Grand Theft Auto V Is a Return to the Comedy of Violence

Pubblicato: 17 settembre 2013 in cultura, illusioni digitali

Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto V Is a Return to the Comedy of Violence –

As video game players have gotten older, as antiheroes have become routine across the culture, as sex and violence have permeated prestige television, the controversies that once surrounded the Grand Theft Auto games have begun to seem like sepia-toned oddities from another age. Sure, the new installment, to be released on Tuesday, contains plenty that might offend those who enjoy taking offense, and it is still disturbing to see parents giving these games topreteenage children. Among the interactive pastimes Grand Theft Auto offers — alongside pursuits like yoga, sky diving, tennis, scuba and golf — are bong hits and lap dances.

But while the franchise has lost the ability to shock, it remains the most immersive spectacle in interactive entertainment. And with the profane and hugely enjoyable Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar Games has produced the best plotted, most playable, character-driven, fictionally coherent entry in this 16-year-old series.

The game is set in an immense, parodic vision of Southern California, a West Coast counterpoint to the caricature of New York City in Grand Theft Auto IV (2008). While Los Santos — the game’s version of Los Angeles — and its surroundings exist in an alternate reality, it is also a contemporary one that evokes and satirizes the anxieties of 21st-century life. There’s a fake Facebook (LifeInvader), a fake Twitter (Bleeter), a fake Apple (Fruit), a fake Kickstarter (Beseecher), a fake “50 Shades of Grey” (“Chains of Intimacy”), even a fake Call of Duty (Righteous Slaughter 7, a first-person shooter game that advertises itself with the tagline “The identical art of contemporary killing”).

Grand Theft Auto V is still an action game about hoodlums and thieves; we start with an extended bout of cop killing and proceed to a series of increasingly ambitious heists. But the structure feels more logical than before. Your character doesn’t arrive as an outsider in a new city and start carrying out the requests of people whose only purpose is seemingly to delay him. Instead, the events flow from situations and desires.

For the first time, there are three controllable characters instead of only one: Franklin, a repo man on the make, loses his job; Michael, a witness-protection retiree, miscalculates after finding his wife cheating on him with her tennis instructor; and Trevor, an oddly lovable psychopathic meth dealer and gun runner, learns that Michael, his onetime partner, faked his death 10 years ago.

“I’ve got an imbalance,” Michael tells his psychiatrist. “One minute I’m one person, and the next minute I’m another person.”

A retired — or newly unretired — bank robber, Michael is examining his struggle to control his criminal impulses. He might as well be analyzing the dissonance that afflicted Grand Theft Auto IV. That game’s protagonist, Niko Bellic, would fret in animated sequences about the costs of his life of violence. But under the control of many video game players, Niko would subsequently embark on acts of gleeful, creative murder that belied the story the game wanted to tell about him. Were these two men — the one in the story’s animations and the one manipulated by the player — really the same person?

With the three-character structure of Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar finds an answer to that riddle.

“That seamlessness between narrative and interactive is something that we have worked on everywhere,” said Sam Houser, the sometimes reclusive co-founder of Rockstar Games, who agreed to be interviewed after I had spent more than 45 hours inside the game’s world.

Most video games are about repeated actions, about mastering a skill and exploiting it. Grand Theft Auto games are about variety. There’s the array of content, including radio stations D.J.’d by the likes of Bootsy Collins; entire TV shows with names like “Republican Space Rangers”; and a fake Internet. And there are the missions the characters execute, encompassing car, boat and plane chases; paparazzi ambushes; train robberies; and triathlons. Failure in the new game is less frustrating than in previous iterations, since a generous checkpointing system means that players don’t need to restart a mission from the beginning if they don’t get it right the first time. There’s even an option to skip the action sequences after repeated attempts have gone awry.

For all that the game does right, it has a genuinely problematic aspect that is not its enthusiasm for violence or sex but its lack of interest in women as something other than lustful airheads (notwithstanding a late-game cameo by Mr. Houser’s mother, Geraldine Moffat, a British actress of the 1960s and ’70s). One of the only young women in the game not oversexed and under-read is sucked into a jet turbine.

When I asked Mr. Houser if he had thought about the portrayal of women in Rockstar’s games, he said, “Seemingly not as much as I should have.” He added: “These three guys fit with the story we wanted to tell. It would be hard to take one of them and replace him — I mean, I suppose we could have done it, early enough on — with a female character.”

Mr. Houser, 41, has yet to see the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” but he cited “Cocaine Cowboys,” a 2006 documentary about the Miami drug trade, as potentially good source material for a Rockstar game about female criminals.

Sexual politics aside, Grand Theft Auto V is in many ways quite liberal. Mr. Houser regards it as evenhanded in its cynicism, but while the game sends up the consumption habits of the liberal professional class (a natural-foods store’s motto is “Open up your mouth and look down on people”), the substantive policy targets lean conservative.

One of the more intriguing bits in the game, given Mr. Houser’s personal history growing up in London, involves a pair of deluded anti-immigrant activists who set up a civil border patrol and stun-gun American mariachi performers. “I’ve been here 15 years and have an American passport but still feel like an immigrant, am an immigrant, always will be one,” Mr. Houser said.

Another of the political provocations is a gruesome and unpleasant torture sequence — conducted by the player — that casts waterboarding and other violent methods as games played for the entertainment of the interrogator.

In the main, however, Grand Theft Auto V represents a return for the series to the broad comedy of violence after Niko Bellic’s anguished soul-searching. Tonally, it lives somewhere between “Pulp Fiction” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” movies, in a sun-dappled land where using a grenade launcher to mow down American soldiers — or a cavalcade of clowns — is a lighthearted romp.

This being a stylized Los Angeles, the movie business plays a role. In Grand Theft Auto V, Michael helps a studio boss make “Meltdown,” a picture about the financial crisis — pitched as “a really simplistic battle between two yuppies, with lots of training montages” — and then, this being a Grand Theft Auto game, you can actually go watch it at a movie house.

“Movies are about telling the same lies over and over again,” Michael says at one point. “You know, good beats evil, things happen for a reason, attractive people are interesting.”

Video games tell their own lies to their players: you’re powerful, you’re smart, you’re important, your problems can be solved if you just keep trying. And Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most beautiful, seductive lies yet uttered by our youngest creative medium.

“Grand Theft Auto V,” developed for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, is rated M (Mature, for players 17 and older). It has strip clubs, drugs and a high body count.


Effettua il login con uno di questi metodi per inviare il tuo commento:

Logo di

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto Twitter

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Twitter. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s...