So, I’ve been playing some GTA V Online on PC recently and … oh, boy. It’s an interesting beast. The last time I played GTA V Online was about four years ago on Xbox 360. At the time I didn’t really see the appeal. Fun stuff was expensive and mostly I just tried to steal a jet from the military base. When I returned earlier this year, I found a lot more to like. There were more varied game modes, especially for someone like me who’s not so good at the combat. I felt like I could have fun in this world that Rockstar had created. Well, almost. There was one thing that hampered my enjoyment quite a bit. Well, two things that are sort of the same side of one coin, those being the griefing and the hacking.
To give you a glimpse into the world of GTA V’s online community, this article does a fine job of showing the current state of play. Before we proceed I do want to lay down some explanations. Griefing is the process of harassing a player in-game to irritate/annoy them. Hacking is using cheat tools to circumnavigate the normal conditions of the world. These can often go hand in hand. I’ve had a couple experiences where it felt like my player character was being dragged into the sky by some invisible hand. Other times I’ve been exploded or bombed from the sky with no clear cause.
Now I don’t like to play online multiplayer at the best of times. However, in GTA V I’m currently grinding away to invest in some aircraft stuff. As you can imagine, being griefed or hacked while I’m chipping away at something is not the most fun, like that time that a dude in a tank was terrorising me until I went into passive mode, where the bad players can’t touch you and you can’t touch them. However, while I was being propelled into the air for the fifth time, I thought to myself: Why? Why do they do this?
So, what about the culture of GTA V Online creates this world where griefing and hacking is common? You might have cottoned to the fact that I mentioned culture. Culture is a huge part of it. GTA is a game series where you as a criminal impose your will onto the world around you. Humans are mere playthings to your megalomaniacal tendencies. If they’re important, they exist in a cutscene. So, if you play GTA and you’re in that play space, it might frame the way you interact with the world. Your fun is paramount in this sandbox and that sets your mind in a certain way. It’d affect me too if I wasn’t so misanthropic in online gaming spaces.
The second thing that I think makes this environment so toxic is that the whole punishment/reward system feels like a slap on the wrist at best. Start killing indiscriminately and you’ll be warned that your mental state is rising and that ‘other players will target you if this continues’. Behaving like a misanthropic angel and every so often you’ll be rewarded with $2000 of in-game money. (For context, that’s about the price of a decent jacket in-game). When apartments can cost $500,000 and aircraft hangers start from 1.2 million. With planes that can cost 3 million and cars that can cost as much as an apartment. In that context, 2000 dollars seems a little paltry by comparison. Why set it so low? Well, that would devalue their in-game currency which they sell for real-world money via microtransactions. Can’t be too free with the money or people won’t be compelled to reach for their wallet.
So, all of this creates a sort-of cluster-truck wherein the world that’s been created doesn’t instil any positivity in the player. It creates a world where the rules don’t apply, and punishment is barely a slap on the wrist. Some of this is baked into the core game with law enforcement that seems mostly harmless. Trevor, one of the playable protagonists of the single-player campaign, shows the players that they can act in a certain way in this world and not get punished. If this is the world that the players interact with, what can be done to reduce toxicity?
Well, on the positive side, some of the more prolific cheating systems out there have been targeted for legal action by parent company 2K. This is good but it’s still not enough. There have to be more incentives for good behaviour. If someone is adhering to the way that the developers want the game to be played, then they should be rewarded for that in a way that feels significant. Another solution would be a harsher, more top-down response for repeat griefers. A basic report system that’s more visible could be worthwhile. For example: This player has killed you five times in twenty minutes. Report them? There needs to be a better system for responding to those who act in bad faith in the system. However, it must be said that when platforms like Valve were faced with the potential of bad actors in their system, they took measures to disrupt these people but it didn’t stop the onslaught of clear bullshittery coming from those gaming the system.
Although, perhaps this is a more widespread problem and these two examples are symptoms of a wider issue. Culturally, we all accept the trolls. We all treat avoidance rather than policing those who act in bad faith. Perhaps this is a wider cultural issue regarding what people think they’re entitled to do with their anonymity. That I don’t have a solution for, other than to say ‘burn it all to the ground and hope that expunges the rot’. That’s probably not the best way to run a video game company though.
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