“Grand Theft Auto 5” might be one of the most highly-rated games of all time, but its creators’ penchant for biting satire has drawn ire from progressives who call it racist, sexist, and homophobic.
One Canadian teacher has taken these complaints a step further by using the game as a “cultural learning tool,” highlighting how it’s actively damaging as a “cultural force.”
In a new Polygon feature, both the writer, Colin Campbell, and the Royal St. George’s College teacher, Paul Darvasi, place a strong emphasis on how the game’s ironic themes actively reinforce harmful ideas about minorities.
According to the piece, Darvasi pitched his proposal for a course based on GTA 5 to the school, which costs $30,000 a year to attend — and they accepted it. Speaking to the publication, the teacher described his students as “upper middle class white males, a very dominant social group in North American society,” adding that they “go on and obtain high powered positions in society, in governments, in politics, and industry.”
Darvasi sought to make these young men aware of their privilege using the game, which he believed reinforced their skewed notions toward less privileged people.
To highlight the game’s supposed ability to influence minds, Darvasi showed them how the game’s ironic themes were political “in how they depict and exploit societal divisions and economic disparities” through the narrative of the game’s black protagonist, Franklin.
“There’s a whole web of social issues and nuances about being a black person that [the students] really hadn’t realized are not present in the game, and it perpetuates a certain stereotype,” he claimed to Polygon. “They explored the idea of identity tourism and how they enter these spaces, and how they enter black bodies. It becomes a commodity. They’re adopting blackness as a temporary style. “
Darvasi also took great issue with the game’s satirical nature. Polygon notes, without any apparent understanding of the game, that its irony “is often missed by younger players who assume that they are playing something that documents class divisions, rather than skewers them.”
“Even while the game is a satire on gangster movies and hip-hop videos, it’s also a very deliberate assembly of stereotypes,” said the teacher. “[The developers are] covering themselves by saying ‘we’re making fun of these stereotypes’. But for a lot of people, including some of these students, video games and entertainment media are the only way they access these neighborhoods, and so they think it’s realistic.”
Both Campbell and Darvasi also took issue with the game’s “misogynistic” portrayal of women, as if Grand Theft Auto 5 exists in a vacuum absent of other media. Furthermore, scientific studies have found little evidence of any relationship between video games and sexism.
It’s worth noting that Grand Theft Auto 5 is a game designed for adults, with mature situations and a narrative reminiscent of a Martin Scorsese movie. It isn’t made for children, or “younger audiences” and shouldn’t be dumbed down for any reason.