pschwarz's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (XBX)
| [July 27, 2009 01:11:43 AM]
| MY FINAL PLAY SESSION|
For my third and final play session I chose to do something a little different that both of my other sessions. I chose to obey the law, well as much as I could any ways. In my earlier experiences with the game I found that trying to do this often devolved into a police chase and ultimately death or arrest, after my poor driving led me to bump into a police car. So I left CJ’s house in search of some wholesome, law-abiding fun. I was immediately faced with a dilemma; walking was getting boring so I wanted to drive a car. However, to my knowledge there’s no legal way to buy a car in San Andreas and besides my meager beginning character didn’t have enough money to buy one if there were. So right off the bat I had to break the law and steal a car; a Cadillac, from a man who appeared to be in the Grove Street gang, so I suppose I was just borrowing it anyways. I drove around awhile obeying traffic lights and yielding to pedestrians. As uninteresting as this seems, driving safely is actually a greater challenge in San Andreas than driving recklessly. I also noticed that short of bumping into a police car and (sometimes) running over pedestrians, the police wouldn’t respond to simple traffic violations. I suppose that a game where you’re pulled over and fined for speeding every five minutes wouldn’t be so much fun, but then again maybe the police are disinterested in traffic violations because the city is so rife with violence. Driving around the city I got an even greater sense of the city as a living, breathing organism. Pedestrians went about their business, other cars hurried off to their own private destinations, and most interestingly I’d occasionally see a police car chase after another criminal; and I thought I was the only one the police were concerned with, how vain of me! Seeing this got me interested in another, more exciting prospect; what if I were to enforce the law instead of just following it? It was decided that I would do some police missions. I stole a police car (which is no easy feat) and off I went.
MY TIME AS A POLICEMAN
To this point in this entry I have probably gone into a little too much detail concerning my game play, so I will not delve as deeply into my time as a police officer. However, “fighting crime” raised several interesting ethical questions and so I will use my experience to further explore these. Is vigilantism ethical? In other words is it moral for an untrained person to track down and catch a wanted criminal? Should this make them a criminal themselves? How does GTA address these questions? To begin, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to acquire a police car. In my play time I had to commit crimes in order to attract police before I could steal one and ultimately so that I could do vigilante missions. It seems that in real life, a vigilante wouldn’t know about ongoing crimes so it is reasonable that one would have to go to extremes just to find such information. GTA semi-accurately represents the extremity, illegality, and difficulty of vigilantism. Furthermore, the entire time I was chasing criminals I had to dodge police cars it was clear that this wasn’t as valiant as it seemed. In a social context (and in a simulated social context, San Andreas) vigilantism isn’t viable. Sure one might say that a vigilante is trying to catch criminals and thus protect others. But I would argue that their circumvention of the law is the type of crime that may outweigh that of the accused criminals’. Gone is the prospect of a fair trial and burden of evidence, not to mention the danger you are putting others into. Vigilantism didn’t work well in the Wild West and it certainly couldn’t work in an industrialized culture where the social contract need be the strongest. GTA falters further in that, in order to complete a vigilante mission one much kill the criminal that you are after. No citizen’s arrest, no peaceful confrontation, but murder. Even real life vigilantes, as immoral and illegal their practice may be, would not agree that each and every crime deserves the same punishment, especially the punishment of brutal public murder.
This is a prime example of the limitations of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. The intentions of the developer may be noble and I believe that there are many issues that are well represented, however the necessity to rectify social commentary and fun game play, often muddles the message. In this case vigilantism is made to seem extreme (and that’s a lot consider the rest of the game) but the nuances are lost in translation. I guess citizen arresting a shop lifter is much less exciting than gunning down a dangerous criminal.
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| [July 26, 2009 05:44:32 AM]
| MY SECOND PLAY SESSION|
For this session I thought that I would put the main mission on hold and spend some time on the (seemingly) more tame aspects of the game. I’ve always admired GTA games for the detail that is put into simulating every minutia of the city; People walk around, it rains occasionally, the police chase after you if you cause too much of a disturbance, etc. The city, San Andreas, is really quite an incredible achievement by itself. But is there something about unleashing players in a realistic city (as opposed to a super masculine space marine killing aliens) that make Grand Theft Auto the object of such widespread distaste? I intend to answer the following question; despite the fact that the large majority of games are violent, what is it about Grand Theft Auto that upsets people so much? Grand Theft Auto is unique in that it is one of the first games that aspired to unleash the player into a simulated (but realistic) world, the complexity of which had never been approached before. I theorize that the realistic setting (e.g. in a realistic city) and the interactivity (putting players in control of the mayhem) is what sets Grand Theft Auto apart from games that may even be more violent. Therefore, I believe that although violence may be the most cited reason for the general distaste for GTA, critics of the game are more upset by the realistic nature of the violence.
In my second play session I noted several things which pertain to my hypothesis:
1.) There are no children represented in San Andreas, I don’t know if even a free speech advocate would say that giving players the ability to kill children would be ok. Although for the sake of argument, murder is murder regardless of age.
2.) Depending on what part of the city the player is in, the quality of cars, homes, etc. is variable. For example, a “nicer” neighborhood in San Andreas has nicer cars. Although this very telling in itself (is this true to life? Certainly not.), it is perhaps an attempt at realism. Also, an interesting thing to note is that I was more inclined to steal expensive cars, as it seems most players are, and the thought of a gangster stealing your porche (to someone who owns one) is definitely unnerving.
3.) The player can commit murder without drawing the attention of the police (if you’re not seen I suppose) and when someone is killed it is quite graphic (they writhe in pain in a pool of blood). Furthermore, the player can collect money from individuals they murder, which is both realistic and a bit scary because it gives the player incentive to murder innocent civilians.
I’ve come to the conclusion that a combination of realism and incentive to harm wealthy and innocent people is much more upsetting than, say killing cartoonish aliens in Halo (who, by the way, don’t even bleed red blood). The open ended nature of the crime sprees also sets Grand Theft Auto apart from other violent games that are set in the real world because the crime is often random and senseless. Games where your primary enemy are drug cartel (i.e. Far Cry 2) and the missions in GTA are similar in that they try to justify the violence, but when the player is allowed to cause extreme harm to helpless individuals that justification no longer holds.
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| [July 25, 2009 12:48:01 AM]
I've played every Grand Theft Auto game since the first game was released for the original Playstation. I remember the day my cousin introduced me to it; GTA was the game I had dreamt about.. A game where you could go anywhere and do anything. This was the kind of game that I had been writing about (I wish I still had the papers to prove it!) and sketching pictures of, before I knew it existed. A funny thing though, the game I was thinking of (I was pretty young at the time after all) didn't involve sex and violence at all. So when I encountered this game I was blown away that you could drive any car (I had no idea what car jacking was) and go anywhere, whenever you wanted! When I first played I remember spending more time exploring and selling cars for money, then killing. It really wasn't until Grand Theft Auto 3 that I started to understand the underlying themes, and even then a thirteen year old doesn't quite understand social commentary. So.. I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas several years ago and it's certainly interesting to revisit it. Of course by the time San Andreas came out, I understood that this game wasn't promoting sex and violence, and I understood the social commentary, but there were certainly some things that I didn't understand....
MY FIRST PLAY SESSION
The game opens with a series of cutscenes and a couple interactive tutorial bits of gameplay, followed by your first couple missions. A few things I noted in my first 30 minute session;
1. Carl is, in fact, a clear-cut African American stereotype
2. These stereotypes extend to;
- the policeman voice by Sam Jackson, who extorts Carl from the second he gets off the plane
- CJ has flashbacks to his youth when he enters his mother’s house which reflect a poor upbringing
- there's a drive-by shooting at CJ's mom's funeral by a rival gang suggesting that not much is holy to these people
- Frequent use of the N word
- Degradation of Women EG calling them “Hood rats”
- Ryder’s attempted robbery of the fast food restaurant
These incidents in the first part of the game are not surprising based on the content in other Grand Theft Auto games, but I certainly view them in a new light. How much of this is social commentary and how much is exploitative? Although, sadly, some of these things may be frequent occurrences among poor African Americans (and therefore may be seen as social commentary), there is a question about how much is too much.
As I wrapped up my first play session, I continued to have conflicting feelings about something that I was previously very sure of; What is the difference between social commentary (something that could be called art) and something that is purely exploitative (obviously not art)? Is Grand Theft Auto capitalizing on the downtrodden American Black or is it taking advantage of their situation?
It seems to me, that making money anything could surely be seen as exploitation. If someone were to run a charity and take even a small amount to pay for expenses, some people might say that person was taking advantage, although there are certainly situations where that would be a valid action to take (It’s certainly fair to use donated money to pay for a venue in which to hold a charity event, for example). Therefore, the mere act of representing African Americans in the 1990’s is not exploitative even if the representation is a little crude. I certainly can see the argument against stereotypes in Grand Theft Auto, in a way that I never really thought about before; However, I think people who cast judgment without considering my earlier assertion may be missing the point. Grand Theft Auto, like several popularly accepted works of film and other media, represents a culture at a certain time and due to the limitations of the medium the representation my appear a little crude, but the insight found therein is valuable above and beyond the crudeness of its’ form.
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