable roles in the game. Unfortunately, many commenters chose some pretty immature and disrespectful ways to express their disagreement with these critiques.

GTA V
Grand Theft Auto: Boys will be boys and girls will be… toys.

What the video game industry needs today is less asinine fanboy commenters like these and more people like Gamespot’s Johnny who are willing to take a stand and refuse to continue to “sweep hate speech under the rug.”

The first generations of gamers have grown up, and the population at large is realizing, more and more, that video games are not just for “kids” but are a somewhat legitimate pastime for adults as well. The gaming industry is maturing from adolescence to adulthood, yet gamers like these refuse to mature along with it.

The GTA franchise makes its fortune on controversy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask for more from it. Isn’t it about time for some more complex and developed, playable female characters in this series, for example? The popularity of the Tomb Raider games can attest that there is an appetite for girls who can kick butt. The Yakuza franchise, the popular Japanese crime-based game series cousin to GTA, has even included a playable female protagonist option in its latest release, Yakuza 5. There’s no credible reason that GTA can’t do the same.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, a certain game just arrived in the mail, and it’s waiting ever-so-patiently for my attention…

How do you feel about the GTA games? If you’ve played it, what score do you think GTA V deserved? In what ways do you think the game industry in general needs to improve in the future? 

Related Links:

 Grand Theft Auto V Review – Gamespot

Feedbackula GTA V Review Revulsion – Gamespot

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7 thoughts on “GTA V: When Almost Perfect Isn’t Good Enough

  1. Wow thanks for bringing this to my attention! I’ve never been a fan of GTA, just because of the content. That being said, I’ve never tried it and I would also probably suck at it because that’s my skill level, and that affects my impression too haha. But as someone connected to the educational game world (not in a Math Blasters or Mavis Beacon way), it’s always great to see this type of thought going into it the industry from people who enjoy all types of games at all levels of seriousness.

    1. No problem! I’m not a huge GTA fan either but we decided to order the latest game because it looked interesting. I’m not sure yet if I will regret that decision… I definitely agree this type of thought is one that needs to happen more in the industry, though! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I feel a lot in respect to the GTA series, none of it good. This makes it difficult to express my considered thoughts on the game and what games containing similar elements are doing to the industry…but I can try to express those thoughts.

    In the GTA series we see a continued departure from the importance of narrative or the way narrative should connect to gameplay. For example, players can elect to further the storyline or not at all and just kill time doing whatever they want to do within the game world, for dozens of hours if they so choose, and it has no impact whatever upon the story. (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a solid example of this, too, and the Elder Scrolls franchise has become only more and more popular while becoming less and less creative or focused on the central aspect of a RPG, the story.) While this may look like a good thing, allowing players to have this kind of freedom, it’s much more dangerous for game design than people seem to think or be willing to admit.

    Allowing players the level of freedom they have in the GTA games invites players to absolutely destroy the integrity of the game world. Told that you have to deliver a package or ‘message’ to a NPC during the course of the story but don’t feel like doing it? No problem, just don’t do it and pay no mind to the lack of an in-game mechanic that demonstrates the importance of that plot point by reminding the player of it or triggering actions if the player doesn’t meet that plot point. Simply put, unless the story is advanced the game world is frozen in place and in a gut-wrenching fashion once it’s examined from a distance: the game itself doesn’t matter, the player can do whatever they want all but completely independent of the game despite they are playing within the game.

    I’d call this overwhelmingly bad design for a RPG (no one really talks about the fact that these are RPGs), while others would praise the decision to allow the player to play the game as they choose. To this I’d say that inviting more and more of the behaviour described in the preceding paragraph, designing games this way, only serves to indirectly encourage players to want more video games that are like this. But these video games are much less games than they are game-like due to poor design. Further, these worlds encourage the practise of bad DLC, by giving players a world of sorts to do whatever they want in and buy more toys for.

    Games like the GTA series, aside from being bad games, encourage the game-as-service model that, again, has does nothing good for the industry broadly or game design specifically.

    There is more that I can say but I’ll leave it at that.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. The point about in-game plot progress is an interesting one. The first time I played Oblivion I rushed through half of the main quest line, ignoring everything else, due to a sense of urgency before I realized that if I got sidetracked for days, weeks or months (game time) by other stuff in the game it didn’t actually make a difference to the story. I think a degree of time-suspension like this has to be present for open-world games like these to work, though, but I can see why some people might appreciate it less than others. Cheers!

      1. For these games to have coherent worlds I believe that some notion of ‘free mode’ and ‘story mode’ need to exist, otherwise developers are designing a game that doesn’t matter to itself. It’s sort of like a quote from an old college professor, paraphrased like this: have an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out or every bit of stupidity falls in. Open world games can be great but it’s very easy to do them wrong and, sadly, there’s a lot of that going on…because the player doesn’t want to be ‘constrained’ or ‘told what to do’ by the developer.

        I’m always shocked when people sort of shrug off the narrative incoherence in open world games and I probably always will be. It’s the fiction equivalent of a deus ex machina, but one that has been used to the point of becoming a trope.

  3. I’ve read a bit about this already and this falls under the problem of giving everyone a voice on internet. Not just any voice, and anonymous voice. Etiquette is thrown out the window. If you want to see the cesspool of society, read the comments on a youtube video. Most of the things they say would never be said in person due to the fear of being punched in the face.

    There’s also this issue with the inflation of hyperfandom. Because of this means of rapid mass communication, a lot of people these days need to justify their opinion with metacritic ratings. How dare you rate the new Batman movie slightly lower than perfect. It was absolutely the best movie EVAAA!

    Most of this commentary comes from sophomoric young adults (and some not so young adults) who will most likely be ranting about some other “amazing best thing ever” next month.

    BTW: Thanks for all the nice posts on your blog. They’re very pleasant to read 🙂

    1. Hey AC, thanks for stopping by! I do tend to shy away from the comments sections of most mainstream webpages because of exactly this – the braver people get and the more brazen their anonymity makes them, the lower the collective IQ of everyone involved…

      Interesting that you use Batman as an example though – I wonder if there will be a fandom aversion to any critics who give the next movie a good score because of the inclusion of Ben Affleck? Poor guy…

      Thanks for checking out my place, glad you enjoy it! (#^.^#)

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