Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #56: Grand Theft Auto V

In PS3, Xbox 360 on February 14, 2014 at 6:01 am

Title: Grand Theft Auto V

Format: PS3, Xbox 360

Released: 17th September, 2013

This is a long one. DEAL WITH IT.

GTA Box Art

“Griefing is the act of chronically causing grief to other members of an online community, or more specifically, intentionally disrupting the immersion of another player in their gameplay”

– Wikipedia

I’ve never been a griefer. I tend to take my gaming pretty seriously; when a game requires me to suspend disbelief, you’d best believe said disbelief is suspended tout freakin’ suite. I’ll let all sorts of glitches slide, even when they look like this:

(For the uninitiated, this is a game set in the Wild West. It is not supposed to feature bird people.)

So why, then, did I find myself in late September 2013, drunk on my own at four in the morning, hunched upon my bed dressed only in a vest and boxer shorts, legs folded in a quasi-yogic position, sweating and wheezing like a tubby Gollum? Short answer: because I’m a dick (see GTR #3). But to give a fuller, more complete answer, we need to look at the enabler of my dickery, the ‘being born into a country with horrendously easy access to firearms’ to my terminally bullied child: Grand Theft Auto V.

You know about the Grand Theft Auto series. Even if you think you don’t, you do. Most of what you’ve read or heard second/third/fourth/Buddha-knows-how-many hand in the news is bollocks. Having said that, you can pay prostitutes to sleep with you and then kill them afterwards. Or punch a binperson on the back of the head. Or, chortling, mow down a pensioner.*

You can also finish the game doing none of these things. You are not awarded ‘points’ for any of these acts. The game does not encourage it; the money left by dead people pales into comparison with what you earn from missions in the game. These things exist because the world of any Grand Theft Auto title is a living, breathing one where you can do, within reason, whatever you want.

grand-theft-auto-5-minigun

And yes, sometimes that includes shreddin’ fools with a minigun

I don’t really want this to turn into an exploration of whether or not violent games make people violent, but, spoiler alert, I’M GOING TO (for a bit. Then I’ll get back to the humiliating stuff about me – promise). I’d also like to state unequivocally that I have myriad problems with the presentation of women throughout the game, (and indeed in games in general) but for one this piece, I’m focusing on violence.

I believe videogames do not make people violent, but I’m a (relatively) healthily adjusted human. If you never leave the house, choosing instead to spend the entirety of your days squatting like a goblin jacking it to Manhunt, then yes, you may become a maniac. But if that’s your bag, you’re probably already pretty odd. To dismiss videogames because some are violent is lunacy, the same way justifying filtering porn because of one tragic situation is lunacy. Balance and good sense are required at all times.

For those that would fearmonger, games are scary because they are (relatively) new. Games are as much a threat to our society as television, rock ‘n’ roll, the internet, radio, film, jazz, newspapers, porn, photography, the printing press and yes, writing.

BadForYou-techno-panic-timeline

Embiggen this RIGHT NOW. It’s *amazing*

If you’re worried about violence in videogames influencing people, best stop our youth playing Donkey Kong, lest we breed a generation of barrel-hefting, princess-stealing degenerates. I like to think people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

If you’re worried about games fucking up your kids, read this. If you’re worried about games fucking you up…why are you reading this? I’m going to assume you’re being open-minded. Good for you.

ANYWAY.

You know the deal with Grand Theft Auto. GTA V is no different – you drive around an open world, completing missions, earning money, buying property, and killing a bunch of people. It’s fun, well-made, beautifully polished, and I had been looking forward to it for years. You’ll recall, regular readers of this blog, just how much its predecessor, GTA IV, blew my mind. That was in 2008. At time of writing, that was nearly six years ago. 1.) Holy fuck 2.) I’ve been jonesing for a new GTA pretty much ever since. Nothing quite scratched the same itch, plus I’d elevated the game (partly because of writing these elegiac, romanticised-to-shit blog posts) to near godhood. GTA V would be the second coming, and I was somewhat excited.

Franklin Bike

Then I entered into a relationship, which was as unexpected as it was welcome. One of the few stipulations I had of this new and excellent thing was to keep the 26th March, 2013 free. Not out of some long-standing family appointment, you understand: that was the day both GTA V and Bioshock Infinite were due. I made it very clear that I wasn’t available on these days. Eyebrows were raised, but it was accepted. Preparations were set. Then GTA was delayed. Bioshock Infinite was balls-great, of course, but that’s another story. Now I had to wait ’til September. As Oscar Wilde once said: “That’s fucking disappointing.”

Oscar

But time passed, life moved on, and the biggest day in my calendar drew ever closer. Huge things happened in my life, but this was the one. In a moment of beautiful serendipity, my gf Viv was due to be away in a conference in Ireland just after GTA V came out. It was perfect. I would wait ’til she left, and disappear into San Andreas. All was set; Viv left. I sat down in my room, turned on the PS3, excited beyond description. The game began to load.

It died, disc still in.

Michael

Stricken, I packed my 2007 PS3 (the HEAVY edition) and carted it on a tour of East London, trying to find a repair shop. My phone died. I got lost. I was down to £68 for the month. The repairs cost £60. If they worked. I was told my PS3 wouldn’t last much longer even if it was fixed. I couldn’t get cash out, because I didn’t have £10 to spare. I sat in a Starbucks trying to work on my laptop, having bought their cheapest coffee. I checked my phone eagerly every few minutes. Had I missed the call?! Was Polly the PS3 ok?! (I have quite literally just christened her that. Deal with it). Would I be able to play GTA V!?!?!?

The call came through. Polly was awake, and breathing. Something about dust filters; I wasn’t really listening. The disc was safe. I paid up the extortionate amount, and carted Polly back across East London to my house. Shaking, I plugged her back in, and inserted the disc. It all loaded up. I began to play.

GTA Heist

Let’s roll

A lot can change in nearly 6 years. GTA V was good, possibly a bit great, but it was stretched thin over 3 protagonists, quite a lot of the music on the radio stations I recognised (the older GTAs had often been musical educations for me – that I knew a lot of the tracks already was unsettling) and it was really quite sexist. It all felt a bit tired, jaded and cynical – which in the past was the point, and something I celebrated, but this time it just didn’t click. Look, I’m probably just a bit over it, but the whole thing left me just a little cold. Not shocked, deadened and gutted – it’s still a really good game – but it just didn’t blow my socks off like I thought it would.

So I completed it, saw the ending, did a couple of extra little bits, and realised Viv would still be away for like a week. And I was bored. I was relying on videogames to keep me entertained – I had been looking forward to disappearing inside them, but now here I was with nothing to keep me from facing the grim emptiness and pointlessness of my own existence. Not on my watch! I reached for “multiplayer” – a first for the GTA series, and a fledgling new service that I’d heard was fun.

GTA Trunk

It all started innocently enough. I picked a character (female, another notable first for the series) and did a couple of easy missions, made some money, encountered some other players, got killed a bit, robbed some stores. I drove around the same world as the single player, but with a few, widely-spread dots on the map representing the other 15 players in my world, which looked rather lonely after the marker-filled map of the single-player. I suddenly felt very alone. I had nothing to distract my mind, which is a rare and terrifying prospect. I needed to connect.

I should add at this point that I had a headset on – a little device I’d bought for Red Dead Redemption‘s online mode, but never bothered using. I was mildly surprised to find that it still worked. With it switched on, you can hear the chatter of the other players in your game, and can speak back to them if you want. I found an isolated dot on a hillside, and drove over to say hello.

Driving

As I got nearer, I slowly realised the language with which I wanted to communicate was not a verbal one. It was a bitter, frustrated tongue that smelled like burnt rubber and throttled dreams. My car – my car, I’d bought it – bounced across the San Andreas countryside, imaginary tiny rocks spinning out from under the wheels. I hit the side of the hill, and careened along dangerously at a 45 degree angle, my wheels revving as I left the ground temporarily. I don’t know what song was playing.

I heard the brief chatter of American voices, before I hit the guy at full speed, sending him flying over my bonnet and down the hillside. I got out of the car, and picked up his money. Real money, this was (not literally, I should add; you earn it from in-game missions online) worth something, owned by someone else, not a computer character. I had stolen, and had gotten away with it. Then I heard something through my earpiece that shook me to my core.

Jimmy

I looked worse than this. And he’s *fictional*

Complaining. Actual, genuine anguish at being hard-done by. GTA lets you do what you want, and I had mown down this guy – this stranger – taken his money, and now I was party to his complaints to his two other American friends. It was amazing. Grief. I had caused grief. And it tasted so very, very sweet.

The dot on the map reappeared. Something in my brain clicked – I had the dopamine rush of really, truly pissing someone off, and I wanted more. I grabbed the last of this stranger’s money, and jumped back in my car, wheels spinning. I was alive again, blood pounding through my head. I began to gently sweat, and tucked my legs beneath me, leaning forward. I was intoxicated.

Where he was the next time, I don’t remember. But I could find them! They kept talking, you see, and their dot flashed on the map as they discussed their plans. Announcing their presence to the guy who just wanted to continually murder them for grins. I killed this person and his teammates so many, many times. Days of single-player gameplay had made me an efficient killer. Months of waiting squeezed into gentle, horrible disappointment had made me bitter and vengeful. I was a hurricane of destruction, tearing around the map, destroying these three poor American men again. And again. There was no mercy.

Deathproof

It was a bit like Deathproof, but not a *fucking shit film*

I took their money, Games That Rocked. I killed them repeatedly, and stole what they had earned. In the virtual world, sure, but this was their time I was taking, hoovering it up into my black little vortex of hate. They had come online after goodness knows what in their day, and looked to spend some of their hard-earned game money on fun stuff like cool cars and sweet hangouts. And I was crushing them beneath my angry, bored, nasty wheels, filling them with rage bullets and I was loving it.

By this point I was hunched over, flushed with adrenaline, leaning closer to the screen, my legs shaking with excitement, sweat beading in my armpits, coagulating into physical, sizeable drops, and dripping down my arm. It was late, my girlfriend was away, I looked like shit, probably smelt the same, and was drinking in and becoming nourished on other people’s pain and suffering. Tubby Gollum was truly apt – I was gorging myself on destructive impulses, and the more I killed, the more I wanted to kill. Not because I craved the death of others, but because their irritation was so funny to me. I was toying with them, because I could.

Trevor

“And WHAT”

Now the worst thing. I could hear the Americans complaining about this “Gracey guy” (they could see my PSN name), but they didn’t seem to realise I could hear everything they said. What rare delights! The more they raged and complained, the more it fed me, spurred me onto to more destruction. But here’s the kicker – I couldn’t make a sound. The headset fits over your ear, you see, the speaker by the mouth, so to hear, anything you say can be heard. And I started laughing. Out loud. I never laugh out loud on my own. The impulse just doesn’t take me. Plus it makes you look like a fucking maniac. But I was laughing out loud. On my own. At four in the morning. It was fucking hilarious. But I couldn’t let them know I could hear them – that would ruin everything! So I just kind of…wheezed. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to laugh quietly, when you really want to bellow, but it for me it comes out as some horribly, shuffling, wheezing pant of a thing. As unnatural as you can imagine.

So that was me. Four in the morning, hunched, wheezing, sweating, eyes straining in the glow of the screen. Portly little griefer scum.

Gollum

This, but fatter

But slowly, the dopamine drip began to fade. Even the bottle of whiskey (I rarely drink at home, but it was a gift for a show I’d directed, and it was there) couldn’t sustain me. I couldn’t keep up the frequency of the early hits, and the rate of return started to drop. The 3 Americans teamed up, and though for a time I took them all down, Scarface-style, pulsing on pure adrenaline, it just couldn’t last. I kidded myself at the time that it was a noble, against-the-odds battle. I was just a stupid troll, and they killed me as they should.

Slowly, the spell began to break. I look at myself, and realised what I’d become. I slowly switched the console off, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. It was cold, I was alone, and I missed my girlfriend.

I didn’t play online again.

Polly the PS3 died shortly afterwards.

…………..

 

*Actually, are old people in GTAV? I can’t even remember. Whatever

 

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