Update 4/12/2014 9:15pm:
Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Grand Theft Auto V publisher Rockstar's parent company Take-Two Interactive, has issued a statement responding to retailers withdrawing the game from sale in Australia:
“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.”
Target has pulled Grand Theft Auto V from its Australian store shelves over concerns about acts of violence towards women in the game.
A Change.org petition signed by more than 43,000 people was the catalyst behind the decision.
The creators of the petition, who only used their first names, Nicole, Claire and Kat, said they were survivors of sexual violence. They said they felt the game sent a dangerous message.
"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," said the petition.
"This misogynistic GTA V literally makes a game of bashing, killing and horrific violence against women."
Speaking with News.com.au, Nicole said anyone who has subsequently pointed out that Grand Theft Auto V doesn't actually incentivise or encourage the kinds of violence the petition mentions is missing the point.
"This is the argument we hear every time violence against women is mentioned," she said, when questioned about the game's male on male violence. "Even on White Ribbon Day, there are cries of 'But it happens to men, too'.
"In this case, the male gamers are saying they don't mind violence against themselves in this game. Implicit in this is the recognition that if men don't mind, then women have to put up with it. This is hardly a gender-neutral argument. Implicit in it is the very misogyny we are rallying against."
The petition links to a community-made video showing a player picking up a sex worker, paying for her services, and then killing her by repeatedly running her over, throwing a grenade at her body, setting her body on fire, and firing a machine gun into her body.
Target general manager of corporate affairs Jim Cooper said the the retailer decided to stop stocking the game following customer feedback.
"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," said Cooper.
"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 GTA V is in line with the majority view of our customers."