Grand Theft Auto Series Most Controversial Moments

Grand Theft Auto Most Controversial Moments

 Rockstar Games


The Grand Theft Auto series of video games is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed series of video games that have ever been released. The series contains more than a dozen games many of which have been the best selling game in the year of its release. This success, however, has not been without controversy. Over the years, from the release of the original Grand Theft Auto through the release Grand Theft Auto V, the Grand Theft Auto series has drawn the ire of many parent groups, law enforcement agencies, elected officials and many other special interest groups due to the depiction of criminal activities and behavior that goes against the morals of many who are represented by these groups. The game's developer, Rockstar Games has never shied away from controversy either, in fact, many contend that they thrive on it and it is one of the main drivers for astounding sales numbers that every release puts up. If parents think it's bad, it must be really great, right? There is even a legal battle over Game Changer, the planned BBC TV film based on the making of Grand Theft Auto starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Whichever side of the argument you stand on, it's hard to deny the impact the series has had on the video game industry and pop culture, with the groundbreaking gameplay and continually pushing acceptable social and moral boundaries. The list that follows is a list of some of the most controversial moments in the Grand Theft Auto series of games.

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Killing Hare Krishna

Line of Hare Krishna in Grand Theft Auto screenshot
Line of Hare Krishna in Grand Theft Auto.


By today's standards, the gameplay and content of the original Grand Theft Auto are fairly tame, but at the time of its release, it created quite a stir and was controversial with its depiction of a life of violence and crime. One of the most controversial elements to come out of the first Grand Theft Auto game was the killing of the Hare Krishnas. In the original Grand Auto, Hare Krishna are pedestrians that can be found walking in groups and recognized by their traditional orange Hare Krishna clothing. If players are able to run over an entire line of Hare Krishna the word "GOURANGA", which means "be happy", will flash across the screen.

The Hare Krishna take on a more prominent role in Grand Theft Auto 2, as they are one of the gangs that players take missions from.

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Full Frontal

Partial image of Tom Stubbs Full Frontal in Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned
Partial Image of Tom Stubbs Full Frontal in Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned.

Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned was the first of two expansions for Grand Theft Auto IV which featured a new protagonist to the series named Johnny Klebitz. The controversy surrounding this Grand Theft Auto release comes from a cut-scene for the Politics mission where Johnny's employer, Liberty City congressman Tom Stubbs, exposes himself to players while getting out of bed. This scene was condemned by parent groups one of which issued a public warning that the game was more controversial than any other game in the series for featuring full frontal male nudity.

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Killing Haitians, Racist Police & Riots

Members of the Haitians gang in Grand Theft Auto Vice City
Members of the Haitians gang in Grand Theft Auto Vice City.

Rockstar Games

One of the big controversies surrounding Grand Theft Auto games is how certain ethnic and racial groups are depicted and treated in the games. Grand Theft Auto Vice City was embroiled in controversy for the depiction of two rival gangs in the game, the Cubans, and the Haitians. Cuban and Haitian groups argued that the game would incite violence against members of their communities due to the content of the game which included missions and dialog specific to the killing of members of the Haitians gang. A lawsuit was filed and some content in Grand Theft Auto Vice City was removed from future versions of the game.

The series has also come under fire for its fictional depiction of the 1992 L.A. Riots that resulted from the Rodney King verdict. The Los Santos Riots are the final major event of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and start after murder charges facing two police officers are dropped. Riots break out and there is quite a bit of racial stereotyping in the riot scenes that caused a great deal of controversy.

More recently it has been charged that racism and racial profiling has been programmed into the police in Grand Theft Auto V after a video posted to YouTube in November 2014. This was denied by Rockstar Games and seemingly forgotten until a recent video posted on the Game Theorist YouTube channel testing the theory of racial profiling. You but you can watch the full test and findings on YouTube.

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Torture Scene from Grand Theft Auto V "By The Book" Mission
Torture Scene from Grand Theft Auto V "By The Book" Mission.

Rockstar Games

In 2014, with the release of Grand Theft Auto V for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, the series, and Rockstar Games came under fire yet again. This time it was from human rights groups, Freedom from Torture and Amnesty International to name a few, for including a torture scene in the game. The torture scene is found in the "By the Book" mission where players are ordered by the FBI to torture a suspected terrorist in order to gain information. Players have a number of torture methods at their disposal including electrocution, waterboarding, removal of teeth with pliers, and beating with a wrench. If the suspected terrorist dies while being tortured, players are equipped with a shot of adrenaline to bring him back for more.

Torture was not the only controversy to hit Grand Theft Auto V, some critics were harsh on Rockstar Games for their negative portrayal of women and treatment of women in the game. This even led Target Australia to remove the game for the violence against women depicted in the game.

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Killing Prostitutes for Money

Grand Theft Auto V
Prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto V.

Rockstar Games

Prostitutes in the Grand Theft Auto Series have been around since Grand Theft Auto III and character interaction with them has remained relatively the same over the course of the series. The simple fact of depicting prostitution in a video game is controversial enough, but having actual interactions with them has gone too far for some special interest and advocacy groups. The open world aspect of the Grand Theft Auto games gives players an enormous amount of freedom to do virtually anything in-game, legal or illegal, they would like. This has given rise to one of the most controversial aspects to come out of the Grand Theft Auto games. After a player pays for services from a prostitute, they can run over, beat, and even kill the prostitute and then simply take back the money that was paid.

The interactions with prostitutes have been expanded since GTA3 with different interactions and options being offered in the more recent GTA IV and GTA V releases. It's worth noting that this controversial element in Grand Theft Auto is not required by any part of a mission, side quest or storyline: it is something that's available due to the open world/sandbox style gameplay. There are dozens of YouTube clips and walkthroughs showing this element of gameplay for all of the Grand Theft Auto games where it's available. The actual services provided are shown as the player's car bouncing up and down and there is never any nudity.

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Hot Coffee - Explicit/Sexual Content

Parental Advisory
Parental Advisory - Adult Content Not Shown.

 Wikimedia Commons

The most controversial moment in Grand Theft Auto series history is the existence of the sexually explicit, pornographic mini-game that can be unlocked in the first version of the PC release for Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. The mini-game was dubbed "Hot Coffee" after the preceding scene where CJ's girlfriend asks if he wants to come in for some coffee. If accepted the scene shifts to an outside view of the girlfriend's home accompanied by the muffled sounds of CJ and his girlfriend. The Hot Coffee Mod, which was released in June 2005 by game modder Patrick Wildenborg, allows players to enter the house and play a mini-game that involves sexual intercourse between the main character and his girlfriend.

This sparked a huge backlash against the game and its developer Rockstar Games. The Mature rating was quickly replaced with an Adults Only rating and pulled from nearly every major retailer around the world. Shortly after the release of the Hot Coffee mod for the PC, the same content was uncovered in the PlayStation and Xbox versions of the game as well. The mini-game and the existence of the sexually explicit content were subsequently removed from the game after which it finally returned to a Mature rating and store shelves.

The last of the numerous class action and securities lawsuits that were filed over Hot Coffee were settled by 2009, costing Take Two Interactive more than $20,000,000.

Copies of the original PC release of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas with the explicit content can still be found on eBay at reasonable price levels.