Here’s what makes torture in video games worse than on TV

GTA V's torture scene highlights a conversation video gamers should be having. PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

GTA V's torture scene highlights a conversation video gamers should be having. PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

It wouldn't be a Grand Theft Auto launch without a little bit of controversy. Rockstar's fifth major update to its popular series officially hit store shelves on Tuesday, and the company is already feeling heat from those who object to a graphic torture scene included in the game.

The Guardian reported that groups such as Freedom from Torture and Amnesty have criticized Grand Theft Auto V for the scene, which has players electrocute a man, pull out his teeth and use other various torture implements, e.g. sledgehammers, to get information from him. The scene is gruesome (and full of spoilers and NSFW), though admittedly not too far afield from what we've already seen in movies or even on network television.The gritty interrogations from spy shows, or "24" showed the same sorts of actions. Even "Scandal" had its own graphic interrogation scene in its second season, complete with waterboarding and a bloody beating taking place on screen.

So what makes Grand Theft Auto V any different? Why does a violent game trip these wires so much more easily than other media?

The key may lie in what Freedom from Torture chief executive Keith Best told the British paper: "Rockstar North has crossed a line by effectively forcing people to take on the role of a torturer and perform a series of unspeakable acts if they want to achieve success in the game."

The word to focus on there is "forcing." Because the scene is playable -- and a necessary plot point in the game -- some think it puts a different spin on the whole issue.

That's been a tricky problem for those who make video games. On one hand, emphasizing the interactivity of the medium is great when designers want to point out how much control a player has over the way he or she interacts with the story or setting.

It's less of a plus when considering the debate around video game violence. The research is still out on whether there's a link between violent media and real-world violence, particularly as it relates to video games. That doesn't make the gore any less uncomfortable in instances where players have no choice but to go through with an act of violence rather than look for another option. Some games let you negotiate your way around killing or finding other options. Others don't.

After all, as violent as Grand Theft Auto games may be -- and it should be noted that a lot of violence in the game is satirical -- it's still reasonable to think that the game might attract players who would shy away from actually being the ones in the driver's seat for that level of violence.

It's certainly a conversation worth having, particularly as video games become mature as a medium. Advances in technology mean that game producers can make more sophisticated plots and use their titles not only as vehicles for entertainment but also for social commentary. That means Rockstar's move, whatever the studio's logic for including the scene, could just be a preview of the debates coming down the road.

Metal Gear Solid's next update, for example, will also include a torture scene, but there will be one major difference. According to a Eurogamer with series creator Hideo Kojima, the torture in that title won't be playable.

But that doesn't mean Kojima objects to violence as way to tell a story.

He also told the site: "If the violence will give new emotions that are important to the game, I want to put it in there, especially with this game where one of the main topics is revenge. I don't want to walk around that."

Also on The Switch

Almost 200 people stood in line for iPhones in Georgetown. We have pictures.