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Grand Theft Auto V

R18: violence, sexual material, drug use and offensive language

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this game.

Grand Theft Auto V poster

Date registered: 13/08/2013

About the game

Grand Theft Auto V is the fifth instalment in a very popular, sometimes notorious, free-roaming action adventure game. The current version is set in modern-day Los Santos, a game world parody of Los Angeles and surrounding regions.

There are three playable protagonists: Michael, a retired bank robber; Trevor, a destructive and possibly psychopathic drug addict; and Franklin, a repo man. The lives of the three men intersect as they complete missions to earn money.

In addition to story-based missions revolving around crime, the player can simply choose to explore the expansive game world, which includes cities, rural regions, mountainous zones and even under the sea. As with previous versions, the player is also free to break the law and face the consequences - arrest or "death", temporary states that costs the player a small amount of money and inconvenience.

Gameplay - aerial view of the city at dusk as a helicopter flies overhead

Classification criteria: Sex

There are several moments in the game when sexual activity is either depicted or implied. During game play the player has the ability to pick up sex workers and have sex with them inside a car. The sexual activities are implied by body positioning and audio.

Poster featuring sex worker being arrested by female police officer

Classification criteria: Crime, cruelty and violence

The game deals extensively with matters of crime, cruelty and violence. Drug use is depicted on several occasions. Overall the treatment of drugs is not serious and it is not a significant focus of game play. The stronger material is the freedom to commit violent and cruel and antisocial behaviour.

The game depicts acts of torture and the infliction of extreme violence and extreme cruelty. The strongest material is when Trevor tortures a man at the behest of a corrupt government official in order to gain intelligence that will be used in an assassination attempt. The tortures are mildly interactive, in that the player gently toggles the controller in a specified way to perform the onscreen actions, though at this point the intention is merely to progress narrative rather than to provide a challenging exercise. The game play itself also offers unlimited possibilities for rampant acts of extreme violence and cruelty on regular citizens and the police using an array of weaponry.

The torture, cruelty and violence are moderated to a degree by the over-the-top satirical nature of the game in general, and focus on the development of the characters through the events they face. The scene of torture is presented as mildly horrific, yet at the same time with a degree of black humour that softens the impact.

While the game does allow the player to go on rampages through urban environments with weapons, the ability to do so is entirely unrealistic - the player's avatar can withstand inordinate damage from bullets and explosions and car accidents, and civilians all tend to look and behave uniformly. After "death", the player's avatar always reemerges from the hospital, either to do the same again, or progress the storyline by completing missions. Due to the game's fantastical, over-the-top nature and satirical elements, there is never any sense that it promotes or encourages criminal behaviour outside of game play.

Gameplay - guns and large explosions

Decision summary

The unrestricted availability of Grand Theft Auto V is likely to be injurious to the public good. The game contains high-level violence and cruelty of an anti-social type that would be disturbing or shocking to young viewers. Of note is a scene that involves torture. Repeated exposure to this material in an entertaining, interactive medium may also desensitise impressionable players to violence more generally. Adults have the maturity to place this material in the context of a freeroaming action adventure game with over-the-top elements without being negatively affected.

Grand Theft Auto V is therefore restricted to audiences who have attained the age of 18 years and over. This classification interferes with freedom of expression contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 but is consistent with s3(3) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 to limit the availability of publications likely to be injurious to the public good.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R18 label
R18: violence, sexual material, drug use and offensive language