So the implicit message from the developers is that they felt pressure to clean up the racial stereotyping but none to clean up the misogyny.
While the race and gender flaws threaten the game’s status as art, it is the game’s treatment of violence that most limits its potential. In random encounters in the city, violence—whether against pedestrians, women or anyone other than better-armed gangsters and the police—never carries consequences. Because great storytelling generally involves moral choice and the consequences that follow from one course of action over another, GTA IV, no matter how magnificently realized, cannot be considered art. After all, we’re still talking about a game in which players are encouraged to get around the city by stealing cars, ignoring traffic laws and running over people. And the violence carries none of the truth and raw complexity that is depicted in artistic successes like HBO’s “The Wire,“in which a life of crime, even at the top of the food chain, is nasty, brutish and short.
As a gamer and someone interested in the social uses of technology, I am awed by the accomplishments and potential of the world-building contained in GTA IV. The economics of the industry are such, however, that this type of technology is not likely to be applied anytime soon to games that are fun, rich and compelling, but which offer players more choices about what type of world they would like to build, and what type of person they wish their character to be. While social science research has not definitively shown a link between these games (or other media, for that matter), and violent behavior, it is clear that even GTA IV presents a world with few positive options for social engagement and fun.
Michael C. Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.