“Actually, Grand Theft Auto is a clever satire of the American Dream,” the creepy manifesto that bored pretenders like me used to make in the early 2000s to highlight the game’s artistic merit. You can get a blowjob from a prostitute to replenish your health and then murder her to get your money back.
Back then we tended to defend video games as a medium because it always seemed to be in a precarious equilibrium on the cusp of mainstream acceptance, never quite falling (see: blowjob, murder). Today, this form no longer needs proof: its legitimacy is self-evident and requires no rationalization. But evidence of its shoddy past remains plentiful—especially in its long-toothed struts.
Grand Theft Auto So old that it carries its legacy jokes in the same way that Windows 11 had the MS-DOS command prompt. This is a world where the stock market is called BAWSAQ. A school memoir gimmick that is more likely to evoke an admitted “um” than an actual laugh than a clever twist on late capitalism. I’m not sure if it works outside of Scotland.
But BAWSAQ and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Prostitution remain legacy hallmarks in the gaming world, and beyond all expectations, it has matured and refined over the years as it intends the world of Dark Mirror to degenerate into a screaming parody of itself. It’s a series that starts with a silent protagonist, exists only as a channel for player agency, but is so invested in the character arc that it embodies the term “ludonarrative dissonance” – a dissonance between player behavior and character motivations Phenomenon, this is a piece of crap. .
Such as Niko Bellic from GTA 4: PTSD Ex-child soldier suffering from war in Yugoslavia, seeking a better life in America. Hobbies: A bloody one-player war with the LCPD for no reason.
By the way, ludonarrative dissonance is an exaggerated problem. Audiences are smart enough to understand the 9,000 different Spider-Man continuity running simultaneously; people are perfectly capable of distinguishing between player freedom and narrative rigidity. Existing in the space between them is something beautiful that only video games can do, and something that audiences innately understand, they never understand the world without them.
It’s not too much to overstate the existential problems faced by satirists of all kinds. The real world is now absurd and impossible to imitate. Back in 2016, when asked about the prospect of reviving The Thick of It post-union, Armando Iannucci (another Scottish export known for imitating the US as a keen outsider) said: “I now find that The political landscape is so foreign and scary that it’s hard to match the wave of cynicism it spreads itself.” For context, this was said in the weeks before Brexit became a reality, when Donald Trump’s A presidency is widely seen as a distant possibility. Just the prospect of what’s to come, the world’s leading comedy writer has thrown in the towel.
Five years, countless crises, a pandemic, a flurry of boring SNL sketches, and later Spitting Image’s strangely unsmiling revival, it’s hard not to conclude that satire is dead. Love or hate this guy (you shouldn’t), Donald Trump himself is effortlessly funnier than anyone who wrote lines for his Spitting Image puppets, and noticeably more grotesque than Alec Baldwin in a fat suit.
He’s no more interesting than a Jetski company called “Speedophile,” though.
This is where GTA can present reality perfectly and uniquely: it’s already full of rude incongruities, its molecules full of bizarre juxtapositions. In this world, there is a children’s cartoon where space marines conquer the galaxy with a giant dildo. There are two automakers with misspelled “anus” names, a clothing company called “ProLaps” and an airline called “Air Biscuit”. However, despite the undiminished obsession with shit puns, the series has taken more than a decade to evolve into something reminiscent of the prestigious TV series.
Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City honed Rockstar’s gold standard of worldbuilding, but there’s little to be said other than letting us all know how much Dan Houser loves Scarface said. San Andreas puts some seriously dramatic chops on top of it—a touching story about losing and rediscovering your roots, which admittedly bypasses race relations in America in a way now considered cowardly , but was considered bold at the time simply because a black protagonist — from a black community — was immersed in the gangster rap culture of the early ’90s. In fact, the minority of white players complaining about CJ’s race, citing their inability to relate to him, unwittingly explains why representation matters, as those idiots tend to do (notably, Tommy Vercetti is Italians, or Niko Bellic being Serbs, did not cause a similar outcry).
Rockstar’s gritty follow-up to GTA 4’s San Andreas, a sordid reimagining of Liberty City’s compound East Coast vibe, takes the series further into the vein of famous HBO shows like The Sopranos and The Wire, both of which are enjoying their popularity during the game’s development. Many thought it was too much: Nico’s escape from war-torn Eastern Europe to the sordid period of post-9/11 America’s decline was a serious story for serious times and a backlash from many, which There is nothing one can do but be dizzy. A billion-dollar murder simulator, Saints Row capitalized on that backlash by turning full speed into neon-saturated surrealism (that didn’t stop it from being a soulless pile of garbage not fit for licking GTA’s boots, but I’m glad it found its niche).
More recently, Arima’s GTA sequel, Red Dead Redemption II, gave us an almost experimental formula by taking us through the final days of the protagonist’s death from tuberculosis — their best work yet. Arthur is a happy character. His story firmly lives up to the title’s “redemption” promise, and there’s nothing more endearing than the joy he exudes while sitting in a tin bath. There’s no shortage of evidence that Rockstar’s flair for drama is as dynamic as their love of gimmicks and crap, and instead of thriving at the halfway point between the two extremes, they somehow maintain everything by flipping from one to the other at will Perfectly aligned, like a dancer spinning beautifully in the air in a silly hat.
For creators and viewers, the world of Grand Theft Auto is just a fun place to play. It doesn’t matter whether the world it’s meant to satirize has become too stupid to make fun of in earnest. As a gift from its predecessors, the next GTA will have plenty of time to choose how serious it is. Whether Rockstar is still acrobatic enough to switch from one pitch to another (its lead writer Dan Houser is leaving the company in 2020), the signs of GTA Online aren’t gloomy in that regard: at least, Lamar and Franklin are in The dialogue at the recent Short Trips collaboration event was hilarious (even if the rest of the content was rubbish, one hopes since the studio is going all-in on the sequel).
Grand Theft Auto has proven it’s capable against a world that stifles imitation, and is far enough away from it that it hardly matters. GTA 6 won’t launch in a vacuum anyway: its legacy matters and gives it the strength to overcome the inevitable doubt that in a post-Trump world, nothing is more absurd or obscene than business-as-usual . Because of course it can you be an idiot, there is a jet ski company called “Speedophile”.