Is GTA V's Graphic Torture Scene a Step Too Far

Did GTA V go over the line with it's incredibly graphic torture sequence?

Note: If you're planning on playing GTA V, this article may contain some spoilers. I will do my best to avoid doing so, but there's a chance that something might slip. Just as a warning. 

GTA V is a game about antiheroes. Like all the other Grand Theft Auto offerings, it follows around a criminal (in this case 3) as they shamefully run over people, assasinate random citizens, and generally cause mayhem. Some people call it satire. Some call it escapism. Whatever it is, it's never really been a game for someone who falls on the the "lawful" side of the spectrum. 

Trevor is a psychopath. That much is clear from the trailers. But he's an entertaining character, so you put up with mini-games where you have to slaughter rednecks because he has a unique take on the world. However, there's one scene in particular that had me unable to look at the screen, and apparently offended a few anti-torture advocates in the process. 

There are not exactly words to describe how graphic this scene is, but perhaps the most visceral part of it is the fact that you're doing the torturing. The victim, a screaming man who begs you not to do what you're about to do is tied to a chair. You are told by the FBI-like in-game organization that you must torture him, and are given a table of implements with which to exact your power-play. 

Through contextual clues, you've already been told in-game that this man pretty much knows nothing, and would in fact give you all of the information you desire if you just ask. But you can't ask. You have to choose from your table of torture. Will you break his knee caps with a wrench? Will you slowly pull out one of his teeth? Will you waterboard him with gasoline? Will you electrocute him? All the while, your controller lightly rumbles with this man's heartbeat. But don't worry, if he dies, you can just restart his heart with a shot of adrenaline. 

It's incredibly disquieting to say the least. Tonally, it doesn't even really match the sort of satire that it is clear that GTA V is shooting for. Instead, you are asked to go back and forth between Michael and Trevor, and every time Trevor's icon flashes, you don't want to go back. You don't want to torture this man. In the end, he gives you the information you're asking for, but it's a hollow victory, if it's a victory at all. 

Freedom from Torture, an anti-torture advocacy group has said,

"Torture is a reality, not a game and glamourising it in popular culture undoes the work of organisations like Freedom from Torture and survivor activists to campaign against it." 

"Torture is a reality, not a game and glamourising it in popular culture undoes the work of organisations like Freedom from Torture and survivor activists to campaign against it." 

What do you think? Have you played the GTA V torture sequence? 

Former Staff Editor

Former rugby player, social media person, and occasional writer.

Published Sep. 23rd 2013
  • Kuji_3898
    See, if you're torturing some guy that's a complete asswipe, I wouldn't mind too-too much, except for just the horrible torture.. This guy is an innocent man, and he'd tell you everything he knows, but still you NEED to try out every fucking torture they thought of. And of course 4 men have the same fucking beard so you have to torture him AGAIN. I cringed quite some times, had my eyes closed at some of the scenes, it was fucked up. I wish I could've skipped this scene.
  • ET10
    Rockstar made it mandatory while other missions can be skipped. I've had it and I'm very angry with this. Heavily disappointed.

    I enjoyed all GTA versions from day one, until yesterday when this "mission" came up. I refuse to play sadist sh*t like that. Period. That left me with a stalled game story and locked content, so I uninstalled GTA and the box goes back to the distributor next week. I don't care whether there is a refund or not. I hate this game and wouldn't have bought it.

    Playing a game should be fun. GTA was nothing but fun, until this mission, which is a brutal harsh simulation of a reality I don't want to be part of. Not in real life, not simulated. I like movies like 'the Godfather' and 'Scarface', but I don't like pseudo-snuff horror movies with an IMDB-rating of 10%. This is the same thing.

    If this is the path Rockstar chooses so it will be. From funny parodies with a lot of humor to a realistic psychopath simulator that (mandatory) depicts the depths of a hell which is reality to too many people in the world, well I am gone. And it hurts. GTA5 has the most impressive games engine I've ever seen and the details and AI were mind blowing. Freedom was what GTA was about, but that is gone. A scripted interactive gore movie. Built on impressive technology that is completely wasted.

    To me this mission is like dining in a famous 3-star restaurant, and then a bowl of sh*t is served. "No, you cannot send it back or skip it, sir. Eat it. It serves a purpose. It's fun.It shocks. It educates." Well, I lost my appetite and won't visit this 'restaurant' ever again. if Rockstar wants to make a case against torture they should become politicians. If they want to be nannies they should become nannies. Whatever. I wasted 50 Euro on a hangover.
  • PolioVirus
    "Torture is a reality, not a game and glamourising it in popular culture undoes the work of organisations like Freedom from Torture and survivor activists to campaign against it."

    Ya know, I can basically change the words in this quote to accommodate just about every other theme of the game that we apparently write off as no big deal, such as murder.

    What's the deal anyway, just shock his nipples all four times if busting his privates, and pulling teeth is too gruesome. I mean nobody made a big deal when you had to endure snake being electrocuted on a table by Ocelot in MGS... or did they?
  • PolioVirus
    asljflsdkfjlsdkfjasldfjdslk I like the other comment better
  • vandal _1481
    Am i the only one who found the scene original intuitive and rather amusing?
  • Polyrealms
    Featured Contributor
    I feel that I may be repeating what a lot of these comments have already addressed, but I feel that you're missing the entire point of that torture scene. I'm a gamer that has been heavily desensitized to violence by playing a myriad of violent video games over the years. Yes, it is an interactive torture scene in a game. But does the torture scene itself serve as a game, or is the interactive nature of it meant to serve as a means of conveying a message that would be otherwise impossible for any traditional means of media could get across? I was profoundly disturbed by this scene, which is an EXTREME rarity for me what it comes to gaming.

    I waited a very long time before making my first torture device choice, hoping that there was some way out of it, while knowing full well that the chances of that were slim to none. I was cringing the entire time I waterboarded, electrocuted, and mutilated Trevor's victim, and while the scene left me profoundly uncomfortable, I found that the emotion it evoked to be extremely effective in telling me just why torture is wrong; especially since it gave you absolutely no certainty whatsoever that what you were doing was protecting the public.

    GTA V, and the series in general, is heavily satirical. The satire of culture at the time in the GTA series is arguably more emphasized than the open world, "go on murder sprees if you want" nature of it. In my opinion, the torture scene was a bold step for Rockstar that furthered the impact of social satire in gaming, and I applaud them for including this scene.

    This is a side note, but it's worth noting that you seem to have entirely ignored Trevor's speech while driving his victim to the airport. That pretty much spells out that that entire scene was supposed to give a message to the player.

    Is the scene sloppy when it comes to contradicting Trevor's character? Yes, that much I agree on. But I feel that is heavily overshadowed by the powerful means by which it gets a message across to the player, at least for those who aren't desensitized enough to feel its impact.
  • Tom_3489
    I'm not offended by the scene at all but I can see why some people would be.
    I guess the justification lies in the context, a good comparison would be to use the torture scene from the Last of Us. On the one hand, I'd say the Last of Us presents it's torture scene in a much more shocking and offensive manner but manages to justify itself by actually having an impact on the plot and characters within it.
    There isn't really a great reason for the torture scene to exist in GTAV other than some light parody, it doesn't say anything new about Trevor as a character and doesn't really contribute to the plot in any significant way so I personally felt the scene missed the mark.
  • PointlessSpike
    I was pretty much the same. I'm sure a psychopath would have loved that scene, but for anyone with a conscience, it's difficult to bear. It would have been more than enough to just play the Michael side and just receive the information. That would have gotten across their point effectively enough. Forcing us to do it was, perhaps, a step too far.
  • Noman42
    1. The torture was not over the top or graphic. Yes, it was pointless, but Trevor tells the player that. They dont have you cutting off body parts or shoving bamboo under the guys fingernails. You dont torture the guy for days and spread out the sessions. It's over pretty quick and pretty bloodlessly. I tried all of the methods, except waterboarding and I wasnt at all shocked and horrified. You see worse things in movies(Rambo:First Blood Part 2 or Hostel comes to mind).

    2. If you are that squeamish maybe you shouldn't play games that feature torture and feeding people to cannibalistic cults.

    3. There is a psychological study that would be considered cruel today, where people were told they would be measuring the effect of electric shocks on memory(The Milgram experiment). They were not told that the other test subject was an actor and was not receiving real shocks. 65% percent of test subjects delivered the maximum voltage of 450 volts. Many more continued even after it was apparent the other "subject" had been shocked into unconsciousness. So dont feel bad THEY made you do it...
  • George_4359
    I disagree. Rockstar is known for pushing the envelope this has never changed, and never will. What Faux News (or Weasel news fails to understand is the vast majority of the time that Rockstar allows something extreme in one of their titles they do so through "entertainment" but their ultimate purpose is to make an interactive political statement. I don't know exactly how long they have done this for but I first noticed it in GTA III in their radio ads.

    All the horrific things you can do in a GTA game usually have consequences most are avoidable, but the message is there. Do you know why GTA IV didn't have flight until the ballad of gay tony? Contrary to what the media, and politicians would have you believe Rockstar North cares quite a bit about what goes on in the world. Liberty City a fictionalized version of New York City being updated from GTA III to IV had been in development for at least a few years before its 2007 release. Their were missions involving planes and terrorism they opted out and redesigned the entirety of the game to remove any flight missions or game elements accompanying them.

    From IV on the series has taken a far more mature note. Though you can still do all the same crazy stuff you have always been able to if not more have you noticed how much more active the police respond? That the penalty for specific crimes has increased.

    Most importantly if you finish the mission, which ONLY makes sense because of the character you are playing who is as you state quite mentally deranged you remember what the "END" of the mission is right? The fact that the person THAT DERANGED can see that it is wrong? So he doesn't comply with the final orders and encourages said individual to spread the word about what was done?

    Rockstar provides an entertaining interactive experience with veiled yet often completely transparent political statements. Rather then tell you something is wrong they FORCE you to experience it in a fictional setting so that you CAN'T "turn your head and dismiss it" By forcing you to experience it they show you firsthand just how horrible such a thing is.
  • Kenneth Turney
    I was actually appalled by this scene. Not saying that it should have not been included & not saying its a big deal, I just didn't enjoy doing it & I really wish I would have had a choice. But its not the only thing Trevor does that I didn't want to do. Most of Trevor's missions where appalling & I disliked most of them & I disliked him. I wish I would have had the choice to not do them but I'm defiantly not saying Rockstar should take a step back. In fact I would like to see more of things like this. It brings more of the real world sick shit that goes on into the game. I fully support R* & but I wish they would let me decided if I want to do it.
  • Mightywow
    For one thing if under 18 year olds are playing it then It's nothing to do with rockstar it's down to the parents getting the game for there children

    And secondly trevor is the most down to earth character in the game and he shown torture for what it really is yes the FBI torture innocent people just like the in game FIB did any one he can't see this should take there head out there own ass and have a look around this is what goes on and it's all ok because some one says its for national security fuck is it it's about torture for the sake of torture and this shows it
  • Clay
    Featured Contributor
    I just went through this sequence today and I disagree with your opinion that it went too far. The whole context of the game is a caricature of present day realities. This is a game about vigilante justice, theft, and violence. I think picking one taboo scene out of many in the game is a bit unfair.

    If anything is too far, it's chop humping another dog while I'm trying to track down a baller.
  • Ashley Shankle
    Associate Editor
    In this age where everyone is hyper-sensitive, I can't see this (or any of the random junk people get offended about these days) as actually being a big deal.

    No one finds torture 'glamorous', and the fact is that GTAV walks that fine line between 'satirical' and 'hollowing'. The GTA series isn't Saints Row, it's not going to be full-on satire or fun. It's meant to be unsettling, you're supposed to be uncomfortable (unless you're a sociopath or edgy teenager).

    Games as a media are unique in that they put the actions of the main characters in the players' hands. If the character is as atrocious as Trevor in GTAV, it SHOULDN'T be a bunch of lol so randum crap. You, as the player, are made to see just how fucked up the situation is. Life ain't rainbows.
  • Big Chief 1
    Featured Correspondent
    That's very true. I have to agree with you.
  • mikey_4943
    im so sick of people having to rejudge everything when it pops up in a video game....torture has went on in books,movies,and tv for decades and nobody makes a peep,but now that its in a video game,it is obviously going to,violence,stealing and every other bad thing in the world takes place in every entertainment medium out there,so stop trying to find some retarded reason as to why its 'too much" in a video game....have a nice day :)
  • Amanda Wallace
    Former Staff Editor
    That is probably the most polite comment I've ever received that involved the word "retarded."
  • mikael_3958
    Its not that big of a deal at all. The game is rated MATURE for a reason. If parents want to complain about it because their kids are seeing this while playing GTA, WTF are kids doing playing GTA. I just played that mission a couple days ago and seen nothing wrong with it.

    I wouldn't have even put any kind of thought into it at all if others wouldn't have complained about it so much. If Call of Duty would've done this, it wouldn't have been made into such a big deal, But because this is GTA, its been blown out of proportion.

    Plain and simple, The game is rated MATURE for a reason. If people get upset seeing this, then they can turn it back in and get a Disney based game or something.
  • Amanda Wallace
    Former Staff Editor
    Have you played the scene?
  • O-o
    [remark deleted by mod - personal attack] just turn off the entire game if you cant look at sprites torturing each other LOL.. [insult deleted by mod]
  • EdibleKnife
    Yikes. Who invited this guy?
  • outwar6010
    It brings horrendous things like torture into the public discussion and the scene made torture look like what it is, it showed how horrendous, evil and ultimately how it doesn't gain anything(intelligance wise, as anyone tortured would say anything to get out of that situation), which is very important at a time when other mediums, like film have torture propaganda movies like zero dark thirty and are winning oscars.
  • Amanda Wallace
    Former Staff Editor
    I would agree to an extent. One of my primary qualms with the torture sequence is that it causes you to feel in a way that the character does not. One of the perks to an interactive medium like video games is that you can put yourself in someone else's shoes.

    That affect is lost when you understand that Trevor enjoys the torture, and is not as disgusted as you are personally by what you're doing.

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