***WARNING: Spoilers for the mission “By the Book” follow! Read at your own risk.***
I recently played through the mission where you are torturing a man as Trevor to get information about a target the FIB (the GTA series’ equivalent of the FBI) want Michael to assassinate. All you know about the target is that he is an Azerbaijani man. To Michael, and one would assume a lot of people playing GTA V, Azerbaijan is nearly indistinguishable from an imaginary place across the ocean from Neverland. You take control of Michael and drive out to an address that you are given by Steven, the FIB agent who bosses you around.
The man at the address is the wrong guy, so Steven has Trevor torture the information out of Mr. K (who looks and sounds vaguely Middle Eastern), a man who was already worked over by Steven and a similarly sadistic, nameless FIB agent. You have your choice of many different torture techniques and can go to each one as many times as you want, to get the information needed. Trevor picks up the giant wrench and smashes it into Mr. K’s knee. He screams out an address to get the pain to stop. Steven relays the information to Michael, who drives out to the hills above a beachside houseparty. Once Michael sets up his sniper, he calls back to his FIB contact, Steven, who is overseeing the torture with an air of barely restrained enjoyment.
When I first picked up the giant wrench and smashed it across Mr. K’s knee, I felt a little pit start to form in my stomach. This mission felt different from the missions I’ve played through in other GTA games to this point. Usually the poeple you hurt and kill either have it coming or just die quickly enough that they don’t feel anything. This was just cruel and gruesome. To me, the most off-putting aspect of the mission was the dialogue between all the characters involved. Michael sounds slightly hesitant but resigned to his compliance. He takes little digs at the agents and agency that are forcing him to take out a man he has never met and who may or may not deserve it. Trevor constantly cracked stupid jokes about each of the tools provided from him to do his work. If anything about him cemented the idea that he is insane and dangerous, it was the glee with which he went about his work. Agent Steven’s tone fluctuates between bored, in a hurry, sympathetic, and deranged.
Steven sets Trevor on Mr. K again, who begs to tell them more and is shushed by Trevor. Trevor picks up a pair of pliers and waves it around then forces open Mr. K’s mouth and rips out a molar. With blood leaking out of his mouth, K barely manages to spit out another detail, he is medium height, weight, and build. Steve again calls Michael, who looks around for a target before saying that all the party goers blend in. Trevor realizes that to rip out another molar would make it hard to understand any information he got so he switches back to the wrench. Mr. K begs and pleads and says that’s all he knows but Trevor just whacks him in the testicles as hard as he can. Mr. K screams out and through the pain Trevor and Steven hear that the target has a beard. Michael scopes the party and narrows down the list a bit, but still has too many options to choose from.
After ripping out Mr. K’s molar, I started feeling sick and just kept choosing the wrench since I figured it would be the lesser of multiple evils. With every whack, and every scream or moan from K, I felt worse and worse. The violent torture techniques were tough to watch, but not as tough as listening to Mr. K begging and pleading for the pain to stop and trying to tell his torturers what they want to know. When I resuscitated K after his heart gives out, he cried out, “Oh no. I’m still here.” That’s when I had to pause the game and walk away for a few minutes to try to collect myself. There have been games where NPCs beg for mercy and/or relief before, but not to this extent. In other games, you and the NPC are usually in some sort of conflict where you are both on equal footing and they can defend themselves. This was an unarmed man strapped to a chair.
By this point, Mr. K is breaking down and begging, saying that the guy smokes “…like a fucking chimney…” Trevor picks up the wrench and again smashes it into K’s testicles. K passes out and starts to fade away from the pain, so Trevor grabs an adrenaline shot and jabs it into K’s heart and restarts it. At this point K is completely broken and whimpers that “…he chain-smokes….he’s left-handed…”. Michael finally gets the information he needs, and after putting a bullet between the target’s eyes, drives away. Steven tell Trevor to get rid of the beaten and broken Mr. K and heads off to racquetball. Trevor cuts him loose and drives him to the airport; there he drops him off and tells him to leave the country.
After struggling through the rest of the “enhanced interrogation,” Rockstar put in their two cents about torture and interrogation by having Trevor just let K go. He tells K that he refuses to let the agent tell him what to do. K heartbreakingly asks, “Then why did you just torture me?” That sentiment was exactly how I felt. Why had Rockstar put me through that horrific experience? Trevor’s “Don’t ask too many fucking questions,” reply seemed to break the 4th wall and be aimed directly at gamers. The entire ride to the airport K begs to just go home and Trevor continuously replies that he doesn’t have one anymore. Rockstar has received a lot of flak for including this mission in the game, and I can understand why, but I’m a little glad they did. The GTA series is said to have gotten more serious since the release of GTA IV and the material they satirize has reflected this. Torture as a method of interrogation hasn’t been covered in the news in a while, but it’s good to see Rockstar address it.
The line that stuck out most to me in this whole mission was as Trevor is pulling into the airport and stating, “Torture’s for the torturer. Or the guy giving the orders to the torturer. You torture for the good times – we should all admit that. It’s useless as a means of getting information!” After struggling to get through the level, the final little jab of the knife to the heart was Trevor and K’s back and forth on the way to the airport. Trevor insisting that K has no home and no family to go back to, perfect encapsulates our reality. Once you are detained, taken, and tortured, you lose any identity you had. If you are one of the bad guys, there’s no way you would be released back into the world. If you’re an innocent person who just happened to have the wrong name or the wrong nationality, you’ll forever have that black mark next to your name. I have family members who have to get to the airport hours and hours before even a domestic flight, just because of their name or what country they happened to live in decades ago.
To simply state that torture is bad would not have had any impact, while making people actually commit torture to progress through the mission should make people stop and think about the reality of it. Torture dehumanized both the person getting tortured and the torturer. Trevor is already portrayed as a murderous psychotic, but at the end of the mission, the newly-released Mr. K is broken physically and mentally, barely able to get down a flight of stairs. Not to get too political, but as a Muslim male with an Arabic name, there is a consciousness of the fact that I can be detained and “interrogated” at any time, if ever I fit some insanely broad and arbitrary set of descriptive features. The fact that Mr. K is portrayed of Middle Eastern descent, made this hit closer to home than for the average gamer. Any discussion on torture I’ve come across online has had commenters not only agreeing with torture but also lauding it as an effective method of interrogation. Trevor’s explanation of the situation sums up the reality of torture better than I can:
“By The Book” should be and will be tough for gamers to get through, but they definitely should and pay close attention while doing so.