Grand Theft Auto is not new to criticism. But the latest version is being called even more violent and sexist than before. How dangerous is this trend?

Grand Theft Auto V, the most expensive computer game ever made, has caused outrage among human rights groups for including a torture scene in which the player must pull teeth and electrocute an unarmed man.

An organisation called Freedom from Torture joined Amnesty, British teachers’ union the ATU and the British MP Keith Vaz in condemning the scene, just two days after the release of the game.

Players of the 18-rated game become career criminal Trevor Phillips, and in a mission within the game called ‘By the Book’ are commanded by the FBI to torture an alleged terrorist for information.

Players must complete the scene to finish the game and are offered a selection of torture implements, including sledgehammers and electric cables to use on the victim. If his heart stops, a shot of adrenaline restarts it.

Following the scene, the character drives the witness to the airport while lecturing his victim on how torture is a technique for exerting power.

Glamourising torture

“Torture is a reality, not a game and glamourising it in popular culture undoes the work of organisations like Freedom from Torture and survivor activists to campaign against it,” said Freedom from Torture chief executive Keith Best.

Labour’s Keith Vaz added that he was “astonished at the level of violence depicted”, while the release also prompted Alison Sherratt, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, to warn that young children watching their siblings play may not be able to tell that it is fictional.

‘Young children watch GTA too’ “The graphics are so realistic that little ones don’t think what they’re watching is a game,” she said. “Four to five -year -olds have a tendency to copy what they see on TV, whether it’s this or Fireman Sam putting out fires.

Not asking for censorship

“We are not calling for a ban on these games, or censorship at all. What we are asking is for parents to become aware that the little ones are seeing these things.”

But the most recent instalment has faced a different level of protest with critics arguing that the series, normally cynical and satirical in tone, misses its mark at times.

The Grand Theft Auto series isn’t new to criticism, being a frequent target of attacks by campaigners who claim its content is violent and sexist.

Jack Thompson, a now -disbarred attorney in the state of Florida, brought several lawsuits against Take Two, the game’s publisher, calling GTA IV “the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio”.

“This adds insult to injury for survivors who are left physically and mentally scarred by torture in the real world,” Keith Best said.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

Are you an avid gamer?

Do you ever think that videogames can be a bad influence on youngsters? Tell us what you think at school@thehindu.co.in (Subject: Videogames) along with your name, class, school and city/town. Selected entries will be printed in the next ‘Opinion’ page.