Correction: Rockstar Games has reached out to PSU to clarify that the scene described in this article is meant to depict and imply cannablism, not rape. We regret this error. Turns out, some of the cannibal NPCs are naked.
There is a rape scene in Grand Theft Auto V. But Rockstar Games couldn’t have handled it any better.
As reviews of Rockstar’s open-world opus hit the ‘net this morning, you might be wondering where PSU’s review is. I’ve been playing the game constantly for the last few days, but I’m not ready to render my final verdict on what is, arguably, the biggest game since the previous Grand Theft Auto. The odyssey of Michael, Trevor, and Franklin is a massive, massive adventure, after all. In our time with the game, we’ve seen a great many things–hilarious accidents, crazy characters, and disturbing events.
That last one could be used to describe GTA V’s rape scene, which occurs as a random event somewhere out in Blaine County’s sprawling countryside. It’s a dirty place with dirty people–meth heads, redneck thugs, and cartel members alike. Still, I wasn’t expecting to see the following take place in the hills north of Los Santos:
SPOILER ALERT for the following pages.
I was doing taxi-cab missions with a Downtown Cab Co. car. I had just dropped off a male passenger near a pig farm. He didn’t pay his fare, so I left the cab to give chase. One punch was all it took for the coward to pay his dues. Suddenly, I heard a female scream from across the highway: "Stop! Somebody, please, help me!" A blue dot on my mini-map marked the location; I enabled Franklin’s Good Samaritan instincts and ran across the road to investigate. The screams were louder, from behind a brown car parked on the roadside.
I came around to the car’s opposite side. A clothed woman was kneeling on the ground. One man had his gun trained on her. Another man, bending over behind her, was naked from the waist down and preparing to violate her.
Instinct kicked in. I punched the bent-over man, his genitalia exposed. His friend, surprised or unwilling to shoot me, was my next victim. A few seconds later, I had curb-stomped and thoroughly ended the lives of both. At this, the woman rose, visibly shaken, and asked if I might drive her home. Franklin responded in kind, and we were off.
On the way back to her house, the two conversed–she explained how she had been chatting with a friend on the phone, how these two men had been ranting about technology on the roadside, how she had stopped to ask if they needed help. Franklin was listening and responding, but my mind was elsewhere.
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.