By Nicholas Sertich, Global Drug Policy Observatory

Both regulations and depictions of drug use in gaming contribute to the suppression regime around drugs. Drug users and dealers are portrayed as violent, destabilising forces that are rightly met with violence. Regulators and creators contribute to the stigmatisation of drug users by encouraging drug use to be in the most of violent games. Taken together, this helps to legitimise the use of punitive and securitised measures against dealers especially.  In particular, this Situation Analysis will use Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) as a case study as it encompasses many common trends, while also being the 3rd top-selling game of all time with over 85 million copies in circulation.

The war on drugs has rarely been fought exclusively by security and judicial establishments.  In much of the West, social forces were mobilised against the supposedly moral terror of drug use.  In the landscape of the 1970s to the 1990s, the war on drugs was fought heavily in the media.  Superheroes fought drug dealers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles told kids that ‘drug dealers are dorks’, and Pee-Wee Herman talked about crack-cocaine. Video games and video gamers grew up with the tag line ‘Winners Don’t Use Drugs’, while drug dealers were easy targets in games like NARC in the 1980s.  

Recent AAA and AA4 console and computer gaming represents a massive, and fast-growing segment of global media consumption often overlooked by observers.  It is worth noting, however, that purely mechanical drug use on the part of the player is often treated differently.