The GTA Online 'Rapist' Is Just Another Annoying Gamer

Not a sign that the world's youth are turning into monsters.

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Aug 15 2014, 1:30pm

A "rape train" on GTA Online (Screen shot via)

Controversy in gaming never flies into the mainstream with as much ferocity as it does when Grand Theft Auto’s involved. Rockstar’s celebrated series’ latest instalment—the fifth GTA "proper"—and its companion GTA Online multiplayer experience is the fastest-selling entertainment product in history. But that's not because it’s an absolute ball to play. No—clearly we’re all at it because we love torture, the objectification and discrimination of women, and kicking pets to death (or watching them hump each other when we’re gracious enough to let them live).

Read the news—both in the games press and the mainstream—and you might believe that Rockstar has reached a new low, a more appalling depth of wretchedness than the whole Hot Coffee thing, which was at least consensual sex. “Players are having their characters tormented and ‘raped’ by online trolls,” shouted a Metro headline this week.

This story ran on the 14th of August. Six days before that, Kotaku reported on this threat to GTA Online players, again putting that R-word in quotation marks. It’s some pretty important punctuation. Nobody is raping anybody. All that’s happening is some not-even-smartass mods have mucked about with the game’s code enough so as to indulge in, as Kotaku phrases it, “naughty stuff.” They’re creating some pretty shitty-looking animations where one character model thrusts their hips at another.

They annoy in other ways, too, taking control of players and making them dance stupidly, or blow themselves up—game-breaking intrusions for the affected. And until Rockstar patch the problem, there's no way of escaping, bar quitting the game altogether and playing a private online session, which kind of defeats the point of online play.

This is rightly pissing people off. The modders, the trolls, the hackers—whatever we’re calling people with enough time on their hands to bother winding up strangers on the internet instead of doing something productive—are using invincibility so as to wreak the most havoc possible. Rockstar will clamp down on them eventually, but it's previously been slow to combat players cheating in other aspects of GTA Online. So, for now, it’s a case of grimace and bear it. Besides, this is nothing new.

An extended "rape train"

It’s not so much the suggestion of a virtual sex act that’s the problem here—most gamers appreciate that the modern industry is geared towards the adult market, and grown-ups who play GTA know that they're going to be presented with adult material and situations. Nobody’s getting scarred for life from seeing this. It’s puerile and represents a backward somersault in the promotion of online gaming as the fantastic shared experience that it can, and should, be. But I'd wager it’s not going to haunt anyone’s dreams.

As for the other, really quite graphic content in the regular (offline) game: if you’re a grade school kid playing GTA V, your parents are idiots and you’ve got my permission to follow the examples set by Trevor et al. Steal their money, load up on drugs (or, like, Haribo, or something), murder their friends, and set fire to the family home.

For most players of the game, the problem will be less to do with morality than practical annoyance. "Griefing" is where players intentionally irritate other players with, say, deliberate friendly fire or harassment over in-game text or voice channels. It's this aspect of the GTA Online mod that burns the most. All you want to do is log on, buy a couple of combat pistols and shoot up a corner shop, but you're robbed of that simple pleasure by people who'd rather see you bent over while their avatar rubs its crotch against yours.

This griefing thing is nothing new—it's been around for ages, be it sexually explicit or otherwise. "A Rape in Cyberspace" was written over 20 years ago. A 2013 Edge article investigating the winners and, more often, losers of this phenomenon reads: “Griefing: It comes in many forms, but any online game with a population of more than five will see its share. Sometimes it’s purely for fun, sometimes it’s to make a point, and sometimes it’s even to make a profit.”

"Leeroy Jenkins" is perhaps the best known example of "griefing"

In GTA Online’s case, modders are turning to "rape" just to annoy. There’s no deep agenda here. Some people simply find this kind of thing funny. And while it's a bit weird that they do find it funny, GTA doesn't dictate its players senses of humor. These are “opportunists,” as Edge calls them, who “kill, steal, smash people’s stuff… Think cockroach, with the emphasis on the first syllable.”

Plenty of massively popular titles have witnessed griefing—but still the players come, and the money rolls in, which is why Rockstar is likely to take a pretty reserved stance on the "rape" mods. Valve’s Team Fortress 2 and Bohemia Interactive’s DayZ have been playgrounds for code-crunching piss-takers, but the latter’s status as a full game born from a mod in the first place—adapted, as it was, from the relatively dry military sim ARMA II—goes to show that, in the right hands, this practice of getting beneath the skin of a game to exploit its hidden mechanics can produce brilliant new ways to have fun online.

It’s not all about making Lara Croft naked—something that smart alecks have (kinda) done for the series’ 2013 reboot. Done right, modding can produce fantastic, standalone experiences that show say, the mocking up of Mario as a member of the KKK for what it is—a waste of everyone’s time. Better to focus on compelling vapourware like Black Mesa, a mod remake of Half-Life that, in some ways, even improved on its source material; or the maniacal Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod, which cocks a snoot at GTA Online’s paltry 16-simultaneous players by allowing over 1,000 people to tear it up at the same time. Sure, it’s got its share of griefing going on, but it’s ludicrously joyous. And who can’t laugh at Thomas the Tank Engine showing up in Skyrim, both dead-eyed and deadly?

For the people who are actually playing the game, the main problem with the GTA Online rapists isn’t that they’re "raping" other players at all. The problem is that one person's hobby is ruining other people's hobbies. But they’ll probably get bored before long, so the best thing to do is just look away. Turn off, go outside for a walk, maybe even have an ice cream, and restart.

Games are great, but sometimes gamers are pricks. It’s always been that way and that’s how it’ll always be. And where GTA is concerned, the slightest whiff of strife is enough to get keyboards chattering (hi!). Modders practically turned Mass Effect into porn, and Metro never showed up to the provocation party over that, waving its red rag to a gaggle of comment-posting know-nothings eager to point out that all video games are like this, and that people who play them are immediately transformed into rapist scum. 

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