By Mayia Moore
Grand Theft Auto IV, part of the landmark GTA franchise, is a crime fighting action game that adds story-lines and simulations that are essential to the game’s vibe. Led by the recently departed Dan Houser, the writing’s key because it raised the bar for other game makers. The writing and the simulation aspects let you commit any crime, varying from stealing to murdering innocent bystanders. But when you dig deeper, this game is much more than the crime you see at its surface.
Some of the reasons I enjoy playing this game are because it breaks reality, allowing you to experience a different world than the one we’re used to. Knowing that crime is illegal and there’s a penalty of jail, we abide by the law in real life. But in Grand Theft Auto we get to see what it would be like to break the rules. This gives players like me a sense of freedom that’s exciting and new. You’d think this mindset would drive a person to imitate the bad things while playing, but there’s a difference that separates reality from gameplay.
The difference is the threat of trauma. We’re not emotionally moved to imitate most violent actions of a game because we know it causes us more pain than it would in a simulator. The thing about simulators is that there’s a reset button, meaning whenever something goes wrong you can simply start over without all the actual work or penalty like there is in real life. Grand Theft Auto IV lets me have unlikely guilty pleasures like the way I have a random rush of adrenaline when doing bad things.
For example, after stealing someone’s car in the game, it’s always exhilarating for me because I’m unsure of the outcome. While I’m stealing someone’s car they could fight back and I’d end up having to find another vehicle. Or if I’m actually successful, I’ll be three blocks down and I’ll still think the guy is chasing me or something. In real life, car jacking is frowned upon and illegal, and it’s not something a person would boast about. This game is a fantasy that offers sudden thrills that are unusual and prohibited. People are probably excited to go spend some cash in a strip club but would rather not brag about it.
Some other things that this game teaches beside violence would be the value of family. The reason I interpreted this from the game was because the main character, Niko, has to stop what he’s doing because his cousin, Roman, is in grave danger since they owe him money. I find this scene (above) is symbolic of the game and helps prove my theory because he decides that he needs to rescue his cousin, whether that was through an act of violence or not. Roman robbing and stealing doesn’t completely characterize him as a bad person since he’s loyal and trustworthy enough to save his family.
This scenario makes a person consider whether they would save their family in real life despite the bad they do, and they most likely would help. After all, blood is thicker than water. But since the game focuses on bad things, would you still do the right thing especially when there’s no punishment for doing wrong? If you’re working on a mission, there is no ultimatum or choice that includes the better or more ethical option rather than doing something unjustified. Like, if the world only allowed you to do crime, steal, commit murder, vandalize things or even freely run a red light would you stay away from those things? So under what circumstances could you still do good?
Yes, there are family values. But sometimes I think that Grand Theft Auto IV can generally put its players into a bad mindset, not because of losing but because of the crime upon crime upon crime. It can be too much. You’re doing bad things and there’s nothing else to really think about. The game focuses on murder and crime without entertaining many other type of enlightening or positive goals – even though there’s satire throughout, even on its radio station that play music. Sometimes, it seems like murder and crime are beneficial to life and we can’t like without it. During these times, I’m saying that the game doesn’t focus on morals or ultimatums. It’s not the kind of game where you have the chance to even be a hero, just an antihero.
But there are good parts, too. It does expose players to the awful ins and outs of stealing and murder that you aren’t personally aware of as you go to school or work and do your thing. I think seeing these things in a game would make a person way more observant and aware of his/her surroundings. For example, in the game, people are robbed on the street for nothing. Knowing this, you can be scared, which is too much, or you can be cautious on your own streets of New York, which is probably a good thing for people to do generally.
Another thing that GTA IV does well, is exposing how important the law can be when it comes to stopping horrible actions. While doing bad things in GTA can act as almost a guilty pleasure, the Cops can sometimes ruin the fun, and try to halt your actions. Despite this, the Cops prevent you from going complete maniac and destroying the city. That’s important to conveying how dangerous these acts truly are.
After thinking about it a lot, I feel that the best part of this game are the lessons it teaches. Once you fail any mission, you learn from those mistakes. Sure, in real life we learn not to do bad from the threat of going to jail. But there are still impulses that guide people who do wrong. For example, while playing the game I was constantly pulled over for crossing the red light while driving, and I had to start over. One time, I was so close to completing a level I’d been working on for about an hour and I stopped at a red light. The car jolted forward a little bit over the stop line and the police pulled me over anyways so I had to restart. At the time it seemed pointless to hold me up while I was driving but I grew to just wait. The fact that game has police and there’s a way to lose serves the point that, no matter what, justice always prevails through everything. In the end, Grand Theft Auto is not just about violence. It’s about family. And it’s about justice.
Mayia Moore wrote this story for our Lower East Side Critics Circle journalism course. She lives in New York City. Beyond GTA, she also enjoys Luigi’s Mansion 3.