Culture

This Australian Petition To Ban GTA 5 From Target Has Received More Than 20,000 Signatures In A Single Day

"We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence. It haunts us, and we've been trying to rebuild our lives ever since."

[Update, December 4]: Overnight, Target Australia announced they would respond to customer complaints by removing the game from sale. Over 40,000 people have now signed the petition.

In the accompanying press release, Target General Manager Corporate Affairs Jim Cooper says the company weighed up the feedback they’d received — those outraged by the game’s content, and their opponents — and “feel the decision to stop selling GTA5 is in line with the majority view of our customers.” They will continue selling R-Rated games that are “appropriate products to sell to adult consumers” — although what exactly that means, and what precedent is set by this decision, remains to be seen.

Ever since we first saw our younger brothers ramming strippers and drug dealers while cruising around the gritty streets of San Andreas via their coveted original Playstation, we’ve got the gist of things — Grand Theft Auto is controversial. But now, four versions and 17 years later — seriously, it’s been that long — there’s been a renewed focus on the game’s undeniable violence against women.

Needless to say, the gaming community aren’t very happy about it.

Formed by a group of three Australian ex-sex workers, this petition on Change.org is calling for the newest game (released last year) to be withdrawn from the shelves at Target before Christmas. Garnering support from all over the world, the petition has received 30,480 signatures in just four days, over 20,000 of which were from today.

“This sickening game encourages players to commit sexual violence and kill women,” the petition starts. “It’s a game that encourages players to murder women for entertainment. The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get ‘health’ points — and now Target are stocking it and promoting it for your Xmas stocking.”

“This game means that after various sex acts, players are given options to kill women by punching her unconscious, killing with a machete, bat or guns to get their money returned. Please Target — we appeal to you as women survivors of violence, including women who experienced violence in the sex industry, to immediately withdraw Grand Theft Auto V from sale.”

In particular they cite a problem with the first person viewpoint that has been introduced into the game.

“We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence. It haunts us, and we’ve been trying to rebuild our lives ever since … Games like this are grooming yet another generation of boys to tolerate violence against women.”

The three creators of the petition, known only by their first names Nicole, Claire and Kat, have asked that Target “put ethics before profits” and “set an example to other stockists”. It’s not an unprecedented request either. It was only last week that a NZ chain not dissimilar to Target stopped selling the game (and any other R18 titles) in their stores after significant community backlash.

With the petition pushing over 30,000 signatures today, Nicole issued a statement of support and a further call to action. As a Target spokesperson today commented that the majority of people were wanting the game to stay on shelves, she asked her supporters to appeal directly to Managing Director of Target’s parent company Richard Goyder as he also happens to be an ambassador to the White Ribbon Foundation. [UPDATE, December 4: These comments have since been deleted by News.com.au.]

Both Target and Mr Goyder were approached for comment, but both are yet to reply.

But while the organisations may be staying fairly quiet, everyday consumers of the game are speaking up enough for everybody.

“I’m signing this because I live in a nation with established freedoms, where the government is not allowed direct control over what I see, so I have no fear of this taking off,” says one commenter from the US. “I am simply here to state that this petition is horrendously misinformed. This game is not about trivialising sexual violence towards women. It is about trivialising all violence.”

“If you want full equality, then you should want women to suffer just as much as a man does in war, video games, movies and everything else. Ohhhhh suddenly your equality doesn’t sound so appealing now does it?” says another.

Of course not everyone is signing the petition for the sole intention of criticising the creators. “I’m a woman, a gamer and a survivor and I’ve had enough of this sort of thing teaching another generation of young men that this sort of stuff is funny and entertaining,” says one Melbourne local.

For more industry-based criticisms about the game’s inherent misogyny, check out Carolyn Petit’s totally level-headed GameSpot review from last year. She certainly got enough undesirable attention for it at the time.

At the end of the day, it’s clear a petition like this ain’t going to solve larger social problems. I’m sure the organisers know that. But, at the very least, it’s interesting to see that 17 years after the game’s first release, 17 years of being de-sensitised to the violence, and 17 years of avid fandom from the larger gaming community, more than 20,000 people still took the time out of their day to give a damn.

At this point, is it still worth it?

If you’d like to pledge your support, check out the petition here.