GTA V won’t make you kill sex workers

In a recent piece, Cassie Rodenberg wrote on Grand Theft Auto V by Rockstar Games, low income areas and sex worker violence. Rodenberg, who writes the White Noise blog for Scientific American, could rightfully be expected to provide actual evidence, data and careful linking for her claims. This is particularly so because claims of GTA and violence, as well as sex worker rights and security, are both sensitive topics (not equally, certainly); knee-jerk reactions from all sides probably mean no one will listen, especially if you’re not careful in your portrayal and writing.

Unfortunately, Rodenberg is neither careful nor clear. Instead, Rodenberg relies on a sad retelling of one sex worker’s OD and makes many dramatic points about how GTA sex workers are treated the same way as… real sex workers? About children not caring about education or life because they want to play video games?

The piece is both unclear and dramatic. I left a long comment, but in order for it to make complete sense, you of course should read the piece.

I do worry about commenting or even making blogposts when people are “piling on”; you wonder whether you’d actually add anything useful to a discussion comprised of noise.

However, I think that amidst the shouting from the usual angry gamer crowd, I’d like to indicate that I do have genuine concerns about GTA myself, as someone who dislikes sexism – which is something I hated about this game – and is concerned about safety and security of sex workers. Similarly, Ms Rodenberg doesn’t appear to be facing the same kind of animosity and threats as Ms Baxter did (I don’t wish to convey I’m umsympathetic to horrible messages she is receiving). Similarly, Ms Baxter’s piece was a lot more personal in its criticism for a cause that was pretty embarrassing afterward for her.

Anyway, this is an edited version of my comment:

Much assertion and hints at causal relations, but with no actual evidence provided by Ms Rodenberg in this piece. This is worrying, since as someone who both cares for sex worker safety and the art of video games, I don’t want to be encouraging activity that harms.

Unfortunately, this piece does little except construct the game in a scary way; one I – and no doubt many other gamers – never saw.

“This [killing sex workers] is all possible, even encouraged by tips on YouTube and chatrooms, in Grand Theft Auto V. In fact, your character’s health (aka life points) goes up when you have sex with a prostitute.”

A claim that’s been attached to GTA for too long: “there’s points for killing sex workers”. I see it’s amended to say “life points” but no one thinks or calls it that in this game. It’s just “health”.

I must also point out you’re actually showing sex work to be a good thing, if your character heals (another thing I don’t remember happening).

Second, what do you mean by “encouraged”? All that YouTube video you link to shows is where to locate sex workers, which is no different to videos about how to kill the most people in GTA, blow up the most things in GTA, etc. The only kind of “encouragement” is to play the game as fully as possible. Nothing significant is gained by even engaging with sex workers in GTA. I think I did it once in the game, but it’s actually rather boring.

“In the first 24 hours alone, the game sold 11m copies. That’s 11m pixelated ghettos.”

I don’t understand this part. First, so what? Second, one character lives in a mansion in an upper-class neighbourhood. Another one moves into same area later. Presumably, you mean the whole game is a ghetto? The map? I don’t get this.

“They play at night instead of doing their homework. It’s cool to pick up prostitutes.”

There’s many things students would rather do than their homework. That’s about as much GTA’s fault as Cartoon Network; more so, it’s parents’ responsibility to monitor their child’s education – not Rockstar Games.

“This is how you learn to “be a man”.

According to who? I would be interested in how you’re acquiring your data and also if you know what the average age is of those playing GTA 5. Even the Daily Mail shows estimates that it’s usually adults (with a few kids) who are playing (not just buying).

“And while those students play their game, in their neighborhood, perhaps under their window, real prostitutes walk.”

Yes, but there’s also presumably actual violence, murder, assault. Sex workers can walk where they want.

“Millie was one of them, a woman who worked in South Bronx, who walked the streets. She stood on the track, a simulacrum of game pixels. “

I see you’re trying to make it related to a gaming world, but I’m not seeing how other than your assertion of simulacrum of game pixels. Which doesn’t make that much sense – most of us know what’s real, what’s a game, what’s a film.

“She’s dead now, dead like the on-screen women that are fun to kill.”

No, she’s not dead “like the on-screen women”. That seems insulting to this late woman: a once living, breathing, actual human being with loved ones. Pixellated characters don’t have those human qualities; it seems the writer is the one unable to distinguish between reality and the game by making this rather crude comparison.

“There, game and real women split.”

I don’t know what you mean by this.

“These teenagers have the power to reign over those whores. Game and real women merge.”

Assertion, assertion. No evidence or causal link provided. What is the link between one of GTA’s minor activities and the horrible deaths of sex workers? What is the link to the mostly male gamers living around the sex workers and their mistreatment? Millie died because of a complications related to addiction – what is that relation to schoolkids playing GTA V?

“What they see dictates that they should mock the women outside their windows, mothers and sisters and neighbors. They should harden and laugh like the rest of the world who thoughtlessly screw, dump and kill the bitches in ghettos, things that no longer seem real to them.”

I wish this had been your focus. The game is incredibly misogynistic, in its portrayal of women as either shrieking whiners or damsels in distress. There is no depth to them. This, to me, is more worrying than a minor activity: this is more worrying since it’s emblematic of how many women are treated and how many men view them.

GTA’s awful decision to have three males – when it could’ve included one, just ONE, female lead – is further evidence of this. We know Rockstar are incredible story-tellers and character designers: I would’ve loved to have seen a complicated, fascinating woman character lead. They can do it. They didn’t.

That’s of more concern than assertions of blurring realities: Women really are treated this way, the game is evidence of that. There’s no blurring there.

“But [Millie’s children] can reach one memory of [Millie] on screen, hear her say, “hey, baby,” watch men shove her down.”

Seems a rather insensitive thing to say: again, equating a real-life person with an anonymous collection of pixels is quite insulting. Indeed, how do you know what her children will think of her? If I was one of her children, I would be quite insulted by that last assertion.

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“Please don’t call me that” is not the same as PC or censorship

Imagine you’re at a nice social event: drinks are passed around, you’re amidst friends and new, amicable strangers. Your friend introduces you to one of her friends. Imagine, like me, you have a very uncommon name for those here. You introduce yourself.

I can replay this scenario, because it’s happened to me 3,456 times.



A blank stare. “Ah, well it’s nice to meet you.” (Worse when it’s on the phone because you receive nothing but silence.)

“So Toreek…”

“-It’s Tauriq, actually… No stress on either syllable. Tar as in road. Rick as in short of Richard. Rhymes with ‘stick’.”

Now, most people get it here or eventually come to pronounce it properly, after they’re surrounded by those that can (I have smart friends who, when realising their friends are not getting the pronunciation, say my full name instead of pronouns and say it loudly). This is typical.

However, imagine someone said: “No, I prefer to say Toreek. It’s easier for me.”

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