“There are some entities that cannot be actors. These include taxonic collectives such as ‘men’, ‘women’, ‘white people’, ‘black people’, etc; social classes; ‘society’ and ‘the state’; and objects such as money, or written materials, natural disasters, diseases and so on.”
- Tim Owen (Social Theory and Human Biotechnology 2009)
A game is not a person; it doesn’t think, it doesn’t make choices, it doesn’t necessarily pose arguments. Any arguments it might pose or are injected in by the designers are subjective and open to interpretation. It’s not an actor, it doesn’t vote, it doesn’t get drunk and convince you that public urination is a good idea. It doesn’t knock on your door and ask you very politely to believe a load of nonsense in an inoffensive tone which makes it more annoying as it’s harder to get mad at them because they seem so nice and then you think ‘maybe I could be that happy and nice if I believed a load of rubbish’.
A lot of controversy was raised around Grand Theft Auto because you could hire prostitutes and then kill them after the virtual sex and get your money back. Obviously if this happened in real life this would be a heinous crime but in a game it’s purely logical: you paid money for a ‘virtual’ service that didn’t really benefit you, the point of the game and being a criminal is money, so why shouldn’t you kill to get your money back?
It seems nonsensical to play a criminal and then find yourself repulsed when they commit a crime. Does the life of one virtual prostitute have more meaning than the virtual money in a video game? I don’t know about you but when I play GTA I don’t feel the need to follow the speed limit, because it’s a waste of time. Why should I obey any other laws in a virtual world centered around crime? The police in the game don’t chase you if you drive on the pavement as long as you don’t run too many grannies over. Even then you can just keep driving and if you get caught you just get fined, get your guns taken away and if you die you go to hospital and have to pay a bill.
This is something I’m doing in private, it doesn’t hurt anyone, if I want to run over virtual grannies in the comfort of my own home, that’s my business.
“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
GTA isn’t bad, you chose to buy the game, you chose to play it, you could have put down the controller at any time but you didn’t. GTA didn’t make you do anything, it just gives you the freedom to do everything - the game isn’t necessarily immoral, it’s just amoral. Simply put: it just doesn’t give a shit. It doesn’t make you kill prostitutes after ‘employing their services’ – that principle was one born of the capitalist ideal of having something for nothing, which you brought into the game with you. Her virtual life meant less to you than the price of her service, which no one can fault you for because she wasn’t real.
“Games don’t pose arguments, they present systems with which to interact”
Chris Dahlen (video game critic)
GTA isn’t the bible, it isn’t telling you how to live, in fact it’s doing the opposite and that’s why it’s controversial, because it lets you do whatever you want. GTA 4 only failed, in my opinion, because it tried to imitate real life by splicing other mediums into it. I don’t play games to watch TV, I watch TV to watch TV. It lost sight of the point of games: to pastiche life rather than mimic life, because if we liked life that much we would just live it rather than play a game. So I think it got lost a little up its own arse and forgot that games are about fun and realism is just the canvas on which we paint red.