I have been debating about whether or not to write about the new feature of first person sex with a prostitute in GTA 5 for about a week now. Since the thought has not left my mind, I am going to let it win and talk about my perspective on this video game based on my work with child pornography offenders.
I want to preface this post with a few statements. First, I do not like violence. Second, I am not a video game person. I never have been. It just isn’t my thing. Lastly, I am no expert on the link between video game violence and in person violence, so that is not what I will be discussing here.
What concerns me about this game is the continued and glorified depersonalization of sex and its connection to violence. I have long heard about GTA and the fact that one of the enticing aspects of the game is the ability to have sex with a sex worker and then kill her to get her money back. This is, apparently a lot of fun for some people. In the new version of the game, you get to do this with the first person perspective. So, as I don’t play the game, I did my research on, of course, Youtube. I came across a few reviews of the game that showed many sequences of the clips of the game with the reviewer exploring all the services of the prostitute in the game followed by her murder. According to these videos, the sex workers LOVE having sex with the John. They extol the virtues of his sexual prowess and the fact that he can make them orgasm from performing oral sex on him. Proponents of the game will say that it is only a game and not supposed to be realistic. I understand, but as someone who is knowledgeable about the affects of pornography on developing sexual arousal templates in children and adolescents, it still bothers me.
Here’s why. In my practice, I do a lot of work with people who were arrested or convicted for the possession of child pornography. Many of these men (in my practice all men) are pornography addicts and their use escalated into looking at images of child sexual exploitation. However, a number of my clients are young men (in their 20s) who are digital natives and grew up on the computer and playing video games. When these young folks start therapy, they often have a hard time with understanding victim empathy. They are looking at images on a screen. It is just something that is in their computer. For many, the idea that these images and videos are real live children being abused doesn’t cross their mind. They have dehumanized or depersonalized the images they view.
What does this have to do with a video game? Again, not based on science but my own experience in practice, a number of these clients are/were hard core video game players. I am in no way suggesting that this use made them pornography addicts or made them look at illegal pornography. I see a correlation in my practice between people with a lot of screen time, i.e., video games or pornography, whose brains are really able to depersonalize and objectify images of women (and men too) because they are “not real” and “only on the computer.” This was reinforced this afternoon by a group member talking about his denial. He didn’t realize that the children in the images were real people.
Endorsing depersonalizing women in a video game is, in my opinion, doing the same thing. Prostitutes are actual people in real life. Many have been abused and traumatized. When we make them pawns in a game and figures of violence, we are dehumanizing them. It makes it easy to not think of women, prostitutes or angry sex acts as personal, but just an act on the screen. I am sure that there are many people who do realize that this is just a game. But equally likely, there are developing brains that are not learning to make the distinction.
Bravo to stores such as Target who have decided to listen to the concerns of their patrons and remove this game from the store shelves. Though I support free speech and a person’s right to purchase a game for their own personal use, I am in favor of not putting it out where an unsuspecting or uneducated person may purchase the game, not knowing what they are in for or not knowing the possible psychology effects.