Youth Culture Window
Franklin runs up to a car, swears at the driver, and tells him to get out. The driver resists so Franklin pulls a gun and executes him in traffic. Franklin then takes the stolen car to the Vanilla Unicorn where he gets a topless lap dance. Later that night, he has sex with a hooker in the stolen car…then runs her over three times.
Welcome to the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto 5.
Crime Is Big Business
Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5) is the fifteenth and latest installment in the Grand Theft Auto series. The game allows players to control a trio of hoodlums (Michael, Trevor, and Franklin) through their graphic and unchecked crime spree in Los Santos, San Andreas, a fictional city based on real towns in Southern California.
Details on those crime sprees will be discussed in a moment.
The developers at Rockstar Games, the team behind the design of GTA5, predicted the release would break all the records…and they were right. Take-Two, the parent company, announced that GTA5 raked in $1 billion in just three days of sales making the game the fastest-selling commodity in entertainment history. By comparison, it took Grand Theft Auto 4 a full week in 2008 to accrue just half that amount. (You can read our summary of GTA4 here.)
From a playing standpoint, early reviews of GTA5 have used the words extraordinary, astounding and epic in spite of a few glitches in the system.
But as we took a few hours to play the game, those “glitches” were the least of our concerns.
Whores and Gore
When GTA5 came out, we received a lot of questions at The Source for Youth Ministry from parents and youth workers about the game’s content and appropriateness for teenagers. The overarching question was, “Is this game OK for my kids to play?”
In answering that question, we thought it best to spend some time interacting with the game, so my youth pastor and I (David) borrowed a copy from a 12-year-old boy in our church whose grandmother had purchased the game for him a week earlier.
In spite of the “M” rating (for Mature) meaning it’s only for players 17 and older….
During the first seven minutes of play, our character had executed a security guard, killed 30-40 cops, dropped the F-word approximately 70 times, and verbalized enough racial slurs to make us squirm in our seats. Twenty minutes later – while we’re driving our sixth stolen car that was blasting insanely crude rap music across its speakers – our character is told to “get a new haircut” so that “maybe you can get some bi***es on your d**k.”
Within the first hour of play, we’d wandered into the Vanilla Unicorn, an upscale strip club located next door to Horny Girls. We were told by one of the scantily-clad girls working up front to “follow my sweet ass” to the back of the bar. There, in a private room, our player received a topless lap dance as he fondled the girl’s body between check-ins by the watchful bouncer.
As she danced and our player caressed her, she said things like, “You’re making me all hot,” and “Oh God, this is making me horny as hell.” As West End Girls by Pet Shop Boys played over the club’s sound system, our lady friend suggested we up the ante by bringing in a second girl. When her friend appeared – also topless – the two girls began to fondle, stroke, and pet each other as they moaned salaciously. Our character was clearly enjoying the entertainment, saying things like, “She feels so soft.”
Yes, this was all virtual nudity… but the two of us began feeling really awkward witnessing this even for the sake of reviewing this for parents. We couldn’t help but think, “Grandma bought this for a 12-year-old?”
Moments later, our character got kicked out of the club, we jumped back in our stolen car and went looking for prostitutes. It didn’t take long to find one. During the short ride, the DJ on our car radio kept giving out advice about (violent) sex. He said over and over again, “Squeeze the love into them and the life out of them.”
We picked up a girl at a street corner and drove into a dark alley. There, we had several options. I won’t go into detail here, simply because it’s just too crude. But if you want to know what the 12-year-old kid in my church had at his fingertips, check out these VERY graphic and hypersexual in-game videos and tutorials. (Be warned; you will hear incredibly vulgar language and see graphic sex acts ending with the murder of the prostitutes.)
These are just a few of the sidebar activities that players (young and old) can get in to while completing the “missions” in Grand Theft Auto 5. From stealing cars, to robbing banks, to murdering pedestrians and motorists, to navigating extra-marital affairs, to arson, to torturing other characters, to dealings with drug cartels, the gameplay of GTA5 has just about everything your grandma warned you about. We’ll put it this way: the game developers took full liberty with their M rating for GTA5.
So, back to that original question: should our kids be playing this game?
Halting the Heists in GTA5
In a country where over 90% of young people between the ages 2 and 17 are playing video games, it’s unwise to ignore what they encounter on these gaming platforms. With a franchise as popular (and controversial) as the Grand Theft Auto series, parents and youth workers need to take long, hard, serious looks at the elements within the game, and not make assumptions about content.
The entire concept of GT5 is built on theft, from boosting cars, to stealing personal property, to robbing banks. But as we’ve interacted with the game, we’ve asked ourselves, “What else is being stolen in these heists?”
- Does the game rob teenagers of a healthy understanding of sex?
- Can the game cheat young people out of their sensitivity toward violence?
- Does it swindle them out of a sense of morality?
- In short, what is the total price teenagers are paying to play this video game?
For all those reasons, we’d strongly suggest skipping GTA5. In other words, do all you can to put a halt on the heists.
Sadly, many parents don’t have a problem with this game.
A few weeks ago Common Sense Media posted a review of the game citing many of the harmful elements. In the comments section, parents responded in droves with justifications of why their 12-year-olds and 14-year-olds are okay to play the game.
“My only problem with the game is the swearing.”
“There’s no mission in the strip club, so you should be able to trust them enough not to go in there.”
Or one of my personal favorites (misspellings included)…
“As long as kids know it is obviosly not real and the laungue and actions on the game should not be repeated it should be fine for kids 14 and older.”
And you wonder why so many kids have access to this game.
Luckily, not all parents feel this way. Check out this “testimony” of a life-long gamer who shared his thoughts about GTA5 on the gaming website GameZone.com. Here are a few excerpts from his article:
GTA 5 doesn't hold back at all. Strip clubs are now virtually fully interactive, and in first-person. That means I can enjoy a virtual stripper rubbing up on my TV screen, topless, in all her glory. I can even choose to feel her up, if the bouncer isn't looking.
Many might scoff at this and say, "So murdering innocent people by driving them over and shooting them on the street is OK, but now sex is taboo?" I'd like to think it's a little bit more of a slippery slope than that. I wouldn't mind my daughter eventually sitting down with me and watching the Terminator or Rambo flicks, but I certainly wouldn't turn on a porn movie for her.
The drugs, the incredible amount of "N-bombs" dropped, the prostitution, the violence, and even a rather graphic torture scene, the clear display of sex is just the cherry on top of this adult-oriented game. This is the one GTA game that I can honestly and finally say that no kid, ever, should get their hands on. Seriously, parents, don't even think about it.
Another review of GT5, this one in a newspaper, was issued in an article with the title Parents, You’ve Been Warned.
Remember, as parents and youth workers, we need to manage all the media our kids take in, not just TV shows or music. We need to keep a close eye on what they’re playing…especially since young people are spending between 9 and 13 hours every week with controllers in hand.
Lastly, we need to bear in mind that “no” is an acceptable answer. Our kids may not understand our answer, and even if they do, may not like our answer. But we are the ones who are responsible for them. That responsibility calls for responsible decision-making on our behalf.
is the author of over a dozen books including the brand new
More Than Just the Talk
, Sex Matters
The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket
The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager
, and youth ministry books like
Ministry By Teenagers
, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation
and the 10-Minute Talks series
. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and
to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers
and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com
. You can follow Jonathan on his blog
a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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