Grand Theft Auto V's rape scene and the power of player choice (corrected)
I had just seen rape in a video game. The only reason it hadn't gone further was that the woman's clothes hadn't been forcibly removed yet.
Then, it hit me. Franklin (and I, as the player) had stopped a rape--at least, the part that hadn't occurred yet. I'm of the mind that any sexual coercion, intercourse be damned, is rape, but the already overwhelming trauma this woman had suffered may have been diminished by my quick response to the call for help.
This is player agency on the most dramatic stage. If I had continued about my business, what would have happened? If I had run over to find the source of the commotion, only to stand idly by while the rape proceeded, what would I have seen? How would I have felt about myself afterward as I, perhaps, left for a comparatively meaningless off-road race or story mission?
Terrible, is the answer to that question, but beyond that, the consequences of inaction are anyone's guess--at least, until somebody out there encounters the same scene and tries something else. If I avoid common territory for spoilers, I will never know what could have happened if I hadn't acted in the way that I did. But the way I acted made me feel important, influential to the game's playspace, and, to this woman, like a hero.
I don't have screenshots or video of the incident. Even as I write this, a couple specific details of the encounter are unclear. I don't know if it can happen more than once, with other victims, or in other parts of Blaine County and Los Santos. But I do know this: with this rape scene, Rockstar has simultaneously demonstrated the power of player choice, the permanence of the choices we make, and the impact that each of us can have on another human life just by stopping to see what's causing commotion.
Grand Theft Auto V is a game by adults, for adults. Rape happens. In a game, it can be shown tastefully--with a fully clothed victim, a flaccid aggressor, and the opportunity for the player to intervene. What comes next is introspection and thought-provoking conversation about the medium of video games and the merits of such an occurrence. Controversy be damned, though this game element will undoubtedly stir some.
Real-world horrors CAN be confronted in video games, and the medium can mature as a result. Just ask Rockstar Games. Just play Grand Theft Auto V.
Kyle Prahl is PSU's Editor-in-chief and a Communication Studies student at the University of Minnesota. He's on Twitter.----