Despite breaking multiple sales records upon release, GTA V has been met with considerable criticism for certain additions to the title. Chief among these is the inclusion of “By The Book”: an interactive torture scene in which players attack a man tied to a chair with various tools. These range from sledgehammers to electric cables, and even include a minor mechanic to revive the subject if he dies of heart failure. The inclusion was only made worse by the following scene where the protagonist Trevor Philips expresses how torture is a method of displaying power over others.
This has drawn the attention of a number of groups such as human rights organizations and teachers unions. All of whom have heavily criticised its inclusion and the way in which Rockstar went about performing the mission. While outside criticism is to be expected for such a controversial scene, the scene has received a negative response from a number of figures more directly associated with the media. Reviewers, critics and journalists on a number of major websites have derided the scene for various reasons.
As quoted in an article on The Guardian, Ian Bogost, video game researcher and critic, stated that the scene “adds insult to injury for survivors who are left physically and mentally scared by torture in the real world.”
In her review on Gamespot, Carolyn Petit commented upon how players were forced into the act and the mixed messages of the scene. With Philips initially expressing his opposition to those ordering the procedure to begin, the FBI, and claiming that torture gives no results. Petit initially considered this to relate to the criticisms and satire the games have been sometimes known for, in this case the United States’ use of enhanced interrogation techniques, but felt the fact it was effective “sends a very different message.”
Others such as VG247’s Dave Cook stated that he felt “the scene wasn’t a statement about anything to do with press scape-goating or profiling. To me it was mean-spirited and another in a long-line of Rockstar ‘shock-tactics’.”
The apparent lack of satire and status as a parody, which may have helped considerably within the scene, has been criticised by many. Besides the above sources, in an otherwise glowing review Jeff Gerstman of Giant Bomb stated that the writing was “hardly the biting satire that it felt like in past outings.”
Much of the criticism seems to have come down to the approach by Rockstar and role as the tormentor. Previous torture sequences in video games tended to have the player character as a victim or be non-interactive, the Metal Gear Solid series being one such example.
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