The other side of Grand Theft Auto.
Grand Theft Auto is a juggernaut. Whatever oneâ€™s taste in games, there is simply no denying that in 2008, it doesnâ€™t get any bigger than Grand Theft Auto IV. Those that live in Wellington might have noticed billboards and buses that herald the arrival of the latest instalment of gamingâ€™s most infamous franchise, a reminder that Grand Theft Auto is as much a cultural icon as it is a video game masterpiece. Even music magazine Real Groove took a chance by having the series feature prominently on its April cover.
However, Grand Theft Auto has also been subject to much criticism â€“ it especially came under fire during the whole Hot Coffee scandal. It is often seen as a debaucherous affair that inspires innocent children to commit criminal acts. It has no redeeming qualities; itâ€™s a virus; it needs to be exposed for what it is and wiped off the face of the Earth. And for the sake of forum user Caveo_Meee, letâ€™s not even mention the name Jack Thompson.
However, those that only see the violence, the destruction, and the acts of crime in Grand Theft Auto are missing the point. Those that call the game unacceptable are completely missing why itâ€™s totally acceptable, desirable, and even essential in this day and age. Its most vocal critics are those that are likely the ones that have failed to sit down and appreciate the finely crafted masterpiece of social commentary that is Grand Theft Auto.
Far removed from the simplistic experiences of their predecessors, todayâ€™s video games are a powerful and maturing medium that allow for intricate narratives rich with complex themes. They can reflect on the human condition as well as any film or novel. Real Groove editor Ducan Greive commented on how a cover story for a game in a primarily music-centric magazine was a â€śbold moveâ€ť, but that he believed in the medium. The infamous Grand Theft Auto series is at the forefront of this development of video games as something to be taken seriously. Beneath the violence and the crime lies a satirical social commentary on American culture and the commoditisation of the American Dream.
â€śGreed, for lack of a better word, is good,â€ť Gordan Gekko once advocated in Oliver Stoneâ€™s Wall Street. Happiness is often seen as correlating directly with the size of oneâ€™s bank account, and the best way to pursue this is to be unscrupulous. Reach for the stars by using others as a stepladder. Although this theme has been explored in many classic films such as Scarface, developer Rockstar is a pioneer at bringing this to the video game industry. Digging deeper than patriotic bombast of war games in which the protagonist is always acting in the name of freedom and justice, Grand Theft Auto looks at the very core of American capitalism.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, for example, looks at the drug-fuelled excess of the 1980s. In one memorable scene, crime lord Ricardo Diaz destroys a VCR he believes is malfunctioning. When informed that it was merely unplugged, he angrily retorts that heâ€™ll just buy another; he could afford hundreds of them, after all. In Grand Theft Auto III, media mogul Donald Love reveals his sinister intentions to expand his empire by declaring: â€śNothing drives down real estate prices like a good old-fashioned gang war.â€ť Money is nothing and everything. Greed is good.
However, thanks to its virtual worlds, Grand Theft Auto is able further explore the increasing cavern between the rich and the poor and Americaâ€™s obsession with commercialism and wealth. Turn on the radio in a car and one might hear Love Media proudly proclaim the assets it controls, including ten senators. In another commercial, a self-help entrepreneur responds to a request for help from the state by replying: â€śThis is the negative kind of self-obsessed greedy talk that doesn't help anyone. My program will teach you a new outlook on life. Instead of complaining about being poor, enjoy it. Watch TV. Don't vote. Who cares?â€ť
Itâ€™s true that this rhetoric might fly well over the heads of small children, but as a title restricted to adults over the age of 18, small children should not be exposed to Grand Theft Auto anyway. Those who are old enough experience the series will find a brilliant critique of American culture if they are willing to look beyond the surface. Grand Theft Auto is not a violent, sociopathic simulator that promotes violence and hatred. It is a satirical social commentary that highlights everything wrong with capitalism and the American Dream.
Those that hate it are either ignorant of its content or too patriotic to see the parody. However, the fact remains that for its brilliant social commentary on American values Grand Theft Auto remains not only a rarity in the video game industry, but a franchise that is not only acceptable, even desirable, but also something that should be experienced by anyone old enough to obtain a copy.
Grand Theft Auto IV releases on April 29. Keep it locked to NZGamerâ€™s launch zone for more features, including a full review, in the near future.