This Is the Nadir of Irresponsible Reporting About Grand Theft Auto V

If you don't understand a game, don't write about it.

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I don’t generally think of The Telegraph as a tabloid, but after this story, I’m not so sure. It’s basically a rumor piece, sourced to Reddit, where someone speculates based on fooling with an XML file that Rockstar may be planning to offer a real-money system for Grand Theft Auto Online when the online mode — included with the game but currently dormant — launches on October 1, 2013.

The real-money bit’s all in a day’s rumormongering, and likeliness aside, this is what fans do: sleuthing, speculating, littering message boards with clever guesses, wild hair notions, wishful thinking and so forth.

What’s irritating is the story’s reductive, lurid title, “GTA 5: players ‘could use real money’ to buy guns and prostitutes.” Because these two things, apparently, are the only salient things about Grand Theft Auto V — gats and hookers. Never mind getting a haircut or shave or tattoo, detailing or patching up or upgrading your vehicle, shopping for t-shirts, shorts, shoes, shades and three-piece suits, paying to see actual movies, or delving into the game’s two biggest money-sinks by a mile: buying up real estate and playing the stock market.

The Reddit poster explicitly fingers real estate and stocks at the outset, because that’s what the community impetus for a real money system would stem from, not some reductive obsession with relatively inexpensive guns and prostitutes. “We all have read some comments in the subreddit about it’s quite hard making money in the game, properties are not very profitable, and the missions that affect the stock market seem to be too few and too early,” writes the Reddit poster.

Paying for what amounts to innuendo if you go home with a prostitute in GTA V costs next to nothing. Sex, if you’re bored enough to bother with something that has no gameplay value, is either implicit, or at the very most, no more explicit than what you’ve seen on television or in non-pornographic movies for decades. If that bothers you, you’re entitled to be bothered, but take it up with the whole culture, not this singular, narrow facet of it.

Buying up real estate in GTA V, on the other hand, will empty your bank account — and probably several banks, security cars and jewelry stores along the way. The Ten Cent Theater in my game goes for $20 million, the Tivoli Cinema for $30 million, the Los Santos Golf Club for $150 million. My versions of Michael, Franklin and Trevor are cash-flush, but coming up with even a couple million bucks at this point, doing this or that job, would take forever.

I’m not arguing for a real money system in Grand Theft Auto Online. I’m just pointing out that the financial impetus for a real money model in a game like Grand Theft Auto V would hardly be guns and hookers. And what of those two aspects anyway? What if players spent real money to buy in-game money to — gasp! — trigger sequences as tame or tamer than anything you’ve seen in Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Weeds or True Blood? What if I dropped a buck to unlock thousands of in-game dollars to buy dozens of imaginary sticky grenades, or upgrade an assault submachine gun to fire imaginary rounds from an imaginary extended clip at an imaginary city? What’s the difference between spending real money to buy a weapons-based DLC pack for some other game, and spending real money to buy credits in a game like Grand Theft Auto that might be used to purchase gameplay-related weaponry?

Implying there is one by writing “People playing the online version of Grand Theft Auto 5 may be able to hire prostitutes, get tattoos and buy guns with real money” — focusing on peripheral gameplay features because they’re link bait — is just outrage mining, trussing up misguided stereotypes about video games and using them to grab eyeballs.