From Racism to Social Networking, GTA V Certainly Has a Lot to Say About Society

Despite the fact it’s the favored scapegoat for teenage violence in our world by ignorant Senators and ill-informed citizens, Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series is actually one of the most vocal satires about our society today. Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, happened to be particularly cynical of the lauded American Dream and often forced us to consider how possible success really is for someone born outside of the system.

And with their latest release of Grand Theft Auto V, the writers and developers of the game have sought to comment on our modern society today in nearly every way possible.

One of the most predominant being what it has to say about the family structure. Protagonist Michael serves as the narrative vehicle for this, as his dysfunctional nuclear family arguably casts some doubt on the favored family structure of the 60’s. Does it really work? Does it really bring happiness? Obviously in Michael’s case, not everything is hunky dory in a Leave it to Beaver sense. His wife is cheating on him, his son is a buffoon, and his daughter is hanging out with people your mother typically warns you about. He’s miserable, and his failures and insecurities as a family man help to perpetuate this point. This is also brought to light by one radio spot that encourages people to vote “Yes” on a proposition that outlaws the nuclear family altogether.

But this is only scratching the surface of the satirical well Rockstar has set up in GTA V. The entire Life Invader company is meant to poke fun at the entitlement of youth and the overreaching nature of social media, and it’s easy to guess how the developers want us to feel about the company from the get go. Even the negatively-charged title of “Life Invader”is a pretty strong indicator that social media often takes things a step too far in our lives.

We even hear comments on the jaded nature of many film lovers, as we hear Lester’s complaints about films today being nothing more than sequels and bombastic superhero films that don’t further the art form like the classics of old. This entire statement is played out in a mildly amusing conversation between the two when Michael is driving around in preparation for the first jewel heist of the game.

Then there’s the sleazy Simeon using the color of his skin to guilt people into purchasing cars from him, since, in his mind, people won’t want to be known as a “racist”, and will therefore be more inclined to spend money. Whether or not it works for him isn’t ever really made clear, but it does a lot to comment on how we are very careful about racial issues in our society today.

And even with all of these, there’s still a ton of other references large and small that show us how Rockstar intends to comment on society in our modern day. Online gaming trolls, the stock market corruption, bailouts and financial issues, outsourced jobs, and even the returning cynicism of the American Dream are all touched on in varying ways.

And really, it’s neat to see a game take our modern society to task in such a blatant way. Films are often wont to do this, but games (especially those within the triple-A sphere) don’t always tend to talk about issues such as these.

Still, I can’t help but feel that despite the litany of things the creators have to say about our world in GTA V, there’s a real lack of meaning behind the satire, instead leaving us in a world wallowing in cynicism.

What do I mean? Here’s the thing; satire is meant to poke fun at things and spark conversation and debate about how we conduct our lives or why we perform certain actions. And when it’s used right, it’s incredibly effective.

The problem here is that there’s such an abundance of it that any statement made about society today in GTA almost loses some of its impact. In this world, everything is dumb, everything is negative, and everything is exploited in one way or another. When you do this, you suddenly leave the world feeling cartoonish and weak, instead of thoughtful and compelling.

I’ll be the first to agree that the real world is a mess. We face real issues in the social and economic spheres every day of our lives, and it’s great to see works of fiction comment on them and show us how ridiculous some aspects of our lives really are. But for all the terrible things we face, there are also a number of great things that are a part of our world as well.

The problem is that, like any negative Debbie Downer-type we’ve met, the game seems to think that everything is a mess and that we should almost feel embarrassed about it in some way. This simply isn’t true, and I found that because of it, the game’s satire started to wear on me after a certain point.

It’s almost disappointing in a way, really, since GTA V is one of the first games whose ideas of satire actually wowed me in the start. But the more I play, the more I can’t help but feel like it’s ever the contrarion, reverting to taking jabs where it could be asking meaningful questions.

What did you think of the satire of GTA V? Tell me in the comments below!

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  1. Blake A.

    I think that is the point of GTA V. Not to be a satire that hits just close enough to home to make an impact, but a look at the world through a lens smeared with hyper-negativity. I think, with this game as opposed to GTA IV, Rockstar wanted you to be offended instead of enlightened. Because heists and rocket launchers and LifeInvader.

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