Kmart has become the second major retailer to pull controversial video game franchise Grand Theft Auto from its Australian stores.
A spokeswoman for the company announced on Thursday that the highly popular series would be removed from shelves immediately “following a significant review” of their content.
“Kmart apologises for not being closer to the content of this game,” she said.
Target said on Wednesday it would stop selling the game in response to customer complaints sparked by an online petition posted by three women identifying themselves as victims of violence in the sex industry.
“This misogynistic GTA 5 literally makes a game of bashing, killing and horrific violence against women,” the petition, which has been signed by more than 40,000 people, said.
“We have firsthand experience of this kind of sexual violence … to see this violence that we lived through turned into a form of entertainments is sickening and causes us great pain and harm.”
Target’s general manager of corporate affairs, Jim Cooper, said customers had raised a “significant level of concern about the game’s content”.
“We’ve also had customer feedback in support of us selling the game, and we respect their perspective on the issue,” he said.
“However, we feel the decision to stop selling GTA5 is in line with the majority view of our customers.”
A researcher studying the game, James O’Connor, said said there was no evidence linking the GTA franchise to real-life violence.
But he said the latest iteration of the game for the Playstation 4 had a “much higher level of fidelity” and was “visually improved to the extent that it feels like a more realistic world”.
“There’s also a first-person mode which makes everything feel more gritty and problematic,” he said.
“I think within the current climate in game discussions I can respect that people are worried about these issues,” O’Connor said, in reference to the bitter “gamergate” controversy that has raged in the past months over a perceived culture of misogyny within the industry.
Raelene Knowles, from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, said she was “surprised” by the backlash, given that the average age of an Australian gamer is 32.
“Games should not be treated any differently than books, music, television, or movies rated R18,” Knowles said. “Consumers, which include parents and caregivers, should be allowed to make informed decisions for themselves.”
Sex workers’ lobby Scarlet Alliance said they condemned “all platforms that contribute to people understanding violence against sex workers as acceptable”.
“However, banning one game from one outlet doesn’t address what is a systemic issue in which mainstream media outlets portray violence against sex workers every day,” the lobby’s chief executive, Janelle Fawkes, said.
“The laws and policies that make sex workers vulnerable to violence, as well as community understandings that violence against sex workers is acceptable, must change to have a real impact on this issue.”
“Sex workers are campaigning for decriminalisation of sex work and anti-discrimination protection as a first step,” she said.
Strauss Zelnick, the chief executive of the game’s publisher, Take-Two Interactive, has previously defended the game’s libertine philosophy, telling Bloomberg: “It’s a criminal setting. It’s a criminal underworld. It is art.”
“I embrace that art, and it’s beautiful art, but it is gritty … We stand shoulder to shoulder with other major motion picture releases and major television shows that explore a similar universe.”
A number of related petitions have sprung up on the Change.org since Target’s announcement, including one wryly asking for Nintendo’s classic Super Mario franchise to be pulled as well.
The petition cites Mario’s “willful murder of wildlife, consumption of hallucinogenic flora and collection of income without declaration of tax”.
Other major retailers, including Big W and Myers, have been contacted for comment.
This article was written by Michael Safi, for theguardian.com on Thursday 4th December 2014 02.23 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010