In Grand Theft Auto 5 there’s a torture scene. It prompted some rote outrage, but the reaction was mostly subdued. Why? Because in America, we’re okay with torture. No one in charge of our torture program went to prison; they went on book tours and talk shows and bragged about their crimes. The current administration promised not to punish them. We didn’t even close Guantanamo Bay, our most notorious torture site, the symbol of our national disgrace. Americans can’t object to video game torture, we’d look like assholes.
Oh and in GTA 5, you torture one guy. Dick Cheney implemented a world-wide torture regime. When it comes to violence, vidya just can’t compete with the U.S. government.
Take another outrage-prompting Grand Theft Auto game, GTA: Vice City (national controversies are the easter eggs of GTA). Here the protagonist feuds with a Haitian gang. At one point the indelicately-phrased objective “KILL ALL THE HAITIANS!” flashes onscreen. Haitian groups protested, and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg threatened to investigate the game’s developer for human rights violations.
Put aside that Bloomberg has probably stopped-and-frisked every Haitian in New York City. “Kill all the Haitians” is practically official U.S. policy. We invade Haiti all the time. Once we occupied it for 19 years. We backed Haitian despot Jean-Claude Duvalier, who tortured and killed thousands of Haitians and sold their organs on the black market. We refused refugees fleeing Duvalier’s terror, in violation of international law; when an uprising finally deposed him, we helped him escape. Did Haiti receive reparations for a century of oppression? No. Did Haiti receive an apology? No. Did Haiti get the bad words removed from GTA: Vice City? Yes.
Video games are always more humane than the U.S. when it comes to war. In video games, U.S. soldiers only kill evil people who can fight back. Nazis are a popular foe, or Nazi zombies, or Mecha-Hitler. But players in military shooters almost never kill defenseless civilians. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 made headlines in 2009 when it allowed players to participate in a civilian massacre. Your character is a CIA operative in deep-cover and helpless to stop the killing. The level came with a warning and the option to skip it.
In real-life the U.S. military routinely kills civilians. We blow up weddings and schools and pharmaceutical factories and execute bound-and-gagged pregnant women gangland style. Imagine doing these things in a video game. You can’t even kill civilians in the Blackwater game! Blackwater, a US mercenary outfit known only for slaughtering Iraqi civilians, made a game where they “help people out in dangerous situations.” Dangerous situations like…being patrolled by Blackwater? Maybe you help people out by leaving, like the U.S. is mercifully doing after a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only in video games are we greeted as liberators. Only in video games is it warranted.
Even the Osama bin Laden raid was less violent in video games. In Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror players fight the surprisingly spry Al-Qaeda leader mano-a-mano. You capture Bin Laden alive and fly him to the U.S. for trial and sentencing, demonstrating the respect for the sanctity of human life that supposedly separates us from mujahideen. In real life of course we shot the unarmed washed-up masturbating old geezer in the head and dumped his body in the ocean, like Tony Soprano did to Big Pussy. U-S-A! U-S-A!
There is one game that doesn’t whitewash U.S. history: a deranged no-budget porno Western for the Atari 2600 called Custer’s Revenge. The game’s sole objective is to rape a squaw tied to a post. That’s it. You walk across the screen naked, with an erection, and violate the indigenous peoples of America. The symbolism is blunt, and quite effective. Our tumescent anti-hero embodies centuries of genocide, broken treaties, stolen land, military equipment named after exterminated tribes and sports teams named after racial slurs. Such honest self-reflection should be applauded. I’d say it was time for a critical re-evaluation of Custer’s Revenge if the game didn’t suck so goddamn bad.
Finally, here’s then-Senator Hillary Clinton warning us that violent video games hurt children:
And here’s then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s boss, joking about the drones he uses to kill children:
You’re worried video games will make us violent, Hillary? Don’t make me laugh. I’ve never played a video game where you execute mentally-handicapped people, like Texas does. Or a game where you stalk and murder black kids legally, like in Florida. This savagery doesn’t come from video games. It comes from a nation convinced that everyone it kills by definition deserves to die.
So, everyone decrying game violence: please blow me. There will never be a video game as destructive and morally-monstrous as the United States of America.