Racism and the police have been hot topics in the real world, but what about racism and fictional police in the game world of Grand Theft Auto V? The Game Theorists decided to test out whether the Los Santos police racially profile GTA V’s three main characters, which, conveniently enough, are a rich white male, poor white male, and poor black male.
The test on police racism in GTA V was inspired by various social media and YouTube videos by owners of the game. Many questioned encounters in the game where Franklin, the black character, was harassed or shot by the police for doing nothing more than walking or driving around the game world.
The comments were so much that Rockstar Games responded to a Forbes request last September on whether the police in GTA V are programmed to respond to Franklin and the two white characters – Michael and Trevor – differently. Their response was that the police AI was made to treat all three protagonists the same.
Questions continued to crop up on whether the GTA V cops are racist despite this statement from Rockstar, however. This led to The Game Theorists smartly taking the time to test the theory out for themselves, and the results are surprising.
The setup for the test is that each character would approach the police in three different socio-economic areas of Los Santos – the upper-class Vinewood, the poor rural Paleto Bay, and poor urban South Los Santos. One test has each character approach the police outside the station five times and say something. A second test has each character drive up to the police and honk the car horn. A third test for control simply has each character walk by, amusingly carrying a handgun, to make sure that the police were in a neutral state with the characters.
The Game Theorists came up with a scoring system too. No reaction from the police would result in zero points, a hostile verbal reaction would be one point, and a violent response or arrest would be two points.
Vinewood was perhaps the most consistent of the three GTA V locations tested. All three characters received no response in the car but received five hostile to violent responses when interacting with the police.
Interestingly, Franklin received the least response in the mostly white rural town of Paleto Bay with no responses in the car and three hostile responses when interacting, one of which turned violent. Poor Trevor was harassed the most though. He was the only one to get a response while in the car and was harassed all five times when talking to police.
South Los Santos is where things took a turn for the worse for Franklin. He was harassed four times while driving a car, and one of those resulted in him getting shot. By comparison, Trevor and Michael were harassed non-violently once each.
Franklin also garnered a hostile reaction all five times when talking with South Los Santos cops. Two of those instances turned violent. Michael was only harassed twice. Trevor was harassed more often, but not as badly as Franklin.
In all, The Game Theorists test showed that the two characters on the bottom of the socio-economic scale were harassed the same in GTA V. Race may have factored into their location though, as the police in the rural and white Paleto Bay were more aggressive to Trevor while police in the predominantly African-American South Los Santos were more likely to tee off on Franklin. All three characters were treated approximately the same by the upscale Vinewood police.
That said, you can make an argument that The Game Theorists did not run enough tests to get a good sample. Reactions to each character were only recorded five times for the driving and talking tests. That’s not a large sample size to generate a rock solid conclusion, but the results were interesting none the less and the 20-odd hours required to pull this altogether is appreciated.
What did you think of The Game Theorists test of racism in Grand Theft Auto V? Did Rockstar Games code the police to react accurately based on our real world perceptions of socio-economic factors? Sound off in the comments below.
[Images via The Game Theorists, scudpunk]