Target Australia and Kmart Australia have pulled Grand Theft Auto V from shelves shortly after the appearance of an online petition that condemns the game, claiming it promotes violence against women. The Change.org petition generated more than 45,000 signatures, which may have influenced the stores’ decision to pull the game. Note that these chains, both owned by Wesfarmers Limited, are not directly related to the U.S. retailers of the same names.
In a statement posted on December 3, Target Australia GM of Corporate Affairs Jim Cooper expressed “a significant level of concern about the game’s content,” noting that “we feel the decision to stop selling GTA 5 is in line with the majority view of our customers.” Kmart Australia followed suit the next day with a similar statement, announcing that the game would no longer be sold in its stores and apologizing “for not being closer to the content of this game.”
The petition voices concerns about what the authors see as the game’s incentivizing of violence against sex workers. “It’s a game that encourages players to murder women for entertainment,” the petition reads, pointing to the way prostitutes factor into developer Rockstar Games’ open-ended gameplay.
The petitioners, “as women survivors of violence, including women who experienced violence in the sex industry,” ask that their “firsthand experience” with sexual violence not be turned into entertainment. By distributing the game, the petition claims, retailers risk “grooming yet another generation of boys to tolerate violence against women.”
Players can pick up and pay a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto V, and the sexual act restores any lost health. The free nature of the gameplay does then allow a player to kill the prostitute, though the petition’s assertion that the behavior is incentivized is misguided. Once the sexual act is concluded, the prostitute exits the car and returns to wandering in the game’s open world as a pedestrian. Since many pedestrians drop a random amount of money when they’re killed, it’s easy to see how the petitioners leapt to the conclusion that they did.
In truth, the game simply presents a world where freedom reigns; it’s the player that ultimately decides how to behave in it. Plenty of missions in GTA V are violent by nature, and there’s a fair criticism that people inhabiting the world — male and female alike — are painted in ugly, often stereotypical tones (the counter to which is that the game is satire), but there’s no scripted activity in the game, story-related or otherwise, in which the goal is sexual violence. For all the outlaw behavior, GTA V is fundamentally a buddy comedy that follows the escapades of three pals pulling off heists.
Publisher Take-Two Interactive’s CEO Strauss Zelnick has issued the following statement in response:
We are disappointed that an Australian retailer has chosen no longer to sell Grand Theft Auto V–a title that has won extraordinary critical acclaim and has been enjoyed by tens of millions of consumers around the world. Grand Theft Auto V explores mature themes and content similar to those found in many other popular and groundbreaking entertainment properties. Interactive entertainment is today’s most compelling art form and shares the same creative freedom as books, television, and movies. I stand behind our products, the people who create them, and the consumers who play them.
Fans of the game have already launched a counter-petition in order to get the game back in stores, and they’ve gathered over 16,00 signatures at time of this writing.
Grand Theft Auto V came out to critical and commercial acclaim in 2013, but has taken the spotlight again with a recent HD remaster for PlayStation 4, Windows, and Xbox One.
The series is no stranger to controversy, drawing many critics thanks to its cavalier attitude toward sex and violence. Notably, Rockstar drew heat from the Federal Trade Commission in 2006 over the infamous “Hot Coffee” mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which unlocked a crude sexual minigame. Actress Lindsay Lohan has also taken the developer and publisher to task more recently, in a lawsuit over the studio’s alleged use of her likeness in GTA 5.