Citing customer concerns over "the game's depictions of violence against women", Target stores in Australia are no longer selling Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V. Update: Take-Two Interactive chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick has issued a statement regarding Target's action.
In an official statement (via Kotaku UK), Target's general manager of corporate affairs said that the decision to pull the popular title from store shelves was made following extensive community and customer concern about the game's content.
"We've been speaking to many customers over recent days about the game, and there is a significant level of concern about the game's content," Mr Cooper said.
"We've also had customer feedback in support of us selling the game, and we respect their perspective on the issue.
"However, we feel the decision to stop selling GTA5 is in line with the majority view of our customers."
The decision to pull the game has garnered strong criticism from the gaming community, with many pointing out that the decision flies in the face of the relatively recent legislation that allowed games in Australia to be classified with an R18+ rating. Until that legislation passed, games featuring strong mature content were either significantly censored or banned from release in the country altogether.
Target's Cooper stresses in the company statement that other R-rated games and movies would continue to be sold at the store, and that the Grand Theft Auto V situation is an extraordinary one.
"While these products often contain imagery that some customers find offensive, in the vast majority ofcases, we believe they are appropriate products for us to sell to adult customers.
"However, in the case of GTA5, we have listened to the strong feedback from customers that this is not a product they want us to sell."
It feels like an extreme measure, one Target Australia will no doubt lose revenue over. After spending the past year sifting through Grand Theft Auto V stunt videos featuring groups of friends gathering together to jump cars, fly planes and otherwise cause good-natured mischief, it's hard to imagine the game containing content objectionable enough for a ban.
But over at ABC.net.au they offer a different perspective on the story. They cite a Change.org petition from a trio of anonymous women — Nicole, Claire and Kat — calling for the retailer to ban the game from sale. The petition, with over 41,000 signatures so far, is labeled "Target: Withdraw Grand Theft Auto 5 – this sickening game encourages players to commit sexual violence and kill women."
It's a game that encourages players to murder women for entertainment. The incentive is to commit sexual violence against women, then abuse or kill them to proceed or get 'health' points – and now Target are stocking it and promoting it for your Xmas stocking.
This is Grand Theft Auto 5. This game means that after various sex acts, players are given options to kill women by punching her unconscious, killing with a machete, bat or guns to get their money returned.
Soliciting prostitutes has been a part of the franchise since Grand Theft Auto III, and while there is no on-screen prompt suggesting players kill sex workers after a transaction is made, it's an act that can be performed in the game.
We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence. It haunts us, and we've been trying to rebuild our lives ever since. Just knowing that women are being portrayed as deserving to be sexually used by men and potentially murdered for sport and pleasure – to see this violence that we lived through turned into a form of entertainments is sickening and causes us great pain and harm.
Now imagine a Target executive with nothing but a cursory awareness of the Grand Theft Auto franchise reading something like that. Then imagine them clicking on the video linked in the petition (NSFW) in which a player makes sport of visiting a prostitute, partaking of her services and then backing over her with his car to get his money back.
While we've seen such scenes play out countless times since Grand Theft Auto III, the release of Grand Theft Auto V on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 added a first-person camera option that lends a disturbing intimacy to the proceedings.
Target's statement does not mention the petition, and there's no outward indication the retailer is aware of its existence.
We've reached out to Rockstar Games for comment on the game's removal from Australian Target stores and will update this story should they respond.
Update: Strauss Zelnick, chairman and CEO of Rockstar Games parent company Take-Two Interactive, offered the following statement regarding Target Australia's removal of the game from store shelves:
"We are disappointed that an Australian retailer has chosen no longer to sell Grand Theft Auto V — a title that has won extraordinary critical acclaim and has been enjoyed by tens of millions of consumers around the world. Grand Theft Auto V explores mature themes and content similar to those found in many other popular and groundbreaking entertainment properties. Interactive entertainment is today's most compelling art form and shares the same creative freedom as books, television, and movies. I stand behind our products, the people who create them, and the consumers who play them."