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The GTA 5 Scene That Fans Agree Went Too Far

Despite the fact that it has been out for years, "Grand Theft Auto 5" remains a relevant presence in the gaming ecosystem. Equipped with a smartly written and engaging single-player story mode and a sprawling open-world multiplayer component, the latest entry into the "Grand Theft Auto" series has been able to maintain its massive popularity for nearly a decade and through different generations of gaming. By any metric, "Grand Theft Auto 5" is a tried and tested hit whose impact is still felt in virtually every corner of the culture and shows no signs of slowing down.

Despite its massive popularity, however, the "Grand Theft Auto" series has been a magnet for controversy since the release of its breakout hit "Grand Theft Auto 3" in 2001 due to its depiction of violence and adult themes such as, but not limited to, prostitution, gang culture, and drugs. The "GTA" series is so controversial, in fact, that it literally set a Guinness World Record in 2009 by inspiring in excess of 4,000 articles, all addressing the controversy the series' games have produced.

With such a controversial past, you'd think people would be hardened to its brazen approach to such mature content by now. Yet in "Grand Theft Auto 5," there is one sequence in particular that was so controversial, fans and critics of the series alike thought it went too far.

Grand Theft Auto 5 contains a mission depicting torture

In the mission "By the Book," "GTA 5" protagonists Michael de Santa and Trevor Phillips are tasked by FIB agents Steve Haines and Dave Norton with assassinating a man suspected of being associated with a terrorist organization. Though they know the location of the alleged terrorist, his exact appearance is still a mystery to the agency. Making matters even more complicated is that the suspect's location is in a sprawling mansion with a few dozen attendees. While Michael camps outside the mansion with a sniper rifle, Trevor is tasked with extracting information regarding the suspect's appearance from Ferdinand Kerimov, a local businessman with alleged ties to the supposed terrorist.

But Haines and Norton aren't interested in asking Kerimov nicely. Instead, Trevor — a notorious psychopath — is instructed to torture Kerimov to forcibly extract the necessary information. The player then assumes control over Trevor as he chooses between torture devices that include jumper cables, pliers, a monkey wrench, or a gas can loaded with water. From there, Trevor can choose between a variety of torture techniques to use on Kerimov. These include the ability to pull his teeth out, break his kneecaps, electrocute him, or waterboard him.

The player is tasked with finding a balance — torture Kerimov enough for him to provide information, but don't go far enough to kill him. After each round of torture, Kerimov reveals another piece of information relating to the terrorist suspect. Once enough information has been collected, Michael must kill the correct target.

Many people thought the torture sequence was a step too far

At the time of the release of "Grand Theft Auto 5," the United States' notoriety for its use of torture in the Iraq War, as well as at the detention camp Guantanamo Bay, was still a hot topic in the media. Because of that, many critics thought the game's depiction of torture was in poor taste. Keza McDonald of IGN was critical of the mission in his 2013 review of the game, especially because there is no way to optionally skip past it if one finds it to be too much. "There's one particular scene, a torture scene in which you have no choice but to actively participate, that I found so troubling that I had difficulty playing it," McDonald said. "[E]ven couched in obvious criticism of the US government's recourse to torture post 9/11, it's a shocking moment that will attract justified controversy." Similarly, Chris Plante of Polygon called the sequence "disturbing" and "uncomfortable", and criticized its somewhat joyous tone. "The script plays it for laughs," Plante said. "[But] I felt nauseated." 

The controversy attached to the torture sequence in "Grand Theft Auto 5"  bled into the mainstream, attracting the ire of Freedom From Torture, a charitable organization dedicated to providing therapy for survivors of torture. The mission itself was also censored in the version of the game released in Japan, with the Japanese version skipping the gameplay section of the torture sequence completely.

Even some fans found the scene to be too much

As with any controversy that the "Grand Theft Auto" series had generated for its decade-long run at the top of the gaming heap to that point, the critics ran with "Grand Theft Auto 5's" torture scene and the disgust some in the media expressed about it. But this criticism wasn't limited to the media — even some fans expressed their dislike for the gameplay sequence and thought that it was completely unecessary.

In a lengthy post on Reddit addressed to Rockstar Games, the developer behind "GTA 5," a user commented on the "By the Book" mission and its usefulness in the game's overarching narrative, comparing it unfavorable to games like "Postal", "Harvest", and "Manhunt" which revels in grotesque violence, saying, "when I got to the torture scene, my heart dropped because I knew that I either wouldn't be able to play through it, and or couldn't enjoy the rest of the game."

"I felt bad through the torture scene," Reddit user u/abcdariu said in response to a separate post that also criticized the scene. "It was really bothering that I had to torture someone and I didn't want to."

The mission is intended to be anti-torture

Throughout the mission, Kerimov is shown to be scared and confused as Haines gives him very vague questions and levies accusations against him. Even when it seems that Kerimov is willing to give Haines information and cooperate with the FIB's investigation, Trevor is ordered to continue the torture. Despite the brutal nature of the sequence, context is provided towards the end of the mission after Michael has neutralized the target. Haines instructs Trevor to dispose of Kerimov. Instead of following through with the vague order to kill Kerimov, Trevor takes him to the airport and tells to flee the country.

On the way to the airport, Trevor monologues to a traumatized and severely injured Kerimov about the merits of torture, or lack thereof. "The media and the government would have us believe that torture is some necessary thing," Trevor tells Kerimov as the player drives to the airport. "We need it to get information, to assert ourselves. Did we get any information out of you? Exactly. Torture's for the torturer...or for the guy giving orders to the torturer. You torture for the good times – we should all admit that. It's useless as a means of getting information."

With Trevor's monologue, "Grand Theft Auto 5" establishes that it is anti-torture and that the sequence is being used to display the futile nature of the government's use of torture. For some, it's a bit heavy handed. But for better or worse, "Grand Theft Auto 5" goes to great lengths to make its point. Whether or not the depiction of torture is of any merit is probably a discussion that will be ongoing until the end of time.