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    Nov 3rd, 2010 at 23:58:42     -    Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas (PS2)

    After three separate occasions of playing Grand Theft Auto for around two hours each time, I am still very much stuck in the beginning stages of the game. I'll start with my criticisms first, then move into the ethics of the game. The controls are stiff, repetitive, and the cars have no handling at all. It has taken me so long to get anything done because I still haven't been able to get a good handle on the cars. Killing pedestrians is unavoidable. But the biggest complain I have is that there is no direction in the game for the missions. They set you off to do the mission and expect you to find your way around, which is realistic in life, but the game should treat the player better. A lot of wasted time goes into driving (or jetpacking) around the city looking for the next part of the mission.

    Alright, now onto the important part, the ethics. As I'm still not very far into the story, I cannot comment too much on the narrative. But from what I have seen, criminal acts are dealt with very nonchalantly. Drive-bys, robberies, vandalism, and murder are all just ways to continue on with the game, and not important events at all. The game almost takes an objective look at violence, but then makes the player become subjective by forcing him to do bad things. In the mission where you "clean up the neighborhood," cleaning up means killing the drug dealers. Even the good things CJ does are innately bad. I saw some rival gang members shooting at pedestrians on the street, and to stop them I did the only thing I could; I ran over them repeatedly. I felt justified in my actions, but there were the farthest thing from just. The game limits the choices a player has so much that killing is often the only way to solve arguments. Calling a cop can only happen if you crash into him or punch him in the face.

    The food choices are also pretty limited, which is definitely a social commentary on food deserts in urban areas. The pimple faced teen at the pizza joint actually asks, "How would you like your cheese and fat?" This raises questions about the ethical responsibility city governments have to their citizens to ensure they have a healthy diet. Moreover, the entire social climate of the game is a call to action for governments to help the lower class. When you are not the one firing gunshots, someone else is. The city is packed with cops, not just because they are potential player foils, but because gang ridden neighborhoods have increased police activity in real life. As much as critics claim that the video game glamorized violence and criminal activity, I would argue it does the opposite. It actually shows a very realistic snapshot of intercity neighborhoods, not just of the 90s, but of today. You do not live in a mansion, and neither do any of your friends in the game. You are all literally on the same block, growing up together and building a family to replace the broken one you are from. There is no glamour in CJ's lifestyle, only brutal realism.

    While in my earlier post, I discussed how the virtue of loyalty is somewhat twisted in this game, but I have now seen where it presents itself in a positive way. When talking about the local barber, an older man who cut your and your friends' hairs when you lived in Los Santos, Ryder says that he's gone crazy and has not talent for the craft anymore. But you "decide" (it's not really a decision, it's part of the mission) to get your hair cut by him anyway. CJ has a sense of loyalty, not only to his gang brothers, but also to those members of the community that have shaped the person he is. Also, despite murder being a wrong act no matter who it is against, the attempt to reclaim the neighborhood by killing drug lords shows loyalty to the community. While the virtue of loyalty may by skewed, I don't know how much more realistic it could be. There are only shades of gray in life.

    All the music of the game is made up of real recorded songs from real artists, so the lyrics were around way before the game. But the lyrics do add to the environment and message of the game. The radio messages also do this, but they are made specifically for the game. They are highly exaggerated and overblown, and usually humorous. They also parody real life issues, like drug dependance and youth drug use (Sooth Cough Medicine), materialism, false self-esteem, and lack of fitness (Pump Up Shoes), and misogyny and careless sexual encounters (Bouche Cologne). These all make fun of issues that affect urban communities.

    I enjoyed playing the game, and in the end see it as a fun, entertaining, highly detailed work of art. But does it hold any true ethical choices? No. There is a single path your character can walk down, and it heavily if not only involves crime. It also should be noted that a majority of the main characters from the GTA games are from minorities, stereotyping them as the only ones involved in crime. All the cops other than Officer Tenpenny are white as they walk the streets of Los Santos. The game is almost a parody of real life, making fun and exposing serious problems among the urban landscapes of today. This is done by forcing the player, more than likely a teenage boy who has enough money to own a game console, to sit down and be part of the desperate, violent, threatening urban environment. This would be a great way to teach him about others' struggles, if there was any way to help. But the boy can do nothing but engage in criminal activity, ultimately making the hardships real people face everyday into fun and games.

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    Nov 2nd, 2010 at 00:07:08     -    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

    Today I played with cheats, and finally got past the first mission. Instead of following my fellow gang members on a bike, I materialized a jetpack and flew above them, keeping track of their locations. I felt no guilt, nor did I regret my decision to do this. Not only was I happier, but a substantial amount of pedestrians were spared their lives by me not staying on the street.

    Storywise, though I'm still not very far, I already get a sense from these characters that they will not be changing their lifestyles very much. CJ has already decided to stay in Los Santos for no other reason than his boys are there. He has not looked back on his past activities and seen the wrong he was doing. His brother and his friends are exactly where they were, stuck in petty gang violence and tagging buildings. The lifestyle CJ has chosen does not allow the player to make correct ethical choices. He must stay loyal to his gang, and that gang is not volunteering in the community or keeping at risk youth out of trouble.

    Truly, the only "values" the game promotes are loyalty, ambition, retribution, and fitness. As stated before, the gang is where all your loyalty lies. As a player, ambition plays a role in all CJ's actions. You want to collect all the weapons, drive the best cars, have the most sexiness. It's the shallow, non-community conscious version of the American dream. Retribution seems to go hand in hand with loyalty, as getting revenge on those other gangs that are against yours seems to be important in CJ's life. Fitness is also very important, and maybe the only positive message to the youth. The more fit you are, the faster you can run and the longer your stamina can last. But in the world of the game, you are not running in a marathon or a lupus fun run. The faster you run means the faster you can escape the cops on foot. All these "values" are skewed and based in nothing. None of them encourage moral lives or any sort of service to the greater good.

    Gameplay wise, I love cheats. They are excuses to do anything. I gave myself infinite life, created a jetpack, rode around in a bumper car, and dressed up like an S & M gimp. But the wildest cheat I used was one which sent the entire city into mass chaos. Every pedestrian was brutally fighting each other, as were cops. Explosions erupted, cars were flipped over. I found it all very amusing, which I find a bit disturbing. It also excused me even more than usual from beating random people in the streets. Overall, the cheats further created the sense that anything goes in this city and there are no consequences for evil actions.

    I also found the radio stations to be extremely entertaining. While they each had their own explicit content and message, they were more satirical than they were influential. They mocked people for lewd sexual activities and idiotic life decisions. These may actually be the most relevant and positive messaged aspects of the entire games. In my next post, I'll discuss more of the specific radio commercials in detail.

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    Oct 31st, 2010 at 16:55:33     -    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

    I did not realize how many of the societal issues Grand Theft Auto would display in its very beginning, but I was certainly surprised. Issues like dirty cops, racial stereotyping, gang violence, desperation, loyalty, and more were all things I experienced in an hour and a half of play time. I'll admit I did not get very far into the story as I couldn't even get past the first mission (I kept getting separated from my fellow gang members on my bike). But even outside the narrative, I still saw many of these themes appear in one way or another.

    While you, the character of CJ, is being driven into town, Officer Tenpenny lays down how your stay in San Andreas will work. There is an understanding that the cops are not the men in white hats, but in fact crooked and almost utilitarian in their view of criminals. They are allowed to treat you how they want, throwing you out of the moving car and framing you for a cop's murder, because they are the protectors of the city. Also, if you are busted during the game, you are sent to the police station and some of your money is taken away, not for legal expenses or court costs, but for bribes. This dynamic with the officers of the so called law perfectly displays how even the good guys are not good in Los Santos.

    Racial stereotypes are also seen throughout the game. Everyone speaks however their race is stereotyped as acting. While carjacking a cab, the driver said, I hate America, in a thick Middle Eastern accent. The other minority characters feel just as two dimensional as well, many being caught up in gang violence and other criminal activity. The neighborhood CJ grew up in is also stereotypical. The houses are small and meager, and when you enter, your brother Sweet thinks it is a burglar. The game shows that people from low income houses are part of gang violence.

    These issues also tie into the much larger issue of justice. There is no justice in the GTA world. When you are arrested, you immediately are released back into the streets, and when you die, you are treated and allowed to enter back into the city you riddled with bullets. Driving slowly or following is actually very difficult, forcing you to speed down streets (there isn't even a speedometer). If you hit a pedestrian, no one calls the cops, unless the cops are right there when you do it. I am not very good at driving in the game yet, so I had to carjack my ride more than a few times. But because it was part of the built in gameplay, I did not feel very guilty doing it. That is until I carjacked a young woman's ride. Everyone else I'd carjacked was a normal adult male, and while carjacking, CJ punches them in the face and drags them out of the car. But this also happened with the girl, and I was shocked to see you punched everyone equally, no matter how old or what gender they were. I guess that's equality, but jeez.

    I also have no idea how many people I killed by accident due to my driving. There are many, many people on the streets at all times, so avoiding them while being an inexperienced driver is difficult. But I felt annoyance not guilt when I hit them, seeing them more as potential reasons I could get pulled over rather than human lives. They were obstacles, not people. This seems to be the way many video games treat side characters and extras.

    There is no real choice in the game. You do bad things or nothing happens and the game moves nowhere. It is much easier to do bad. Ethically, the game most resembles Ethical Egoism, only without the ethics. No one benefits from any situation CJ is in other than himself. The only reason you don't kill the cops or bowl with pedestrians is because the cops will come after you. It is not for their benefit, it is purely 100% for yours. The other ethical framework that may be present is the Ethics of Virtue, but only its bad side. Loyalty, courage, and family are all used to support evil actions and bad behavior.

    I had never played a Grand Theft Auto game before. There was the occasional time I was with friends or my brother, and they would encourage me to drive around a bit, just to give it a try. But I never sat down independently and played, so this experience was new. I tried not to go in with preconceived notions, but unfortunately, I don't know if I was able to shake them. I have heard so many good things, I was expecting to have a really enjoyable experience. But I was also expecting to be at least a little uncomfortable when committing the lawless actions the game asks of you. I was mistaken with both these notions. I found the gameplay rigid and difficult to get used to, especially driving and riding the bike. I found myself stuck in corners and having a hard time not crashing into walls and dividers. These things halted me from progressing in the narrative, and frustrated me to no end. I also found myself feeling very little guilt when stomping a man to death or driving over hoards of pedestrians. The game presents the situations in a way that makes you feel no guilt. The people are just pixels as it is now. But if they were to zoom in on the dead faces of all those you've left dead in the city, perhaps murder would have more of an impact.

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