The Cultural Impact of Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve written a review on the gameplay and how much fun Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is, and what I liked and didn’t like about it. But now, we have to examine the impact this game has on our current culture. And it’s going to have an impact for certain.

In the first 24 hours of being on sale, GTA V sold 13 million copies. 13 million. According to the 2010 Census, the United States has 308 million people in it. That means that roughly one in twenty-four people living in America bought the game within its first day of release. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that two million of those people (a liberal estimate) live outside of America. Still, that would mean that exactly one in twenty-eight people bought the game within this country.

Now let’s break it down via age demographics. Again, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that out of people age 45 and over, only 500,000 people bought this game on the first day. Countrywide, citizens age 45 and over make up 120 million members of the population. That decreases our ratio to 10.5 million copies sold, against 188 million. Which, is practically one in every eighteen people bought the game so far. Then, we’ll take out the youngest demographic. There are 74 million legally defined children (under the age of 18) in the United States. If split evenly, that means there are 4.1 million humans per each year. Again, we’re going to assume that kids age 0-10 did not buy this game at all, which amounts to another 41 million. We’re down to 10.5 million copies per 147 million, which is a ratio of 1 to every 14 people. Even though the game is rated “M” for Mature, and you are supposed to be over 18 years old to buy it, I’m allowing the age bracket of 11-18 because of the irresponsibility of parents and the greediness of companies to want to sell the game. So far, in America, one person in every fourteen (of the age bracket 10-44) has bought the game Grand Theft Auto V in its first 24 hours of release.

To break it down even further, we’re going to throw gender into the equation. Male-female ratios in the United States are very close according to the Census (49.2% males to 50.8% females), so we’re going to call it a 50/50 split, so 73.5 mil for both guys and gals. Let’s say, one sixth of girls ages 11-44 bought the game, which turns out to be 12.25 million, or 12% of the total 147 million. Which according to the ratio, means that 12% of the 10.5 million copies were sold to females ages 11-44. or 1.26 million. To finally simplify that ratio, it means that there are 9.24 million copies left to the 73.5 million males aged 11-44. Basically, that means one in every eight males aged 11-44 in the United States bought Grand Theft Auto V in its first 24 hours of being on sale.

Granted, this is based on A LOT of assumptions, and numbers/percentages that I personally made up. However, I don’t think these figures are terribly far from the truth. I do not believe that I concocted unreasonable numbers for the sake of creating “controversy”. These numbers are based on Rockstar Games revenue numbers of $800 million of sales generated in the first day, which generally equates to 13 million copies sold. I could calculate for margin of error, but I’ve done enough math in a blog post for the day. Of course, these numbers assume that all copies of the game sold for $60 a piece, as the Special and Limited editions were put on sale for $80 and $150 each, however these versions, as the title would imply, are limited.

What does this mean for our society? GTA V is an amazingly well done game. It was created with piles of talent, time, and money, at an award-winning studio known for quality products. Quality aside, it’s fun, and extremely addicting even without its amazing critical components. The world that Rockstar has created is simply fantastic, as evidenced by its amazing reviews and insane sales. My only hesitation here is the content. It’s a game that although there are a million PG things to do, there are a lot of R or NC-17 or X things you can do. Getting into an SUV and running over pedestrians, engaging the police in gun battles, or going to strip clubs are things that you can do very easily, and that everyone who plays the game does. Is it better that gamers are doing this on a virtual reality than in reality? Obviously. But anyone who would claim that playing this game for in effect, multiple days, does not affect them, is a complete liar. On some level, all of these negative (albeit, fun in virtual reality) acts, studies have shown, do compromise the human brain. And as my statistics cite, there are going to be a lot of boys of all sorts of ages (some more impressionable than others) that are going to be playing the crap out of this title.

Another accusation heaped upon games like this is that it desensitizes people to things such as meaningless violence and frivolous sexual encounters. And although this is true, you have to look at the current definition of sensitivity. With the day and age that my generation is surrounded in, the definition of what should and shouldn’t affect you on a personal level has changed. We are exposed to so much more information, mostly on the television and the internet, in ways we cannot avoid in basic daily lives. Because the world is a broken, rotten place, the things that are going to make headlines and that are going to sell are criminal acts, violence, and tragedy. We no longer live in an age where we hear about news via word of mouth, or read about it in the Sunday paper. It’s right in front of us, accessible, and forceful in our daily lives. Living any sort of normal “American” life is impossible, if you make an out-and-out attempt to avoid the main sources of desensitization. We have to re-examine our definition of sensitivity for our generation. To the generation of my parents or grandparents, yeah, I agree that we’ve completely built up a resistance and a commonplace demeanor toward sex, crime, and violence. But to my generation? This is simply normal, this is life. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s the way it is and is going to be. Unless you choose to live (and then die) in a bus in Alaska, you are going to be exposed to major forms of desensitization in everyday life.

I know for myself, that this game and others that I have played have affected me to some degree. Does this mean I’m going to go on a grand theft mission, or a shooting spree at a strip club? Personally, no. I can speak for myself and know what I am and am not capable of, and am in enough of a control of my actions to never do such a thing, especially when you see the consequences not just in the news, but in the game itself. Can it affect others though, who have more volatile or impressionable personalities? I think so, and it has. There have been numerous thefts and murders in the past, where the accused cited Grand Theft Auto as to where they learned or got their inspiration for their deeds. Does that make Grand Theft Auto evil? I don’t think so, at least not inherently. The same argument could be made that The Dark Knight franchise is evil for inspiring the Aurora shooting. Although extremely critically acclaimed, like GTA, it inadvertently caused irreparable harm on a bunch of human lives.

Which brings me to the bottom line. Grand Theft Auto V is a GAME. It sold a stupid amount of copies, and it’s scary how many young males will have the game according to my assumed statistics. It needs to be recognized however, that it is simply not reality, and something fun to do. You get together with your friends and have fun while playing online, but you have an actual life outside of the game. Go volunteer, play a sport, go to work, hang out with your friends or family, sleep, go out to dinner, just don’t let this game consume you, and you should be fine. Don’t model your life after this game, and take it at complete face value. You aren’t one of the games characters, so don’t try to be. It’s going to be criticized, and there are going to be people who commit dastardly deeds thanks to its influence, and it really is a shame. The fact of the matter is, a game called Homeless Shelter Volunteering isn’t going to be as fun as Grand Theft Auto because in GTA you do things which in normal life, you aren’t allowed to do. Let’s just be thankful that some people express their disobedience for the law through virtual reality only. Take the game for the fun it’s worth, and have a real life outside of your gaming console, and then maybe, just maybe, we can have some fun without anyone getting hurt.


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