As we all know, Grand Theft Auto is just about the most controversial franchise in video games. Other lesser titles may have been a little ashamed of such notoriety, but not Rockstar’s iconic crime ‘em up. It eats, sleeps and breathes this stuff. For GTA, controversy makes the rockin’ world go round (Queen may have told you that it was fat-bottomed girls, but don’t be fooled).
Over the years, the industry, in general, has taken all kinds of flak from the media. You know the sort of thing. Games are making us chunky-faced sociopaths. The 3DS’s glasses-free 3D is some kind of terrifying voodoo, and it’ll make your eyeballs dribble out of their sockets. Hideous crimes have attributed to violent video games (indirectly, that is; nobody’s saying that the Doom marine can climb out of your TV like the girl from The Ring and rip people’s fibulas out). We’ve heard it all.
Ever since Mortal Kombat and the like first hit consoles, censors and rating systems have been watching video games like hawks. These systems differ by region, of course, and certain countries have outright banned games entirely. Remember the fuvore that Manhunt caused? Even with that sort of competition, I’d say that Grand Theft Auto remains the most notorious franchise of all time.
Why? Rockstar certainly keeps raising the bar. The bar of shock, outrage, and angry pensioners. Let’s take a look at some of the times that the series may have gone a little too far.
15 Gross: Torturin’ Trevor
Grand Theft Auto has a long and proud history of… let’s say ‘colorful’ protagonists. This is a deeply shady and flawed world, after all, and the player characters and NPCs have to reflect that. With the latest instalment, GTA V, the devs created the most terrifying and unhinged personality yet: Trevor Philips.
There’s something about the guy. He just steals the show in every scene that features him, in all the wrong ways. When we first meet him (butt first), he’s making sweet trailer park love to somebody. Within a couple minutes, he’s committed a murder or two, and that’s all within his intro cinematic.
Mostly, this can be shrugged off as Rockstar’s patented larger-than-life-and-then-some approach. There’s one particular Trevor moment, however, that made even the most hardened GTA players uncomfortable: the mission By The Book. It sees Trevor torturing IAA agent Ferdinand Kerimov, and is super brutal and graphic.
14 Gross: The Backlash Over Grand Theft Auto Online’s Disastrous Launch
I don’t know if you noticed, franchise fans, but Grand Theft Auto Online’s launch was a little bumpy. More accurately, it was as bumpy as that Simpsons sketch where Homer tries to jump Springfield Gorge on a skateboard, and bashes his head on everything ever. Twice.
The game was hyped out the wazzoo in the run up to release, naturally, and there was a huge demand to hop right on in. As was the case with Pokémon Go, the servers couldn’t come close to handling that, and buggy glitchy madness ensued. It was always going to be a super rough start, but it was players’ response to the whole snafu that I really found gross.
Gamers, naturally, are one of the most passionate groups on the planet, and the least patient. Once the death threats to Rockstar members started, I felt a little ashamed to count myself among fans.
13 Twisted: The High-Level Steamroll
Now, granted, this is more or less the case with any game that has an online component. There’ll be a gear gap, or a skill gap, or both. In addition to that, there’s usually as competitive element, in the shape of K/Ds or other stats being recorded. And you know what that means: e-peen waving and stat padding.
GTA Online offers players a huge array of weapons and other tools of mayhem to play with, but they have to be earned. Access to more powerful weaponry is locked behind a certain level requirement, and it’s a long damn time before you’ll have access to the likes of the tank. Once you do, though, you’ll completely overwhelm any lower-level players on your server. It’s dirty, and man will they hate you for it, but it’s low key hilarious.
12 Gross: The Saddest Death Animation Ever
Let’s pretend that we’ve never played a Grand Theft Auto game before. We know nothing about the series at all. If all you’ve got to go on is the title, you’d probably assume that there’ll be a whole lot of vehicular mayhem going on here. That’s the right call, friend.
Whether we’re talking about the new game’s expansive race modes, or just plain old barrelling around the map, there’s no honor among drivers here. Car theft literally being the name of the game, you have to expect a few fender benders. Even the unintentional ones. I’ve already mentioned collateral damage, but GTA V added a super sad new feature: crashing into an NPC’s vehicle at speed will kill the other driver, and leave their horn sounding for a few seconds. Because their dead head is slumped on the wheel. Feels bad, man. Probably the first time I’ve ever felt remorse for a nameless NPC.
11 Gross: The Notorious ‘Hot Coffee’
Well, I’m sure this one needs no introduction. Prior to Grand Theft Auto IV, all things love-makey were quite a taboo in video games. Mostly the fare of seedy niche Japanese titles. While that’s mostly still the case, the whole idea got a lot of mainstream attention when the Hot Coffee mod was discovered.
For the uninitiated, this ‘minigame’ was supposedly already coded into Grand Theft Auto IV, but unused by Rockstar. It sees the game’s protagonist, CJ, wooing a lady of his choice (in the main game, he had a variety of different girlfriend options to pursue), and by wooing, I mean… well, doing. The animation was brilliantly awful, the action jerky and offensive… for many players, Hot Coffee marks the worst that GTA ever got, and it sure leaves me feeling a little dirty.
10 Twisted: Phil Collins’ Life In Your Hands
I don’t know what it says about you when you admit that you’re a bit of a Phil Collins fan, but here I am admitting it. There it is. My secret is out. Sure, he’s got dad rock written all over him, but in my case, it really is dad’s fault. Every car trip I ever went on with him as a child, he’d be belting out Sussudio, In The Air Tonight, Against All Odds or some other Collins hit. This sort of thing leaves a mark on you, friends.
Fast forward a decade or two to Vice City Stories. The game features a string of missions centered around Collins (the first celebrity to physically appear as himself in the series). His manager owes some dangerous men some money, and so these missions revolve around the player defending Phil from assassins. I felt some kind of way about this.
9 Gross: The Ice Cream Man Cometh
In a sandbox series like this one, you can pretty well create your own rules as you see fit. Main story missions aside, there’s a wealth of other activities, minigames, and secrets to find. The possibilities are endless. Did you know there’s a guy who has created a whole serial killer persona for his character? He stalks his NPCs victims, takes photos of them through the game’s selfie function as he does so, and records the whole thing in morbid detail.
As creepy as the players can be, Rockstar themselves have included disturbing little easter eggs along those lines. In one series entry, there were rumors that the founder of the ice cream company. Mr Whoopee was a serial killer. NPCs would share stories of children disappearing after the ice cream van made an appearance.
8 Gross: How Much Of A Demon You Become When Racing
Now, we’ve already covered the fact that vehicular mayhem is the cornerstone of Grand Theft Auto. That’s the way it is, the way it will be, the way it must be. It’s just that kind of game. When you hop onto a GTA Online server, you’ve got to brace yourself for people to act a certain GTA way. You don’t expect the players therein to be make you feel all warm and snuggly inside, like you’ve swallowed a gigantic toasted marshmallow made of love and goodwill, do you?
By extension, when you join one of the game’s many races, you don’t exactly expect clean competition. When you’re not racing in no contact mode, it gets dirty. DIRTY. These people would trample over their blind one-legged grandmas to take first place. It’s a vicious business.
7 Twisted: Elvis Has Left The Freaking Building
In Germany, so they say, they have a word for everything. My personal favorite would be schadenfreude, which is the feeling of taking a certain pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. We all experience this; that’s what a lot of the videos you find floating around social media are built on. Fail compilations rely on the raw power of schadenfreude.
While the idea of kill frenzies never quite sat well with me, there’s one case I’ll make an exception for. In GTA 2, you’ll sometimes come across a band of Elvis impersonators. They walk in a sort of conga line, and emit all the moaning "ah huh huhs" you’dfromxpect of these guys. In a brilliantly grisly easter egg, running all of these guys down in a car in one will earn you an Elvis has left the building message. It’s so wrong, but so right.
6 Gross: Taxi Drivers Must Die!
I have no beef with taxi drivers. None at all. They are the real MVPs, the oft-maligned and underappreciated heroes of our time. These are the people who have to show up at our houses at 5 am come vacation time, and drive an hour to haul our sorry asses to the airport. That deserves gratitude, respect and eternal internet cookies in my book.
You’re too damn expensive at times, taxi drivers, but I love you all the same. Of all the series missions that made me feel douchey, then, the worst was Taxi Drivers Must Die!
You’re giving this mission by the Loonies in GTA 2. The city’s taxis refuse to pick up the gang’s leader, so he employs you to hunt some of the drivers, kill them, and then destroy their taxis in the car crusher. Oh, the humanity!
5 Gross: Ye Olde Kill Frenzies
Now, granted, the Grand Theft Auto games depict mob wars, mafioso in-fighting, and all fun stuff out the wazzoo. They cast us as characters who descend further and further into the criminal underworld in their bid to make a fortune. In short: you’re making enemies all over the darn place, powerful ones, and there’s going to be a heaping helping of bloodshed and killing.
We know all of this. Even outside this series, wiping out waves in waves of enemies is a frequent objective in many games. On the other hand, the whole thing becomes a bit of a gray area when you’re blasting at unarmed civilians. In the earlier days of the series, Kill Frenzies were optional objectives that armed you with a certain weapon. Your goal was just to kill as many people on the street as you could, within a strict time limit.
4 Twisted: That Time Thomas Stubbs Let It ALL Hang Out
As outrageous as Grand Theft Auto loves to be, it’s always tended to steer clear of the whole full-frontal thing. Naturally. The games are replete with explicit content, and offer private lapdances for patrons at the clubs, but everyone always kept their panties on (so that censors kept their panties on in turn, for the most part).
Still, though, can’t and shouldn’t really aren’t the same thing at all, and Rockstar can’t resist a challenge. In The Lost & Damned, the first DLC pack for GTA IV, they managed to shoehorn in fully unfettered man-parts for the first time. They came courtesy of Congressman Stubbs, who we burst in on mid-massage. The scene was gauged to have maximum effect, offering several modesty-protecting shots of Stubbs first. We thought this was as far as Rockstar dared go, until the scene concludes with one huge, blatant check-my-wang-out image of the Congressman.
3 Twisted: Generally Causing Horrible, Horrible Carnage
In 2015, Hatred arrived, to be met with controversy, disdain and British lords’ monocles falling off their faces and smashing on the floor in their outrage. The game is a super grim shooter, that sees the unnamed protagonist wiping out scores of passersby for kicks and giggles. It’s a super dark concept. Think GTA’s kill frenzies with a dash of monochrome melodrama and all of the charm removed, and you’re just about there.
As I’ve said, Grand Theft Auto takes a lot of flak for just the same thing. The difference here, I suppose, is that we’ve become increasingly desensitized to the carnage we’re causing. It’s the age-old makeshift GTA minigame: just destroy things, and see how long you can survive before the authorities finally take you down.
2 Gross: Sleazy Radio Stations
More recent iterations of the series have boasted a darn impressive soundtrack. As we know, most in-game vehicles have radios, and a comprehensive list of stations you can choose from while driving. Cheesy pop, classic rock, a bit of hip hop… just about all musical tastes are accounted for here. The real draw to all of this is the fact that it’s all real, licensed music, and Grand Theft Auto has the clout to pull in the biggest names.
If you don’t think that the Pet Shop Boys’ East End Boys and West End Girls isn’t the perfect soundtrack to a murderous crime spree, you’re just flat out wrong.
Before they had the money to pull this sort of thing off, though, there was some deeply questionable stuff on the radio. That moan-heavy commercial for Orgasmo Bars chocolate left me feeling all kinds of unclean.
1 Gross: Good Old Fashioned Shoot-The-Prostitute
If there’s anyone in the GTA world you should feel sorry for, it’s the "women of the night." So many of the people you’ll encounter have a terrible lot in life, but the ladies of the night in the series’ cities have a super bad time. Not since the days of Jack the Ripper stalking around London have these women had such a bad time.
If you ask any detractor of Grand Theft Auto, they’ll tell you that it’s a game about shooting prostitutes. This has become the party line, the old controversy. As such, it’s become ingrained in players’ minds. It’s tough to resist the old do the deed, pay them, shoot them, take your pittance back routine. It’s a grisly sort of rite of passage. We’ve all done it, and we’ve all felt a little ashamed while doing so.