The first thing I thought when I saw Grand Theft Auto V’s first-person prostitute sex was “I should probably go down to my local GAME and play this video at all the tragically ill-informed parents buying this game for their 9-year-old boys”. The second thing I thought was “this is literally the worst sex I have ever seen”. It was actually bad enough to put me off real-life sex for, like, an evening. Let’s be clear here: I am entirely un-scandalised by the fact that GTA has first-person sex (I’m European, after all). I’m also aware that this was all in the game before. The first-person view just emphasises how sad it is.
I’m totally floored by GTA V on new-gen consoles. It is astounding in every way; I will play it for another sixty hours. Here is a game that pays extraordinary attention to the tiniest features of its world, a game that renders the interiors of each of its 250+ vehicles in painstaking detail - and yet, the sex is terrible. It’s a meaningless transaction which nobody seems to get anything out of at all (certainly not the player, who must sit through screamingly awkward animations and eyebrow-raisingly OTT audio). I mean, in GTA IV, at least Nico actually went on dates with women. There was at least the tiniest attempt to acknowledge how sex generally goes down in real life.
Admittedly, I have never paid for sex (although I did once get handed a flyer offering “two for one anal” whilst walking past a brothel in Berlin, an offer that has been puzzling me ever since with its ambiguous phrasing), so maybe real-life sex with prostitutes actually is this depressing. Perhaps I am hopelessly naive about the true robotic nature of paid-for fucking between sex workers and patrons in LA. I am willing to entertain that possibility. But it’s just so desperately unsexy.
The dynamic of this sex is basically the dynamic between a boiler repairwoman and the inert object that she must fix. Franklin - apparently instantly hard, with no need for any foreplay besides the exchange of money - grunts out half-arsed exhortations, his body eerily motionless, whilst the woman moans phrases straight out of My First Porno Playbook - phrases that, in a moment of actual believable passion, might be arousing, but which in this context sound embarrassing and sad.
This persists, horribly, for about twenty seconds before a climax apparently happens, and then - and then! - the woman, who has done literally all the work here, sits back and congratulates the dude on his performance, which made me bark involuntarily with laughter. (I sincerely hope inexperienced teenaged boys do not try to replicate this, sitting motionlessly in an upright position whilst their baffled girlfriends wonder what the hell is going on.)
It is one of the least erotic things I have ever seen, which will probably not stop the many teenaged boys who get their hands on this game from fapping enthusiastically to it. It’s self-evidently ridiculous to anyone that has ever had sex, but it depresses me slightly that it reinforces a dehumanising, porn-fed view of sex where the man is nothing more than a rigid object and the woman is a performing seal. The dynamic here is: man does nothing except grunt and ejaculate, woman congratulates man for being totally awesome at sex. This is not flattering to either party.
Maybe sex workers actually do say that kind of stuff? Perhaps it’s part of the job description. I do not know. I do know that in real life, people do not generally finish having sex and then say “hey, great job at that there sex!”.
I struggle a lot with whether Grand Theft Auto’s frequent bouts of puerile humour are intentionally ironic or not. I’ve done mental gymnastics reasoning that calling a scooter the “Faggio” is a joke at the expense of the kind of person that would find that funny, rather than just a shit joke. I could sit here and make a case for Grand Theft Auto V’s hollow, dispiriting sex as commentary on the way our culture commodifies and devalues sexuality to the point where what should be a moment of connection between two sentient human beings is just puppets dry-humping in the front seat of a stolen car. But I can’t make myself believe it. I just think it’s not very good.
Hookers and strippers have been part of GTA’s rotten America for a long time now, reflected in the distorted mirror that Rockstar’s aggressive satire holds up to hyper-consumerist culture, but if this is the best that it can do at depicting sex, I question what value it adds. I always felt that GTA V’s strip club minigame was just there because someone, somewhere thought it had to be, rather than because it had anything to say. Almost everything that GTA V does contributes to its overall biting parody, but this stuff is an exception. It just feels like it’s there for the sake of it. It’s sex as it would be depicted by someone who has only ever seen porn, and it’s depressing. It undermines how clever Grand Theft Auto is elsewhere.
Grand Theft Auto V on PS4 and Xbox One is an astonishing technical achievement. In a world so alive and wondrous, it’s especially noticeable that this one crucial aspect of human existence seems so hollow and pointless - depicted with so little heart.
Header image from this video.