But there’s always been something odd about the fact that the “Mature” rating has historically been defined by some of the most immature games. The “Mature” tag is more typically associated with games like Conker’s Bad Fur Day with its cartoon violence and singing piles of poop than it is with games that deal with complex and emotionally mature themes. Some of the most notorious Mature-rated games ever made were fundamentally immature. The idea behind that rating is that only mature gamers are capable of processing those visuals and gags responsibly. We could argue about whether or not that’s true or whether it’s all part of a greater moral panic over the corruption of youth, but it needs to be acknowledged that there’s a degree to which our perception over what is actually mature tends to change as we mature.
However, when I talk about the GTA Trilogy‘s immaturity, I’m not just talking about how someone might look back at these games now that they’re a little older and maybe have a different sense of humor. I’m also talking about the ways in which these games were immature that do not contribute to the bigger things they were trying to do and instead detract from this franchise’s considerable legacy.
There is perhaps no better example of the GTA Trilogy‘s inexcusable immaturity than these games’ blatant homophobia. There’s a mission in GTA: San Andreas in which a man asks you to murder another man they recently slept with in order to prevent them from talking about it and “embarrassing” them. There’s also a commercial in that game for a show called “My Five Uncles” that features some blatantly offensive portrayals of homosexual men as well as a sports team and several businesses that are named after common slurs for homosexuals. There’s even a scooter in the GTA series that has long been criticized for being a thinly veiled reference to a homosexual slur that remains in the franchise to this day.
Truth be told, I don’t remember if I laughed at any of these jokes when I was a teenager, but there’s a pretty sad chance I did. At the very least, I’m fairly sure I didn’t think much about them at all, which is honestly a problem in and of itself. Now, though, I’m mostly caught off-guard by how unnecessarily cruel these kinds of jokes are and how little they contribute to the games.
I will praise the GTA series endlessly for its sharp social satire, but when it comes to jokes like these that are so cruel and strangely prominent, I have to wonder what, exactly, the writers were trying to say with them. Were they just cheap throwaway gags written during different times, or do they represent something darker?
Even if they were cheap throwaway gags, shouldn’t we hold these games and their writers to a slightly higher standard when we know for a fact that they’re capable of producing humor and characters that have survived the years so much better than those tired jokes? I get that there’s a degree to which everyone is seen as a potential target for ridicule in the GTA games, but when you start to see everyone as a target, you start to lose focus on what, exactly, it is you think you’re attacking and how you’re choosing to go about it. There are literal villains in these games that aren’t targeted as often or as fiercely by these games’ sense of humor as some everyday (and often marginalized) people are. For a series that is known for being so open in its world design and its ideas, there’s a close-mindedness to those elements of its past that feels at odds with what it is often rightfully praised for.
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