Grand Theft Auto and the Stealing of Innocence


So I’ve been teaching a high school film class, flying by the seat of my pedagogical pants while replacing the regular teacher until after Christmas break. Judging by his posters, his curriculum has focused on the Seth Rogen canon and the Predator series, although these students have yet to demonstrate a feature-length attention span.

My students were starting their first movie projects – short films – and I was listening in on each group’s collaboration.  We had spent three weeks studying camera angles, sound design, and editing software; I could tell that they had had enough theory and were itching to start shooting. I had just taught a quick lesson on story structure, and was about to hand out the cameras. But before I did, I told them to first plan out their narratives.

When I asked one of the groups to talk about their idea, the five boys explained they were going to do a GTA 5 film.

“A what film?” I asked, honestly curious.

“Grand Theft Auto 5!”

They were hunkered around a piece of paper drafting an outline. “It’s a video game,” they went on, and described it with the detail and tenderness of a dear girlfriend.

“We’re going to be playing the game, and then get sucked into its world, and be inside the video game, living it out.” I had yet to see them this engaged; they were twitching with excitement.

I’m not sure this was an improvement from the previous group I had talked with. Their idea: “Redneck Mafia.” It would be a film where the only black kid in the group — who was notably silent throughout the explanation — sells cocaine to the other (white) members. The rest of the film would consist of the cast doing stupid stuff to each other. (“Like Jackass!” they said, as if that would convince me.)

To be honest, I was happy they were finally off their cell phones.

At lunchtime, I decided to Google Grand Theft Auto 5. Having never played the video game, I was intrigued as to why my students would want to make a film about it.

I got linked up to some YouTube clips, and not long after came across the strippers. In a video game, I kid you not.

At over a billion dollars in sales, I’m betting there’s a swath of gamers who would want to drive a Porsche through my mouth for suggesting the nude lap dances portrayed in Grand Theft Auto might be blunting their souls some.

And I would go so far as to say (here comes that Porsche) the half-clad peelers may not even be necessary for the game. It’s about heisting things, isn’t it? And bullets, and drug dealers, and bullion?  Are the pole dancers really necessary? I can’t remember playing Pac-Man and wishing naked lady-ghosts would chase me around the maze. Were they worried they’d lose their 13-30 year old male demographic to porn?

I’m not trying to be a prude; I realize gamers won’t be jacking cars and offing civilians thug-style just because they played this game; they’re just playing, right?

(Of course, I could mention the research linking video gaming to obesity, attention disorders, and aggressive behaviour. But then you might mention the other research linking video gaming to increased brain matter, motor skills, and problem solving abilities. So let’s hold off on that line of questioning.)

What I’m curious about are the consequences of these simulated lap dances. The thing is, from my limited exposure of GTA, these dancers aren’t on the periphery, merely gyrating in the background; the game is in first-person, so the strippers are front and centre. And trust me, these aren’t Frogger graphics. Four sequels in, GTA images are high-end, and the designers made sure the breasts look real, impressively pixilated and digitally endowed.

Real enough to lust after, real enough for it to stop being just a game. Those strippers will break into your heart and hotwire your insides, and for many guys, they won’t be gone in 60 seconds.

I’m a case study:  I had a tough time stopping the YouTube clip. When I told my wife about it that evening, it felt a bit like I had chipped a piece off of something I would never want to break. I felt ashamed.

I wonder how it affects those 15-year-old-boys.

Maybe they’ll get bored of the lap dances, and look for something more carnal in GTA 6. Maybe it is just a game, and they’re not affected by it. Or maybe they’ll grow to see women as controllable chesty objects, thinking of their wives as entertainment.

Maybe next class I can talk to them about this, and try to manoeuvre their thoughts and re-route their drives towards something better. Maybe I can get them to tell a better story with their film, and even with their lives.



Flickr photo (cc) by wizzer2801


finds oodles of joy working with high school youth. He is also an actor, and has landed various small roles in television and commercials. He loves being married, plays viola at his church, and hopes to one day find a cure for chocolate.