The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series is an iconic video game with a cult-like following. Arguably the game’s best known feature is not the story or the game objectives but engaging the gamer to cause as much carnage as possible. Yet even this mode of destruction has its in-game limitation in that the character can get arrested or even killed. In these instances of digital destruction, we suspend any narrative sophistication the story might offer us and we become entangled in these absurd acts of violence. We behave brutishly in a virtual world where multiple cars are stolen, tens of people are killed, and a city is utterly terrified. Back in the real world, many experts suggest that video game violence translates into real life violence. While there is no scientific conclusive and impartial study to back such a suggestion, the implication that behaviour is learnt from the game is very much present in the public’s mind.
The richness of emotion present in a game’s storytelling can inspire to the same depths as other artistic mediums such as film, literature, and art. This is a testament that violent video games are not akin to desensitization. In fact the GTA series is not amoral because the player is acutely aware of the immorality of their actions. This catharsis empowers the player to identify their ‘line’ in both the virtual and real sense. The existence of such a line is not the subject of other games; actually they impair the player’s ability to perceive such a real-world moral dilemma by deluding the player with fantasy. Blame for violent crimes in the real world can be passed around but it is not exclusive to video games. Games, such as GTA, start a discussion in society; one that includes the moral education of youth, the prevalence of guns, an overtly individualistic culture, and personal responsibility. This discourse is an important one in that it helps brings to light the complexities of real-world crimes as opposed to the simplicity of life in the virtual realm. In the end, a healthy balance between video game catharsis and real-world moral meditation will improve psychological well-being. So whether it is Super Bowl simulation or running amok on virtual streets, the effect is the same. Both can help as a part of a conversation and both can be detrimental in a vacuum. The true detriment is not violence in video games; it is the formation of an understanding through a process that lacks diversity and mortality.
Plato in his writing affirms that the philosophical and metaphysical health of an individual is harmed by art through any medium when it is accepted unthinkingly. So the onus is not on the work of art, whether it is a video game or a film, but on the audience. This is the greatest differentiating characteristic between art for propagandistic purposes and art for artistic purposes. The power of the game lies with the gamer, and what they choose to make of it, physically, virtually, metaphysically, and even meta-virtually.