Following a petition that has received over 40,000 signatures, the Target chain in Australia announced on Wednesday that its stores will stop selling the video game Grand Theft Auto V because of how the game depicts women.
Target Australia’s general manager, Jim Cooper, said that while the company has sold “products [that] contain imagery that some customers find offensive” in the past, “in the case of GTA5, we have listened to the strong feedback from customers that this is not a product they want us to sell.” The ban will affect the company’s 300 stores across Australia.
The petition, which was started by former sex workers, described Grand Auto Theft V as a “sickening game” and said it “is about torturing and the ritualised murder of women.” The petition takes issue with the first person mode that gives the game extra realism, as well as a part of the game that allows players to get money back from a prostitute by killing her.
Some writers have had similar complaints about the game. Video game reviewer Carolyn Petit has criticized Grand Theft Auto V for its “unnecessary strain of misogynistic nastiness,” saying that it has “little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at.”
Last month, the head of Take-Two Interactive, the game’s publisher, responded to a question about that prostitute-killing feature by saying that the game is a form of art. “I embrace that art. And it’s beautiful art. But it is gritty,” CEO Strauss Zelnick said.
Other countries have struggled with how to handle games like Grand Theft Auto. A major New Zealand retailer, The Warehouse Group, announced in November that they were removing the game for its shelves, along with other video games and DVDs that cannot be legally sold to people under 18. In November, the Swedish government announced plans to develop a new rating system for video games that would warn users about misogyny.
Efforts to limit access to video games because of their disturbing content are deeply controversial. Research about whether video games have an effect on their players’ attitudes or behavior in the real world have been mixed.
A ten-country-wide study found that there is no statistical correlation between playing video games and gun-related murder, for instance. However, a study from Brock University in Canada found that violent video games may negatively affect children’s ability to feel empathy. A small study in March, meanwhile, came under fire after reporting a link between playing video games and holding racist views.
The video game community has been particularly criticized for its treatment of women, both as players and as characters. While women are 45 percent of video game players, female characters are underrepresented in games; in June, the developers behind Assassin’s Creed Unity decided not to add a female character because it would “double the work” and be a “pain.” In October, feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a speaking engagement because of death threats, something that’s sparked a larger conversation about women’s safety in the gamer community. Other women involved in video games have faced persistent harassment and have even had their personal information leaked.