Why Grand Theft Auto V’s Torture Scene Is Defendable

This article, aside from describing in-detail the mission “By the Book”, is spoiler-free

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The Grand Theft Auto series isn’t shy of public outrage. However, Rockstar pushes the boundaries of controversy with the GTA V mission “By the Book”, which features an extremely graphic torture scene. However, although an undeniably distressing moment, this torture segment is important for a number of reasons.

You are in a disused dreary warehouse where you stand over your terrified subject, known only to you as Mr. K. This man apparently holds information related to a potential terrorist attack. Trevor, the player-controlled character, has four methods of torture available: water, electricity, a wrench and a pair of pliers. As the interrogation unfolds, Mr. K pleads for mercy.

Trevor is unflinching of his actions, moving with an air of confidence, signifying he has experience torturing subjects. This is a government-sponsored interrogation, and your character is forced to gain this information to progress. This is a mission you cannot skip.

The beginning of this mission shows Trevor squatting behind dumpsters relieving himself outside the warehouse. This is Rockstar acknowledging that not only is Trevor far-removed from reality, but this mission will bare no restrictions. GTA’s iconic satire, tongue-in-cheek attitude soon vanishes.

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What makes this torture scene so shocking is it’s intimacy. The cartoon-style, impersonal violence typical of GTA is usually from a withdrawn perspective from impact. “By the Book” forces you to observe the implications of your actions, inflicting wounds upon Mr. K that don’t disappear.

Your aim is to make Mr. K suffer. Clamps on his chest will leave his body red. Pull out one of his teeth and his mouth will remain bloody, his speech becoming slurred. Removing the tooth involves moving the controller thumb-stick left and right, as you pry it away from the root. If Mr. K’s heart stops during the ordeal, you inject adrenaline directly to his heart. It is a brutal, distressing ten minutes, not just for Mr. K.

“Rockstar is pointing the blame at you.”

If we closely examine this section of GTA V, it may be that we are experiencing a lesson in morality, in a rare instance of a game’s self-critique working. It’s a scene that aims to be grotesque to put a spotlight on the distress such violence brings. Trevor is a deranged psychopath with no conscience for his actions. He is an encapsulation of the way many people play GTA, with the sole purpose to cause anarchy. Rockstar is pointing the blame at you.

If we compare the brutality of “By the Book” to the sickening distasteful content in films like Saw, Hostel or A Serbian Film, do the limited interactive parts make it any worse? “By the Book” can be viewed as breaking new ground in gaming, as films have brutally portrays violence at this level for many years.

This mission was a calculated move that challenges various areas. It pushes the player to the limits of what they find acceptable, the morality issues of the series itself, the enhanced interrogation techniques widely known to be used by the U.S. government, and what is acceptable in the young medium that is gaming.

The scene may feel out of place in GTA V’s storyline, but it’s justifiable as a thought-provoking moment. And seeing how you’ve mowed down large amount of innocent bystanders with weapons and cars, can this short section of brutality really be seen as considerably more offensive?

Grand Theft Auto V, from Rockstar Games, is out now on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

By Robbie Palmer

Images sourced from Rockstar’s Wikimedia commons & Rockstar