Violence (Virtual/Actual) and Visibility

Of course the week a new Grand Theft Auto game drops would be bookended with horrific violence. Between Monday’s Navy Yard Shooting and last night’s latest edition of “gang-related” violence in Chicago lies the biggest media event of all time. No doubt the game will be implicated somehow in both cases.

While I am tired of the relentless scapegoating of “violent media” when so many other factors are at work in these tragedies, I also despise the vitriolic/reactionary “white dude” defense that serves as the default response. Would the world be a better place if the GTA games didn’t exist? Possibly. Are they to blame for real world violence? No. The real problem is imagining a world where Grand Theft Auto wouldn’t need to exist.

The difference between this week’s two incidents of public gun violence illustrates the need for art and cultural production in the vein of the GTA franchise. The Navy Yard Shooting is the latest addition to the ever-expanding canon of Totally Preventable American Tragedies, alongside the likes of Sandy Hook and Columbine.  The shooting in Chicago’s South side will be forgotten within days as just another “gangland shooting”. At a certain level, there is no difference between the two: asshole(s) with guns used them to shoot people (clearly a secondary function of the weapon, you NRA FUCKS). On another level, the difference is clear: The Navy Yard shooting cannot be fully rationalized, while the Chicago shooting can be explained away by the opaque logic/blatant racism in the phrase “gang-related”. One kind is kept visible, the other dismissed and driven underground.

The world of Grand Theft Auto erases the distinction, amplifying the ugly undercurrents of modern American society until they are robbed of the rhetorical varnish that allows their disavowal. Violence is violence is violence, and for most of the citizens of Liberty City, it’s all par for course. Grand Theft Auto ingests the garbage of our world and vomits it into our faces in digital form. The real joke is that we come to enjoy participating in the (simulated) worst aspects of our world. We collectively love having our noses rubbed in our own shit.

And, maybe, that’s where the value is. By making us active participants in the (ir)rational violence reminiscent of the real world in a consequence-free environment, maybe we can come to realize how deeply absurd it all is. None of this needs to happen, and yet it does.


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