For the past 2 weeks or so, I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto V, developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. The game is an action-adventure type following three main characters: Michael, Trevor, and Franklin. Immediately, one can see that there is something going on here: the main characters are all male.
This centralizes on the idea of “Hegemony of Play.” According to Ludica, “Today’s hegemonic game industry has infused both individuals’ and societies’ experiences of games with values and norms that reinforce that industry’s technological, commercial and cultural investments in a particular definition of games and play, creating a cyclical system of supply and demand in which alternate products of play are marginalized and devalued” (p. 309). This hegemony of play centralizes on the idea that the gaming industry believes that most people who are playing video games are young, straight, males who enjoy violence and strong language.
The fact that there are strip clubs that only contain female strippers, or there are only female prostitutes only further focuses on the fact that this game is more likely meant for the male demographic. That’s not to say it is excluding women outright, but it is less inclusive than it could be. The game also focuses on cars (I mean, it is called Grand Theft AUTO) and the stereotype is that men like cars whereas women do not, or not as much. The game focuses so much on male characteristics, it can make it difficult for women to enjoy the actual story-line.
The focus on male-ocrasy aside, the game itself can definitely be considered art. From the graphics to the story, it all comes together to make a piece of art. The city of Los Santos is modeled after Los Angeles, and it is captured beautifully. The designers of the game went above and beyond to create the game and have it mimic reality. According to Howard Becker, this collective activity and division of labor is what makes art. He says to “think of all the activities that must be carried out for any work of art to appear as it finally does (p. 2) and, this group process is what makes a piece of art what it is. Everyone who worked on the game contributed to making it a work of art: the graphic designers, the people who coded it, anyone who brought those people coffee, the makers of the computer they used to code it, the list goes on.
Becker focuses on three main ideas: Collective Activity, Division of Labor, and the Artist. Within GTA V, the collective activity that went into making the game is in itself a division of labor. Similarly, the game has components of a collective activity. You are within a group of people at a particular level. Some are above you who tell you what you need to do in order to progress further, and others are there to help you out. With this division of labor, you are able to work together to complete your objective. Each person you interact with is on a particular level that contributes to the collective activity of playing the game.
The artist of the game is more unclear. The publisher is Rockstar Games. However, the designer of the game is Leslie Benzies, former president of Rockstar North. This brings about the question of who the artist of the game actually is. From research, I gather that Rockstar North is the general overseer and creator of GTA V. So the collective company of Rockstar North is the artist: the people behind the creation of GTA V. Becker believes that the artist has special talents or abilities that go into the making of the art piece. If we were to single out one person, it would be the one who designed the game, Leslie Benzies. He was able to create a work of art through his special talents. Benzies designed GTA V, but he is not the sole creator of the game. Becker says that “the artist thus works in the center of a network of cooperating people, all of whose work is essential to the final outcome” (p. 25). The credit goes to him because he is the main contributor as well as the face of the company.
Becker also focuses on the idea of Art Worlds. “Art worlds consist of all the people whose activities are necessary to the production of the characteristic works which that world, and perhaps others as well, define as art” (Becker, p. 34). This means that the collective activity and division of labor of all the people who worked on the art creates the art world. It has its own unique niche within other art worlds. GTA V is literally its own virtual world. Video games have this component of a world in that it is separate from reality. This creates different Game Worlds. Not only the game world itself, but also the different people who contribute to make that world in the game.
GTA V is art for many reasons. While some people may not see it as art due to its vulgarity and lewd behavior, there are other elements of the game that make it art. When solely focusing on Becker’s ideas, one can clearly see that GTA V has all of those components that Becker believes makes art. Not only this, but it also has elements of art itself. It has a narrative; a meaning that is meant to be conveyed to different players, each with their own unique interpretation of what it could be.
According to Roland Barthes, this is when you kill off the author: “the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author” (Barthes, p. 6). By killing off the author, you can gain new meaning from the work. The author has their own meaning that is meant to be conveyed, however the reader, or in this case player, can then take their own meaning from the game and create new interpretations. With this, each player can create their own Game World if they have differing opinions. Some can join others if they agree, but there can be a multitude of game worlds simply from one game.
Each interpretation of GTA V is valid in its own way. Each interpretation and the meaning that is taken away from each one then justifies it as a work of art. With video games, it is about the player and how they choose their own goals. This interaction between the player and the game makes it art.