Using the video editor mode available in the recent PC release of Grand Theft Auto V, PC Gamer recently captured and posted this video of Franklin, one of the game's characters, kicking a cat to death. If I was feeling articulate, I might say this was emblematic of the hypocrisies inherent to GTA's politics.
It professes to be punkish, rebellious and attacking of "the system" but ultimately attacks women, gay people and people of colour – like a man stomping a cat to death, Grand Theft Auto V uses its might to kick down at people whom society has already made vulnerable. That's what I would say if I was feeling articulate.
But Grand Theft Auto V is such a thick game, such an idiotic game, a game of such total classlessness or care that when thinking about it, I can't help but have my prose lowered to a single, emphatic statement: it's just stupid.
There are constructive criticisms I could level at Grand Theft Auto V. I could say that Michael and Trevor's relationship never goes anywhere – they shout at each other when they first meet, shout at each other throughout the game, and shout at each other in the end. I could say that, despite being set in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse cities on Earth, practically the whole game is set in the wealthy central district.
Trevor moves from his trailer in the desert to an apartment on Venice Beach. Even Franklin, GTA's supposed conduit into the nitty-gritty of South Central, winds up – about a sixth of the way through the game – living in a mansion in the Hills, narrowing GTA V's focus to one tiny, uninteresting facet of metropolitan life.
The game's so-called satire, which let's not forget was explicitly (and ham-fistedly) advertised in its trailers, boils down to knocking things like Facebook, celebrity culture and Call of Duty. Based in a city where, just last month, police officers shot and killed an unarmed homeless man, Grand Theft Auto nevertheless chooses as its political targets the kinds of things people whinge about in Comments sections. It's a lazily researched game, something which would just about be passable if it weren't so smug about what it seems to regard as its unique, cut-throat political standpoint.
I'd also say that, despite being supposedly based on spectacle, whackiness and a ca-razy San Andreas style of play, the health bar and shooting mechanics in GTA V are restrictive. There's a tonal clash between "this is a reality-minded game from the makers of Red Dead Redemption" and "because we're corporate sycophants, we're going to give people exactly what they asked for after GTA IV." And so you have the promise of go anywhere, do anything gameplay, but also the leash of systems that force you to behave sensibly.
These are constructive criticisms. But again, after two years of playing, reading and writing about Grand Theft Auto V, and trying to find nuanced ways to approach it, the most encompassing remark I can think to pass is still "it's just stupid."
It's just stupid. It's just a stupid game, made by stupid people about stupid people. The things it wants you to enjoy are stupid. The way it presents them is stupid. The missions are stupid, the writing is stupid, the whole tone is stupid. Those websites you can visit in-game – stupid. That bank robbery with the gatling guns – stupid. Michael trying to kill his therapist – stupid. Trevor taking a dump in an alley – stupid. Franklin, everything about Franklin – stupid. It's a stupid game. It's just stupid.
And stupidest of all? Stupidest of all is the fact that this game ostensibly has a bone to pick with wealth and wealthy people. The main antagonist is a billionaire who brags about his power. There's even a mission where you assassinate Mark Zuckerberg. And yet, if you pre-ordered the PC version, you were gifted $1 million of in-game currency. And here's Rockstar boasting, a few days after GTA V's launch, how much money the game had made. So, that's pretty stupid.
That's pretty stupid, how a game, seemingly proud of behaving anti-system and anti-capitalism, is essentially advertising the importance of money. A more generous writer might call this a mighty, post-modern satirical twist, as if Grand Theft Auto V's massive financial success is somehow telling us that, no matter how hard we fight against institutions and the economy they will eventually swallow us all. But me, considering everything I've seen of Grand Theft Auto between when it first launched and now - I don't think that. I think it's just stupid.
Ed Smith writes about games, films and culture for IBTimes UK. He has also written for The Observer, Vice, New Statesman and Edge magazine. Find him on Twitter @mostsincerelyed