Literate Gamer – Talking about Grand Theft Auto

posted in: Dave, Games, Stuff I'm Doing, Writing | 0

I did a podcast.

Public speaking, and for an introvert anything where you’re seen or heard fits into the scary ‘public’ category, is terrifying.  I know people are reading this and nodding,  Vigorously.  But I love Grand Theft Auto, and I managed to learn early in my school career that, even though it’s something that makes me nervous, somehow I usually manage to get through it okay.  So when I ran across Nick from The Literate Gamer on Reddit, I reached for my big boy pants and contacted him.  And worse, he said yes.

It’s just hard to stress how scary it is if you’re an introvert.  And some of you are rolling your eyes, but it is what it is.

I’m a big fan of most of the ways the internet is changing how we live our lives.  One of those things is how content can be put out to people.  Without gatekeepers, without having to convince anyone except the audience that “hey, this is there if you’re interested.”  No talking a TV or Radio station into giving you a slot, no having to buy thousands, tens of thousands, millions of dollars of gear and air time and all the rest to get the thing out there.  Kevin Smith has talked a lot about this in recent years, and he’s right.  One of the best things about the information age so far is how anyone can throw themselves out there, and bring what makes them, well them, to others who might find it interesting.

Nick and Jonathan are building The Literate Gamer into a podcast that attempts to talk about games in more than just “wasn’t that cool?  Huh huh huh, awesome.  Yeah, totally cool” manner.  And I wholeheartedly endorse that, because games aren’t just games anymore.  They’re serious story, they’re serious art, and they’re not just this cute little throwaway thing.  Grand Theft Auto, Mass Effect, The Last of Us … PacMan they aren’t.  Good story is found everywhere.

We talk about it in some the podcast.  Grand Theft Auto is a really good example of it;a game that gives action movie fans a chance to do more than watch.  To pick up a control, or grab a mouse, and play out scenarios and scenes inspired by a lot of classic action and crime movies we know and love.  It incorporates a lot of rich and detailed world building to support the gameplay.  One of the easiest things to see between GTA and the whole host of other games that have shown up and tried to emulate, and usually fail, what Rockstar has done with GTA is in all the detail layered into Liberty City, Los Santos, Vice City, San Fierro, and the rest of the GTA world.

It’s easily a conversation we could have filled hours with, running down the list of things GTA does to build layers and depth into their ‘game’, where other games that want to be the next GTA fail.  Sadly, we didn’t get to them all, but they’re there.  Radio stations, breaking news, billboards and street signs and building murals.  An entire roster of fake businesses the player can interact with, from the obvious (Ammu-Nation) to the sly nudge-wink (Brucie’s Bull Shark Testosterone supplements).  Pedestrian comments, and varied personalities for them; how some will be scared of you, other will try to start fights.  How the cars all handle differently, and how they each have a distinct character after so many installments in the franchise building their lineage.  Fully realized DJs, with a full set of patter and shows that cycle through; not the same three clips, but dozens and dozens of hours.

GTA gamers, get ready to nod and laugh.  You roll up to a mission, or something else you were coming to do in-game … and you don’t want to get out of the car yet.  What’s on the radio is interesting.  The song, the DJ, the news report.  Maybe I’ll take a turn around the block and keep listening.

A lot of you just nodded and laughed.  How many games can say they can pull that reaction out of their players?

It just goes on and on.

And GTA allows a beautiful amount of catharsis.  Having a bad day?  Traffic getting you down?  You can hop on the game and act out in a completely safe manner; it’s just a game, so it’s okay to ride through traffic yanking people out of their cars, starting a statewide car chase, racking up body and damage counts.  Who hasn’t been stuck on the interstate, just sitting in gridlock, and thought “what if I just floored it?” Want to cruise around in a sports car, on a motorcycle, a semi-truck, a classic four door sedan, a dune buggy, a plane, a jet ski … do it.  GTA enables all of that and more.  The world’s built so well it’s fun to just … hang out in game.  Sure there are missions, but honestly, sometimes the game just sucks you in to simply chilling out in the virtual world because it’s enjoyable to live in that space.  In life, there are consequences.  In GTA, you can have a ton of fun indulging your anti-societal impulses, or your rich fantasies, or simply your desire to cruise.

We did manage to talk about story in the episode, not as much as I’d hoped, but it made it in.  GTA has always had an incredible amount of story.  The missions play into the story, even if some of them might get a little gamey at times; but they build a narrative.  They take you on a journey.  CJ in GTA:SA starts as a kid who made it off the streets being sucked back in, and being forced to not just roll green again, but rise up from the pavement and become a mover and shaker if he’s going to not fall as one more statistic.  Niko Bellic in GTA:IV is just trying to escape his past, to find a better life; but some history won’t let you go.  The latest GTA, V, makes the boldest strides yet; folding three distinct protagonists in and taking them and the player along for the ride as we see three different perspectives of 21st Century Los Santos.

Games aren’t just games anymore.  Some are, but others have begun to figure out story doesn’t just have to be a book, or a script, or a film, or a play.  Story can be interactive.  Story can give players choice.  Story can involve the audience, not simply present itself to them.

I had a lot of fun talking GTA with Nick and Jonathan.  I knew I’d be nervous, but I got over it a lot quicker than I expected, and really had a blast coming out from behind the page for the podcast.  They talked to me afterwards about coming back, and I’m totally down.  The Last of Us was mentioned, and that’s definitely a game I’d seriously love to talk about.  I ran through the 2013 list of movies, and honestly, I think a really strong case can be made TLoU deserves to be on the list of best cinema stories released that year.

Head over to The Literate Gamer and hear the voice behind the zombies.  Don’t hate me for my bad microphone.  It was an experiment.  I’ll look into getting something a little better for the next episode, I promise.