Parks Associates Blog

Monday, May 05, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV: Discuss

Depending on the news source, Grand Theft Auto IV is either the greatest thing to ever happen to gaming, or the surest sign yet that the world is already doomed. The reality is something in between: GTA is entertainment software that provides a lot of enjoyable gameplay and will hopefully make players think about the world we all live in. It will also help move a lot of game consoles for Microsoft and Sony; for a long time to come.

First of all, GTA is a game for people who already understand that it is not acceptable to drive 115 MPH down the wrong side of the street in Manhattan with a machine gun hanging out the window, finger firmly on trigger. The Grand Theft Auto series has always danced on a razor’s edge and helps illustrate how carefully constructed modern life is and how most of the population automatically obeys the really important rules. The latest installment of the franchise is fun, insightful, sickening, violent, thoughtful, clever, frustrating, and just a little scary. It should be a little unsettling that anyone with a gun or vehicle can unfurl the fabric of modern society. It should raise the hair on your neck that anyone with a little willpower or the right acquaintance can obtain the tools of wanton destruction. Welcome to western society, please obey the rules.

Second of all, the boring stuff. Grand Theft Auto IV, with a rumored budget of $100 million and a team of more than 150 developers is the largest video game project to-date. More than 6 million copies were pre-ordered across the PS3 and Xbox 360. Estimates from various sources place initial weekly sales at 6-8 million copies and year end 2008 sales above 11 million. It is already the fastest selling game in the UK, and the franchise has sold in excess of 70 million copies worldwide since its initial 1997 release. The game also helped publisher, Take2 Interactive, resist a hostile takeover bid valued at over $2 billion from rival Electronic Arts.

Third of all, the controversy. Does GTA beget homicidal maniacs? Does the game celebrate ultra-violence or deride it? Does the fact that you have to press buttons and waggle little sticks make game interactions more violent that the latest horror film gore fest or crime spree movie where the body counts include everyone in the credits? Should the developers have included better controls for drive-by shooting? All good questions and all will remain contested. The developer, Rockstar North, certainly thrives on controversy and is known for outspoken commentary and perhaps clueless management. Regardless, they make popular games and know how to stoke a fire to boost sales and ensure their products remain in the spotlight.

There is one sure thing however: GTA is now a part of popular culture. As has gone on for centuries now, stories and media stay with us and are constantly consumed, re-imagined, and passed on: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Hitchcock, The Godfather, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Superman, Gone With the Wind, Playboy, James Bond, Halo, etc, etc, etc. Grand Theft Auto is a permanent fixture of society now. The more is cried out over the game, the more popular it will become. The more players push it up as the ‘best game ever’, the more it will be torn down and criticized. Besides, history repeats itself and the tired cliché is still correct: from Comic Books to Elvis, from Doom back to theater with the first female actresses; there will always be something terrible to stand up for or protest. Accept it, everything will be ok.

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