GTA 5 Parents’ Guide: Should You Let Your Kids Play?

gta 5 speedrun

GTA 5 Parents’ Guide: Should You Let Your Kids Play?

Key Points

  • GTA 5 is a popular and controversial video game that features criminal activity, foul language, and nudity.
  • The game takes place in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles and includes a main story mode and an online component.
  • The game has microtransactions but is not pay-to-play, and experts are divided on whether violent video games negatively impact children.
  • Parents should consider their child’s age, maturity level, and their own comfort with the game’s content before allowing children to play.

GTA 5 is now 10 years old, but it is still wildly popular. It is also one of the most controversial video games ever made. You’ve undoubtedly heard about the game, but you may not be familiar with what actually goes on. As a parent, there are a lot of things that you should know about kids playing GTA 5. Most important — whether or not it is age-appropriate.

There is no straightforward answer to when your child should play GTA 5. It largely depends on their age and their understanding that things in the game do not translate into reality. There are a lot of bad influences, including criminal activity, foul language, and racism. Young children definitely should not play GTA 5, but it is not cut and dried for teenagers.

What Do You Do in GTA 5?

GTA 5 takes place in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles and neighboring rural areas. The game is heavily inspired by the area’s culture, with a wide range of in-game characters. The game consists of a main story mode and an online component. The story mode features three individuals whose paths intertwine.

You can switch between these characters throughout the game to play different missions. The missions consist of various heists, assaults, and other criminal mischief. A large part of the game is driving various vehicles around town, which can involve running over pedestrians. Similarly, you can interact with non-playable characters in the game.

Doing anything illegal, like running someone over or fighting, will attract the attention of the police. There are also a lot of leisurely things to do in GTA 5, including playing sports, hunting, and exploring the city. The online mode discussed below lets you create your own character and play out an ever-changing set of missions and quests.

What Parents Need to Know About GTA 5

Now that you have a basic understanding of what goes on in GTA 5, we can go into more detail about parental concerns. GTA 5 is rated M for mature audiences, which means an independent regulatory agency determined only individuals 17 and up should play it. This is where parental discretion comes in, as you will need to decide whether it is appropriate for your kids.

It is also important to understand that online activities in GTA 5 are not rated by ESRB. The online portion allows players from around the world to interact, which the game’s developers have little control over. Therefore, limiting online access may be a good start. Parents should also be aware that the game depicts drug use, nudity, and violence, and discusses a wide range of adult topics.

As a parent, you should also know that GTA 5 is one of the best-selling games of all time, making it pretty enticing for kids to play. For instance, your child’s friends may be playing it. It is also easily attainable. While you do need to be 17 to purchase GTA 5 in a retail store, there is little verification for online purchases at sites like Amazon. GTA 5 is also available on services like Game Pass, which makes it even more accessible for kids to play.

ESRB Content Warning for GTA 5

  • Blood and Gore
  • Intense Violence
  • Mature Humor
  • Nudity
  • Strong Language
  • Strong Sexual Content
  • Use of Drugs and Alcohol

GTA 5 Online Mode

GTA 5 Does have an online mode, but you do not have to use it. The main story mode has hours of content to keep players busy. However, going online provides a different experience as players create their own adventures by choosing quests in a non-linear fashion.

In addition, GTA Online lets strangers interact, which is likely a bigger concern than the base game’s story mode. Online content is not rated, and there is little oversight in how players interact. With that said, the heists and missions are rated M and feature the same content warnings as the story mode.

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Grand Theft Auto 5 is rated M for Mature Audiences by the ESRB.

©Stefano Chiacchiarini ’74/Shutterstock.com

Is There Violence in GTA 5?

There is a lot of violence in GTA 5, and it cannot be skipped or ignored. In fact, the game’s prologue involves a lengthy police chase that involves a significant amount of shooting. From there, things only ramp up as cutscenes show a lot of fighting and shooting. Of course, the player is in the middle of most of the action and taking part in it.

It is also worth noting that much of this is premeditated, as players can change how they approach certain missions. Some of the violence is controllable, such as minimizing casualties in combat. However, there is no way to limit the carnage that a player creates. The game’s violence is often fictionalized as part of a story. However, some of the violence is replicable in the real world.

Is There Cursing in GTA 5?

GTA 5 is filled with cursing that can actually get annoying after a while. Nearly every type of profanity is included in this game. From cursing and swearing to outright racism, GTA 5 is not concerned with offending anyone. The F-word is dropped countless times, and in many cases, multiple times in a dialogue.

A popular YouTuber actually counted 1,018 uses of the F-word throughout GTA 5’s story mode. Unfortunately, there is no way to disable cursing, but there is a profanity filter that removes certain text from the screen. If you are worried about the game’s vulgarity, you can simply mute the audio, but you may miss important mission details.

Is There Sexual Content in GTA 5?

GTA 5 does not show sexual intercourse, as it would raise the game’s ESRB rating. However, it does have a lot of sexual conversations and implied sex acts. Many conversations throughout the story mode are filled with raw humor and sex jokes.

There is also nudity, including a topless woman dancing at a strip club. One of the strippers proceeds to give the playable character a lapdance. You can also hear several instances of what sounds like sex in another room. In addition, there is also male nudity if you come across the cult in the rural part of the map.

Is There Drug Use in GTA 5?

GTA 5 is filled with tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. Characters also regularly use or discuss drugs. One of the main characters runs a meth business, which you must defend in one mission. Another main character can purchase and own medicinal marijuana dispensaries around town.

The online component also includes the ability to play as a drug dealer. In addition to repeated drug use and depictions, alcohol is often consumed in conjunction with other drugs. More importantly, one of the main characters regularly drinks and drives, which is simulated by having looser controls of a vehicle’s steering.

One of the main characters in GTA 5 frequently drinks and drives.


Are There Gangs in GTA 5?

Another common concern is the depiction of gangs in GTA 5, as they were a core part of previous titles. The depiction and “glamorization” of gang life remain a major point of contention. Gangs do exist in the massive open world, but you do not play as a conventional gang member.

With that said, you will cross paths with some of the gangs in the game, which ultimately leads to shootouts. In addition to a variety of different street, motorcycle, and Mafia-like gangs, there are also smaller factions. These smaller entities often have fewer individuals, but they are no less violent or concerning.

Are There Microtransactions?

A growing concern for many parents is microtransactions in video games. If you are unfamiliar, a microtransaction lets you pay real money for items in a video game. It is similar to in-app purchases in mobile games. However, the controversy lies with games allowing you to purchase loot boxes with real money. Loot boxes are often seen as a method of gambling that targets children.

GTA 5 does have microtransactions and a system to purchase in-game money with real money. GTA 5 has changed this part of the game significantly since its launch, as it now encourages players to purchase more in-game money. In addition, the developers also removed some of the easier ways to make money in the game.

It is important to note that while GTA 5 does have microtransactions, it is not a pay-to-play game like many others. Very little gameplay is actually blocked by paywalls. While microtransactions do exist in GTA 5, loot crates do not. Everything you can purchase is transparent, with no deceptive tactics. However, there are some concerns with the game’s casino, which does let you gamble with in-game currency.

What Experts Say About GTA 5

Common Sense Media reviewers list GTA 5 as recommended for ages 18 and up. However, the recommended age listed by parents is 13 and up. With that in mind, many of the supposed parental reviews appear to be written by people under 18. Common Sense Media is a great resource to get age-appropriate reviews about video games and other media like movies.

Taking a more scientific look, experts are actually at odds as to whether violent video games negatively impact children. Activists, parents, and government officials have complained about the GTA’s negative impacts since the first game. However, studies show that there is little evidence that video games affect children. Even so, you should still take maturity level into account.

Should Your Kids Play GTA 5?

Whether or not your child should play GTA 5 depends on their age and maturity level. A major factor is whether your child understands the difference between exaggerating for entertainment and what happens in real life. There is both an emotional and cognitive element that you must take into account.

In addition, you must be comfortable with the level of violence, foul language, and sexual content in the game. The reality is that some of your child’s friends are likely playing the game, which makes them want to play, too. You should also think about younger kids in the house who may see or hear the game being played.

ESRB ratings are often higher than they need to be, but in this case, GTA 5 is a game only for adults. With that in mind, a more realistic age for your child to play is 15 or 16. No one under 13 should play GTA 5, but 13 or 14 will likely be the age that kids want to start playing. You will have to make the ultimate decision, but consider explaining to them why they cannot play, as well as providing alternatives.

Explaining to Your Kids Why They Can’t Play GTA 5

Once you’ve determined that GTA 5 is inappropriate for your kids to play, you must have a difficult conversation. As a parent, you try to do what is best, but your child may not understand why. This is especially true if their friends are playing the game.

Be open and honest by explaining what is and is not appropriate. This is also a good time to tell them at what age they can play those types of games. You can add that many adults even find the game inappropriate for themselves since so many bad things are happening. It may also be helpful to ask why your child thinks certain aspects of the game would be fun so you can present an alternative.

GTA 5 Alternatives

One of the best things you can do is provide alternatives that your kids may enjoy more. Consider buying them a different game to help get their minds off of GTA 5. You may be surprised to learn that there are similar open-world games that do not have as much violence. One of the most popular for kids who grew up in the early days of GTA was The Simpsons: Hit & Run.

Today, games like Saints Row offer a less realistic take on GTA. Similarly, Just Cause 4 lets you destroy stuff and take part in crazy action without many of the vices depicted in GTA 5. An even less graphic alternative for Nintendo Switch owners is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Finally, younger children will enjoy Lego City Undercover, which is an awesome open-world game.

AlternativeESRB Rating
Lego City UndercoverE10+
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildE10+
Saints RowM
Just Cause 4M
The Simpsons: Hit & RunT
  1. LEGO City Undercover (Nintendo Switch)
    • Take on the role of rookie officer, Chase McCain as he fights crime in Lego City
    • Open-world LEGO gaming with over 100 vehicles
    • 300 unlockable and playable characters
    • Use disguises to gain special skills and abilities
    • Engage in hand-to-hand combat and arrest criminals
    • Rated E10+ for Cartoon Violence and Crude Humor
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    11/26/2023 12:16 pm GMT
  2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Nintendo Switch
    • Choose your own paths, make your own choices, and face your own consequences
    • Discover multiple solutions to dozens of dynamic puzzles
    • Search for surprises around every corner
    • Collect armor, weapons, plants, animals, and more
    • Live off the land as you cook food and brew elixirs
    • Utilize special technology with in-game Sheikah Slate controls
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    11/26/2023 11:51 am GMT
  3. Saints Row Day 1 Edition - PlayStation 5
    • The biggest Saints Row sandbox ever created
    • Make your way through both urban and desert environments across the southwest
    • Commandeer cars, bikes, planes, helicopters, hoverbikes, go-karts, and more
    • Extensive character customization
    • Expand your criminal enterprise and fight for control of the city
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    11/26/2023 12:16 pm GMT
  4. Just Cause 4 - PlayStation 4 Gold Edition
    • Take on the role of rogue agent Rico Rodriguez
    • Huge South American open-world setting
    • customize your grappling hook to create your own special moves
    • New vehicles including military jets, helicopters, sports cars, and construction vehicles
    • Take on your enemies in extreme weather conditions
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    11/26/2023 12:16 pm GMT
  5. The Simpsons Hit & Run (Renewed)
    • Skate through beautiful downtown Springfield and surrounding areas
    • Do tricks on Springfield landmarks
    • Head-to-head shredding and grinding
    • Your actions will set off gags just like you'd see in a real Simpsons episode
    • Multiplayer driving modes for up to 4 players
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    11/26/2023 12:11 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is GTA 5 so violent?

GTA is well-known for its violence, which has sparked a lot of criticism. However, the controversies that surround the game actually help it to sell more copies. In essence, the violence and adult themes keep the game relevant and popular.

Can you limit violence and profanity in GTA 5?

No, there is no way to stop the profanity or lower the amount of violence. One thing you can do is use the profanity filter to remove offensive language from the captions.

Is the PC version of GTA 5 better for kids?

No, the PC version is essentially the same as the versions available on home consoles. All versions of GTA 5 are bad for kids, but the PC version has the added ability to use mods.

Can kids play older GTA games?

Older GTA games suffer from the same problems as GTA 5. With that said, some of the graphics are much less realistic. For instance, GTA San Andreas has a lot of gang activity, but it is arguably milder than GTA 5.

How do you decide what your kids can play?

Determining what games are age-appropriate is very difficult, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. While there are a lot of games rated M, GTA 5 is easily one of the least child-friendly. You should carefully consider the game’s rating and watch a gameplay video to help make that determination.

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