Grand Theft Auto 5 launched recently. Everyone seems to be of the opinion that if you like a game where you get to be a violent lunatic running around a dystopian city murdering, robbing, and destroying indiscriminately it is a great game. There is just one fly in the ointment: In order to get through the game you need to guide your character through a graphic torture scene where you use a variety of implements to inflict horrors on another person. People have predictably flipped out over this but I think they haven't any ground to stand on.
It is clear that torture scenes are troubling. In World of Warcraft where a very tame 'zap the guy till he talks' scene was instituted people freaked out and the torture scene in GTA5 is an order of magnitude more brutal. People really do not like torturing others - something about the intense suffering involved really triggers sympathy in a way that combat does not. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that in games when you fight enemies they rarely show any sign of suffering or damage until they are dead. There are two states for an enemy mook: Attacking you furiously and lying on the ground. Being sad or terrified doesn't figure into it, unlike in real life. In a simulated torture scene though the person being tortured is desperate, scared, and mentally falling apart and that triggers sympathy in us that never appears in stand up fights.
Given that I think it is extremely understandable that we have more empathy for a torture victim than a random person gunned down in a moment of savagery but I don't think that means that it shouldn't be portrayed. If we are okay with games making entertainment out of massacring pedestrians then we really can't be too picky about torture which certainly is lower on the badness scale than mass murder. Just because a thing is more disturbing does not mean it should be banned. It does mean that such a game should have a 18+ rating on the box because that rating is in part meant to reflect how disturbing it is though.
Games need to be able to depict desperate and savage occurrences. They aren't everyone's cup of tea but that isn't the point - just like in film, books, or other media we have freedom to create whatever stories we desire as long as we don't hurt real people. With that freedom in place many games are going to show horrendous violence and that is okay. Just like in other media you aren't required to view it if you don't like it. I have no desire to play through GTA5 myself but I think that it is important that others be able to and we need to resist foolish knee jerk reactions that blame violent video games for real life situations that are entirely unrelated.