“It’s your fault, so you fix it.”
February 29, 2016 12:53 AM   Subscribe

 
Isn't Tenpenny's story based off of Training Day?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:56 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. Folks, let's maybe just forego the part where we post a ton of comments fighting about if we are even allowed to discuss the cultural or social implications of works of fiction. To make it easier: GTA is a video game, not real life, and we all are in agreement that yes, it is actually a video game. Yet here where we discuss things, we can discuss ideas about video games or other fictional works.]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:25 AM on February 29, 2016 [18 favorites]


Criticising a game for being an empowerment fantasy seems a bit rich, if you ask me.

Yes, the game has simplified the the Rodney King riots, and the police corruption of the Rampart scandal, to make it something that a player protagonist can fight, and that has weakened its portrayal of racism. I don't see that as so big an issue - it never claims to be education, it doesn't try and teach history or social politics.

You can get a flying licence by stealing a plane and flying for a while. You can destroy millions of dollars of property, commit multiple counts of murder, and if you manage to hide from the police for a few minutes they'll forget all about it. And yes, you can go from being a penniless gang-member to a millionaire over the course of a couple months. With a jump-jet that won't run out of fuel parked on the roof of your home in the ghetto.

Having that level of empowerment makes portraying racism harder, and if your triple-A game has to chose between an accurate portrayal of a difficult topic, and the player having fun, I'm not going to be shocked that they went with the option that will make them more money.
posted by YAMWAK at 2:26 AM on February 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


CJ experiences hyper-mobility, exploring a world where he can not only become ultra-rich, ultra-fast, but where nothing is ever denied.

And I'm pretty sure in LA, when someone runs over a pedestrian and proceeds to maul the shit out of a cop with a baseball bat, just to be gunned down a few yards away, he doesn't go to an hospital, where all his guns are taken away and pay 10k in health fees and he's free to walk out of the hospital. He must have the best lawyer and the best health insurance ever. While there is a good point on the whitewashing of the causes of the riots (keep in mind although I do have the game, as well as most of the series, I never progressed much on any, so I'm believing what's on the article), by the end of the article it seems to forget the game, to me, is a gangsta rap album fantasy.

For instance, Mafia II, which I loved more than any GTA game, has the habit of kicking you in the teeth and leaving you with nothing. Yeah, that's probably closer to what happened with real mobsters, but in terms of replay value, it screws the game completely. I finished Saints Row 3 at least 5 times because the game actually gives an incentive. to do shit. And while these days a barebones team of a handful of people can do a Newgrounds flash game or a Steam indie title where the "ability to progress out of poverty is either tacitly or explicitly denied by the white system" is the essencial part of the game as social commentary, as a blockbuster it would be a much tougher sale because... what would the actual game consist? Several mini-games of low-end jobs? Driving across town on a day off? Keep in mind Shenmue, as well received as it was, tanked.

I have a half-cooked sandbox simulator design guide written somewhere, where "rascism towards x" was part of the settings for the police, where a character of a given ethnicity has a bigger chance of being randomly abused by the police (and how badly) in the same level of "oppression" as any other... but the world was also supposed to be represented somewhat realistically - wanton crime waves would drop property values, the richer would start to employ highly armed security forces, and every kill means the game population decreases by one, and the player has permanent "wanted" indicators and yes, perma-death. I'm not even sure if modern systems could handle this much fiddling with agents. And yes, I'm a Peter Molyneux type - I have the ideas, just don't ask me how feasible they are. But even if I could pull this off, would it sell? Or would people rather dropkick a cop out of his squad car, have a 5-star police chase across town, die when the car is Hellfire'd by an National Guard helicopter, and respawn a few seconds later with eveything wiped clean?

TL;DR: I think it's fair to question if the game (which I didn't play much, as with all games in the series) is too light on history; they could have certainly hinted the town was built on racism, and you start in the shit because that's how society sees you. But putting boundaries on a sandbox game - perhaps the most important genre of the past decade - is a ridiculous proposition.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:46 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


This game was released 8 years ago. Surely something more recent and relevant could be used to showcase racism in the industry? I had this game, and never even knew it had a riot at the end, as I never got that far. I imagine this is true for many casual players and sandbox games.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:28 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think assuming that it's based directly on LA and directly on Rodney King is a bit of a mistake - it's set in a hazy fantasyland constructed from 90s rap tropes and other fiction, at one step removed from fiction. That said, the picking up on the LA riots as reflected in that media and failing to pick up on why they are such a big deal does show a flaw in that approach.

Context changes a lot also. Listening to some writers podcasts on Straight Out of Compton it was interesting hearing how initial drafts went into a lot of detail setting up the riots and explaining why they might happen, then Fergusson happened and s lot of that was cut because people just knew. I suspect the ending of GTA would be a bit different if written today.
posted by Artw at 5:15 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of the things the article doesn't go into is CJ's journey, which is a shame because it's worth getting into. Part of the narrative of the game is CJ rejecting his background to go live the high life of a rap producer and casino owner. He is criticised for ignoring the streets he came from, with his old home controlled by drug dealers. Seeing the error of his ways, CJ retakes his old area, and most of the city before taking on the corrupt cop. The game ends by suggesting that CJ has rejected the high life and will remain connected to the streets he grew up on.

The idea of someone becoming disconnected from their humble roots due to gaining wealth and power is hardly a new one (hello Great Expectations!), but the way the game chooses to engage with that is quite interesting. In particular, CJ doesn't use his wealth and fortune to say, help improve the area's education, instead he uses violence to reassert control. This is, perhaps, quite a depressing message, that the only way the life of the African American population can be improved is by a violent seizing of power from the forces that oppress them, although arguably one can craft something a bit lighter than that; only by combining their efforts and not abandoning their friends and family can the African American community succeed.

Of course one of the reasons San Andreas has a violent message at it's heart is that that's the fundamental mechanic of the game. Some games ignore the simple fact that the main thing their player will be doing is killing things, which lead to bizzare scenes where main characters are horrified by violence despite being involved in literally hundreds of deaths (see Niko in GTA4 or Ezio in Assassin's Creed).

I am inclined to agree that the choice of this game to have a black cop rather than a white one does seem to have unfortunate implications, and it's not clear how aware the game was of them. However, it's worth noting that while Tenpenny is the main antagonist, he has several white partners who just as complicit as he is. It's probably not a co-incidence that the most prominent of the cops is voiced by Samuel Jackson.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:40 AM on February 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think the thing about San Andreas is that it's not meant to represent the reality of LA in the 1990s, it's meant to represent the LA movies of the early 1990s. It's a Boyz n the Hood/Menace II Society simulator, and while those movies both addressed real world issues, they also did it in a pretty superficial way, because they were (on some level) entertainment.

In the same way that Vice City is a Scarface simulator, and not an accurate portrayal of the 1980s Miami drug trade and its implications.

That's what the appeal of the GTA series has always been. The games are like movies that you can control and participate in.
posted by mpbx at 6:14 AM on February 29, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm surprised no one's mentioned that it was developed by a Scottish company in Scotland (AFAIK), so somewhat removed from real world knowledge of US racial politics.
posted by grahamparks at 6:25 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


This game was released 8 years ago

It was released 12 years ago! I don't think the article is wrong, but I do think it picks a weird target. Even a cursory paragraph looking at the latest GTA iteration to see if it has any more sophisticated social/political content (a little but not much, I think) would have helped a lot.
posted by Mothlight at 7:27 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Criticising a game for being an empowerment fantasy seems a bit rich, if you ask me."

Just because it's a game doesn't mean it gets a Get Out of Criticism Free card. The fact that the game designers made certain choices is not an accident or happenstance. And that's a worthwhile field of exploration, especially in a society where there is no such thing as color-blind casting. If say, all the rioters in the game were Arab, we'd immediately recognize the political in that; it wouldn't be enough to say "oh, it's a empowerment fantasy, lighten up."

I mean yeah it's a game; it's fiction, but it's worth considering the reason why in the fictional version of LA's riots the dirty cop whose actions set the riots in motion "happens to be" black instead of white. Just like it's worth considering the reason why that in NYC, after years of denying white cop culpability, they finally convict an officer and he "happens to be" asian.

And regarding the whole rags to riches drug lord story line, yeah, it's an empowerment fantasy, but one which just happens to coincide with the prevailing myth that the main avenues for advancement in black communities involve shady dealings and rampant violence. GTA is a game which enforces our most vile societal tropes instead of challenging them. It's not obligated to be an SJW-game, but the fact that it's so blatantly not, and in not being so has achieved such enduring popularity, is saying something about the game itself and about the culture which so wholeheartedly endorses it.
posted by xigxag at 7:40 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just because it's a game doesn't mean it gets a Get Out of Criticism Free card.

Didn't say it was, but one paragraph of the article is dedicated to criticising the game for being an empowerment fantasy, where the player / CJ can turn San Andreas into his playground. To me, criticising a sandbox game for that is on par with criticising water for being wet.

The designers / writers simplified the game in lots of ways, and in doing so undermined the racist angle of the game. I can't really comment, I know, because I'm not black and I'm not American. The game was good, and I didn't come by the impression, after playing it, that all the problems in Black America are caused by people who were black.

That the riots went away because the PC killed the bad guy doesn't seem significant - this is a trope as as old as storytelling.

Yes, advancement is through killing, stealing, and intimidating. Again, it's a sandbox game. There are problems with violence in media, especially computer games, but singling this one out seems a little arbitrary; they all do that (see Just Cause, Far Cry, et al). All the other GTA games involve the player (often white) advancing from nothing to greatness in the exact same fashion. It has nothing to do with the colour of CJ's skin.
posted by YAMWAK at 8:20 AM on February 29, 2016


I assume that San Andreas was picked because it is easily the best of the modern GTA games. Realizing the ideas of GTA3 and Vice City, but not completely lost up its own ass like GTA4 and 5.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:25 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


I assume that San Andreas was picked because it is easily the best of the modern GTA games. Realizing the ideas of GTA3 and Vice City, but not completely lost up its own ass like GTA4 and 5.

Well, maybe. That would have been an interesting assertion to make in the article as well. But I really would like to see a piece looking at the ideology of the GTA series over time. (Does anyone know of one?)

I think the linked article has another weakness. Right up near the top is this assertion: "These riots are heavily based on the 1992 Los Angeles riots..." But there's nothing in the story to back up the idea that Rockstar's writers "heavily based" any part of their game's story on real events instead of just, you know, taking loose inspiration from what was in the news in L.A. a decade earlier. Rather, I think the author is making his own assertion: "These riots should be heavily based on the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but they are not, and that makes the game racist, or at least gives comfort to racists." Embracing that argument instead of making circles around it might have made for a different, more confrontational and more valuable piece.

Anyway, even if the climax of San Andreas was deliberately sanitized by Rockstar to avoid controversy, the impact of that decision pales in comparison to the resonance of the oh-so-many noxious tropes that run through each installment in the game. I definitely enjoy them as games, and occasionally cackle at the sheer over-the-top spectacle, but on an ideological level they've always felt uncomfortably right-wing to me though Rockstar seems to strive to position them as apolitical or, at best, equal opportunity offenders.
posted by Mothlight at 9:16 AM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


To me, criticising a sandbox game for that is on par with criticising water for being wet.

I'm pretty sure criticizing the ludic aspects of games as empowerment fantasies is a mainstay of a lot of the higher brow criticism of video games these days. it's, if anything, a foundational criticism against modern FPS shooters that's then used to trace how violence is inflicted and on whom. Errant Signal does a lot of this and that's just a drop in the bucket of modern video game criticism

I think that, while it's true that GTA is based on movies, the movies it's based on are all contained within the same cultural milieu as any other piece of fiction, right? just because GTA is another degree removed from it doesn't mean that it can't also be subject to the same kind of cultural criticism. films and video games tell narratives that present themselves as truthful. that truth can be engaged with and should be especially if they're as distorted as GTAs

for a lot of players of the game who grew up without really any knowledge of the LA riots, of how the LAPD abandoned Koreatown to protect white neighborhoods, of the LAPD's history of violence, and of the history of how law enforcement in the US has engaged with black bodies, GTA's representation is important. any mainstream representation of race or class or gender or etc is important if its audience tends to be of the type that doesn't seek out grounded knowledge since it, in effect, is one of their few sources of history. and because you're the player character in the game, the feel of the game is going to be representative for you of a time you didn't live in. it's going to be the Truth for you and millions of other people unless they all happen to seek out more critical representations of it. and, as per the norm, people don't so articles like this one have to do the work of contrasting it with a more historiographically sound history

oh, and the argument that money is a sufficient reason for distorting history is bullshit. you can have a fun sandbox game that does its due diligence with representation and accuracy. San Andreas didn't even come close to it. money isn't a sufficient reason for anything. y'all should know better than that
posted by runt at 9:26 AM on February 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


The game is not pretending to be an accurate historical record. The riot in the game may be based on the LA riot, but there are lots of differences between the two (different cause, different effect, different duration, different impact, different people, different communities etc.). You can conflate them, and criticise one for being a poor mirror of the other, but so what?

In 2004, anyone playing the game would have been alive during the riots, and the aftermath, twelve years ago. They already knew. Asking Rockstar to future proof the game so that cultural artefacts were properly explained in context for generations yet to come seems over-demanding. Should they have had a brief, witty, conversation where Big Smoke explained to CJ that cigarette smoking was something people do in LA in the 90's?

Think of James Bond flicks - they are not accurate portrayals of anyone involved with them. Think of Civilisation, where the advisors are hardly accurate to the historical record. Think of Call of Duty. Is Wolfenstein racist for not accurately portraying the contribution of people of colour when fighting zombies in World War 2? If you want to tackle the problem of historical reliability, I'd suggest starting with games actually pretending to be set on this Earth.

The riot isn't even a big point of the game. Three of the game story missions take place during the riot, of the 83 main story missions in the game. It's the climax, yes, but the Rampart stuff is portrayed in the game from start to finish.

Is money a good reason to distort history? No. Is it a good reason to disregard portions of history that you're cherry-picking from, to make your entertainment product more enjoyable? Sure. See above. Inglorious Bastards is not an accurate portrayal of the actions of a group of Jews during World War 2, but it's still a good movie (in my opinion, of course).

With regards to b1tr0t's comments, while Rockstar might continue to port the game, I'm not sure how many people will play it, particularly the eighty plus hours necessary to get to the riots. It has dated quite a bit, in terms of gameplay and graphics.
posted by YAMWAK at 10:35 AM on February 29, 2016


Maybe it would be useful to give a 101-level treatment of what GTA actually is: GTA is a satire of America by British video game designers and writers, who have invented a highly-stylized Ersatz America from the most extreme aspects of the popular culture — music, television, and film, particularly — that the US exports in bulk to the UK. Both characters and the worlds they inhabit are highly extreme reinventions of non-existant people in works of (fictional) pop culture. Criticizing GTA for not getting "the facts" right seems to make as much sense as to criticize, say, The Onion for its inaccuracy in reporting. It is kind of missing the point, to a degree.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:39 AM on February 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yeah, it's bringing a history book to a pop culture pastiche party - there's a reason the city is called San Andreas and not Los Angeles.

At the same time I'd argue even a pastiche has some responsibility towards the tropes it employs.
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the criticism of the use of the riots as a plot device and the way they alter the context of the events is entirely fair.

I think stuff like this is a little facile:

Within just 50 in-game days, CJ amasses a business empire comprising a casino, a record label and a car dealership – in less than two months, he goes from living in federal housing in one of Los Santos’ ghettos to being a multimillionaire. Similarly, the game is filled with things to do: across San Andreas, players encounter a litany of missions, side-missions, challenges, secrets and activities. This is a world laden with opportunity. Contrary to the real lives of black people in South Central Los Angeles, whose ability to progress out of poverty is either tacitly or explicitly denied by the white system, CJ experiences hyper-mobility, exploring a world where he can not only become ultra-rich, ultra-fast, but where nothing is ever denied.

Not that it's not worth discussing the relationship between gameplay decisions and a game's "message" but because it seems to elide the way a game like this is built out of multiple layers - plot on top of gameplay on top of technology - rather than than addressing how they operate, how they relate and why.
posted by atoxyl at 11:20 AM on February 29, 2016


Is Wolfenstein racist for not accurately portraying the contribution of people of colour when fighting zombies in World War 2?

Yes. I don't think that they set out only to minimize anyone's contribution to WWII, but the fact that default soldier in a video game = white guy is pretty indistinguishable from the way minorities are ignored as possible main characters by mainstream culture.

The thing about systemic racism is that looked at individually all the choices could be defended, you have to look at everything in aggregate, that's how patterns work.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:32 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't really agree with the idea that we can't criticism an aspect of San Andreas without first criticising all other games and all other aspects of San Andreas! This is a choice the creators of the game made for a game which was very influential, and still is. To be honest if the best defence we can mount of San Andreas is that it's so flimsy that it can't stand even the barest of critical examinations, I think that's a shame.

Where I think this criticism is slightly lacking, as many games criticisms are, is that it engages entirely on a story level. While I think GTA games are somewhat more amenable to that approach (as they are very much about their story), I think engaging with the actions the players take might well have elicited more insight.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:42 AM on February 29, 2016


It has nothing to do with the colour of CJ's skin.

I don't see how you can positively assert that, or more to the point, why you want to positively assert that. Some people are saying they see an issue with CJ's character and his race. Why is it necessary to close the door on that issue rather than explore it as part of the dynamic of the game? Even if you yourself don't "see" it, is it not possible to you that there are things you simply don't see?

Asking Rockstar to future proof the game so that cultural artefacts were properly explained in context for generations yet to come seems over-demanding.

Nobody's asking that. Nobody's saying that Rockstar needs to go back in time and change their game. Someone else said, why are we even discussing this when there have been several GTAs since then? Part of the reason is that the detachment of time makes it easier to view it as an artifact of its time, and what that tells us about that period in history. We can't change the 12 year old game, but with all the patches and expansions and etc. out of the way, it's no longer a moving target., and the same (to a much lesser extent) about that time in American history.

Criticizing GTA for not getting "the facts" right

It's not about GTA's historical accuracy. It's about the shape of the inaccuracy. It's like, maybe, a tell in poker. Part of playing poker is being able to mislead your opponents through body language. We all transmit facts through involuntary gestures, but if you're skilled the facts you transmit are sort of random noise. They're wrong, but not in any specific direction, so there's no information to be gleaned. But if you have a tell, there's a reliable bias in your body language, over and over again, that others can read if they are skilled. It's not deliberate but it's there. And to me what this article is saying is, let's discuss the "tell" we see in GTA. Let's discuss the bias that "just happens" to paint white culture in a slightly better light and "just happens" to paint black culture in a slightly worse light. Because it's not just GTA. That tell/bias is a phenomenon which exists broadly throughout Western culture in general, and of which the game is both a caricature and a microcosm. Funny thing about a tell is that if other people don't call your attention to it, you might never realize it's even there.
posted by xigxag at 12:09 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Where I think this criticism is slightly lacking, as many games criticisms are, is that it engages entirely on a story level. While I think GTA games are somewhat more amenable to that approach (as they are very much about their story), I think engaging with the actions the players take might well have elicited more insight.

I know I'm just... criticizing the critics instead of daring to criticize games myself here, but I thought this was good as long as it focused on story beats and weaker when it tried to sweep in elements that are clearly driven by gameplay concerns while still addressing them through the lens of narrative. There are games in which story and gameplay are fairly inextricable but I don't think GTA is one of them.

In general I think criticism of story in games, written similarly to film criticism, is often well argued but only covers part of what games are. And I think criticism of gameplay - which is more interesting to me because it's unique to games by definition - is getting pretty sophisticated. But a lot of critics don't do very well at integrating them - to be fair, sometimes because games don't do very well at integrating them.
posted by atoxyl at 12:10 PM on February 29, 2016


Criticizing GTA for not getting "the facts" right seems to make as much sense as to criticize, say, The Onion for its inaccuracy in reporting. It is kind of missing the point, to a degree.

or it could be like criticizing the Onion for having a particular form of political bent in the direction of their satire much like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report did, seeing what role that played in the popular lexicon, what identities is reinforces, who all is watching it, and how well mapped their stories are. it's not about criticizing GTA for historical accuracies; it's about the narrative they create around the riot, how that discourse shapes popular beliefs, and where you go from there

modern criticism of the past 50 years or so doesn't fixate authorial intention as a central thesis. it's interesting to see who the writers were, what they were writing for, and why they did it but that's just one, small gear in the machine of society
posted by runt at 1:04 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Think of James Bond flicks - they are not accurate portrayals of anyone involved with them.

so it gets a free pass from feminist criticisms about its portrayals of women? so it's freed from a post-colonial criticism of how expendable its minorities are?

of course it isn't real. but it doesn't mean it doesn't have consequences, that it's not telling a narrative that's being engaged by with a large number of people.

Is [money] a good reason to disregard portions of history that you're cherry-picking from, to make your entertainment product more enjoyable? Sure.

spoken like a true neoliberal. why even try for an ethics in anything when the free market can tell us what to do
posted by runt at 1:09 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't see how you can positively assert that, or more to the point, why you want to positively assert that.

That line was in reference to the criticism of his ability to do anything he wants without serious consequence. I can understand that people would have a problem with the lack of realism involved here, but that element, that 'hyper mobility', that has absolutely nothing to do with his race, or gender. It has absolutely everything to do with it being a computer game.

As a sandbox game, the point of the game is that the player character has freedom to move, to generally interact with the world as they please, and yes, empowerment to ignore social constraints. That's what makes sandbox games attractive to a lot of people.

Irrespective of the nature of the player character in that game, they would have had the same 'hyper mobility'. White, black, asian, male, female, human, alien, able-bodied, disabled - the game is going to empower that character to act freely, to rise, inevitably, to the highest ambitions. The player character has ultimate privilege.

If you want to criticise that feature of games, and I think it would be an interesting discussion, go ahead. I just don't see anything special about GTA:SA in that regard. That's the portion of the article that caused me the most irritation.

I'm not, as mentioned previously, in any position to comment on race relations in America. If my arguments have been racist, I apologise, and it was not my intent.

With regards to the moral / cultural obligations of the media, I obviously disagree with most people here. I feel that they should not need to accurately portray the historical events that they allude to. Any story you tell will have to pick which parts to pay attention to, and which parts to gloss over. Attempting to lay out things exactly as they happened would be turgid.

You could take a pen to your library and edit every distorted historical truth or mis-portrayed person, but I don't think that the result would necessarily be an improvement. Richard III works better when there is a strong contrast between the characters. A triumphant ending to a story is more satisfying than a 'and then things sort of fell apart, and some things got better, and some things got worse, and none of it really mattered in a few hundred years'.

I'm not sure what 'message' I got from GTA:SA, but if the players generally got the message 'things can be better than they are now', or 'may be you can do more', then I'd say it did okay as a story. If they really went for historical accuracy, I think the message might be more depressing, and a lot less energising.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:46 PM on February 29, 2016


I don't think you need to be interested in whether to blame Rockstar to point out that, whatever the reasons, GTA: San Andreas distorts and over-simplifies race issues in ways that might have an impact on how players think about those issues.

And I think a more productive version of the debate about whether to Rockstar would be to ask whether it's true that games as a medium (or specifically AAA games of this type) will necessarily distort important social or historical realities because of the need to bend story and setting to fit the gameplay. Or are there ways Rockstar could have portrayed these issues more accurately or more thoughtfully without completely revising the type of game they were making.

Let's discuss the bias that "just happens" to paint white culture in a slightly better light and "just happens" to paint black culture in a slightly worse light...That tell/bias is a phenomenon which exists broadly throughout Western culture in general

Right. So to what extent are the distortions driven by gameplay vs. white culture's inherent tendency to re-tell history showing ourselves in a better light?
posted by straight at 1:46 PM on February 29, 2016


As satirical and snide as Rockstar products have been from the start, evaluating any cultural responsibility from them is like trying to tally the diplomatic implications of punk rock lyrics.

This topic is reminding me of a fiasco for game creation toolkits that emerged last decade. Does anybody remember what happened with Genesis3D, the open source game engine?
Here's the Anti Defamation League's PDF detailing how overtly racist agendas were disseminated with the unintentional help of a powerful game engine.
posted by colex at 2:07 PM on February 29, 2016


Searching the Blue, looks like MetaFilter remembers.
posted by colex at 2:19 PM on February 29, 2016


Any story you tell will have to pick which parts to pay attention to, and which parts to gloss over. Attempting to lay out things exactly as they happened would be turgid.

the point of this criticism isn't to that Rockstar needed to be completely beholden to history, it's that Rockstar had the power to tell whatever story they chose. and instead of referencing the conversation about the LA riots that were happening, they instead chose to tell a dramatically different story that took out pretty much all of the aspects of race relations. and this narrative, in my view, is going to be one of a very few number that the kids who didn't grow up in LA got unless they happened to go out of their way to look up different sources

of course you could say, well nobody's going to be taking GTA seriously because that was not the intention of the makers but I don't think I'd have to look very far to find people who've lived in comfortable, predominantly white bubbles whose only exposure to anything resembling black experiences is going to be through games like GTA. I've met plenty of people here in the South who go out of their way to avoid areas where there is a higher black population or who refuse to ride public transportation in fear of 'thugs.' so, to me, the way the narrative in GTA and other games with black player characters are told is important and worth reexamining in the same way that movies or films or news media or anything else with a bias and a platform is worth examining, esp considering the systemic racism endemic to US media

I'm not sure what 'message' I got from GTA:SA, but if the players generally got the message 'things can be better than they are now', or 'may be you can do more', then I'd say it did okay as a story. If they really went for historical accuracy, I think the message might be more depressing, and a lot less energising.

the message of San Andreas that I took away was that black people are just like the rest of us, no different, and now we can live happily in post-racial America where anybody can become a success. and police brutality isn't an issue of systemic racism, it's that the police are corrupt assholes because hey, how black was Tenpenny, amirite
posted by runt at 2:28 PM on February 29, 2016


oh, and the Wire came out in 2002. GTA:SA came out in 2004. if they wanted a media reference for race relations in the US, they had good sources. that they decided to only use drivel was a choice and, imo, a bad one
posted by runt at 2:34 PM on February 29, 2016


On the other hand, we know from MTV Cribs that there isn't a single 90s rapper who doesn't own a Scarface poster, so GTAs game mechanics and ethos seem a pretty good match for the milieu.
posted by Artw at 3:31 PM on February 29, 2016


Nobody's saying that Rockstar needs to go back in time and change their game.

Well, they did anyways!

(There's precedent for this, actually -- Rockstar modified GTA Vice City to remove some language that was seen as inciting racial violence. Plus there's the whole Hot Coffee thing.)
posted by neckro23 at 5:42 PM on February 29, 2016


This game was released 8 years ago. Surely something more recent and relevant could be used to showcase racism in the industry?

Here you go, complete with a lesson in foreign languages.
posted by pwnguin at 11:27 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Irrespective of the nature of the player character in that game, they would have had the same 'hyper mobility'. White, black, asian, male, female, human, alien, able-bodied, disabled - the game is going to empower that character to act freely, to rise, inevitably, to the highest ambitions. The player character has ultimate privilege.

If you want to criticise that feature of games, and I think it would be an interesting discussion, go ahead. I just don't see anything special about GTA:SA in that regard.


Well for one thing, GTA:SA actually has a black protagonist. The gameplay might be the same regardless of the race of the player character, but the meaning is not necessarily.
posted by Dysk at 2:11 AM on March 1, 2016


« Older the Kurds are on the move   |   Judge a Book by Its Title Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments