So I was Kick-Ass today, and apart from being a fantastic movie, it somewhat reminded me of GTA. Both texts have obscenity as a core ingredient of their make-up, and both have the potential to make a point about obscenity in their respective mediums.
Warning - Kick-Ass spoilers ahead
Let's start with Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass scrutinises the Superhero genre, how we are fine with our superheroes doing obscene things (swearing, killing, etc.) and how we expose children to such obscenity. By making Mindy an 11-year old who has lost her childhood by being inundated with these experiences, we are shown what such exposure can take away from us. Juxtaposed to Dave's self-proclaimed naivety, we are jolted into Mindy's all too real loss - while losing her mother was a product of the evil of society, losing both her father and her childhood are placed squarely on the superhero life. In this unreal world, her current state of being feels more real than most in this genre.
Now to GTA, which has been critiqued as 'using satire and irony' to be 'stimulating and thought provoking' (in this case, for the expansion pack Vice City). Now I have to admit to never having played Vice City, though I have played quite a few other GTA games, so please correct me if I've missed something. GTA is unquestionably obscene in its depiction of its world, and like Kick-Ass, it is also undoubtedly over the top in its obscenity. It lets you mow down pedestrians like there's no tomorrow, and fights usually end up in multiple counts of death.
I think there is a case for saying that this is ironic, and can cause one to reflect upon how we view violence and what effect it has on us (after a while of killing cartoony people, you might think 'woah, what if this was real' in a Keanu Reeves accent). There is also room for saying that there is an air of self-parody inherent in GTA's make-up. But as a text, I don't feel that GTA could ever stand up to scrutiny in the same way that kick-ass can.
The reason for this is consequences. Kick-ass' obscenity works, because behind all of it, we are keenly aware at all times that this is just a little girl. We are actually offended by what is happening while being delighted by the awesome special effects and the killing of bad guys, an antithesis we are forced to take on board and think about. GTA has no such consequences, past possibly getting caught by the cops (which is seen more as a lack of skill in avoiding them than as a consequence for doing something wrong). And even if the cops catching you meant something, it lacks the personal component of seeing what happens on an individual scale.
Now at this stage, we have to point at technology a bit, because getting level of emotional nuance is incredibly hard in a game (and arguably impossible). Yet with a little bit of creativity we can get around this: what if at the end of every mission, you were given a score sheet with a body count, complete with how many orphans, widows, widowers etc. had been created thanks to your actions? Presented in the same manner that scores are usually portrayed, this would certainly give some sort of emotion to the situation with the same ironic twist that GTA is known for.
Now doing this sort of thing would have made GTA a very different game, and possibly one that was less fun to play (in fact, it may have needed to be much shorter to work as a piece, which then would completely retard its saleability in the marketplace). But it does demonstrate the difference between the game and film industries in their willingness to make meaningful self-commentary on the medium. And at a time when games are crying out to be taken as seriously as films or other pieces of art, it has to give us pause as to whether we are holding them to the same level of scrutiny.