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    Pwilliams's Grand Theft Auto IV (360)

    [October 6, 2008 01:07:30 AM]
    Third Session:

    At this point, I felt compelled to dally around the city, picking up a nice car to speed the streets, view the parks, narrowly avoid crashing into fellow automobiles, and attempt to obey the law. The tricky part about following the law, especially when you are driving a vehicle, is the control scheme: it is so very easy to accelerate too quickly, and fairly difficult to make turns without banging into a car on the opposite side of the street. Since you, as the player, feel no real accountability, there isn't much to fret if you do indeed hit another car, but there is a sense of frustration with the inability to successfully follow the law.

    During my scouting of the city, it's quite clear the developers painted a canvas of overtly stereotypical urbanites. From vagabonds to pimps to jocks, Liberty City is run amuck with a colorful, interactive populace. The sound quips from some of these, especially the seedy park types, are really cliched variants of city punks and the like. Does it stimulate some kind of resentment on the part of the player? I suppose it could. There may be some underpinning psychological tendency to slug a few of these guys, especially if you are negatively drawn to their caricature, but for the most part they are just another piece of the Liberty City clockwork. And each one can just as easily be on the opposite end of my pistol's barrel.

    Trudging through the missions always leaves me desiring time to just play around in the world. This is usually why I find myself writing logs concerning the virtual mechanics of the city, and not so much the concerns of the actual game's missions. At the end of the day, I'm not so much bothering myself over the racial, moral, and political dimensions of the game -- while they are certainly present, it's always the playability of an open world that draws my attention than the amateurish attempts at stimulating ethical accountability. I like to play GTA IV facetiously: to me, regardless of my opinion on how morally inappropriate it may be to do in real life, few things in videogames are as satisfying as positioning oneself atop a building and placing the corsair of my sniper tightly around a mindlessly walking pedestrian. And maybe that's the point -- should I feel sick about pulling the trigger and in cold blood murdering some innocent lady dawdling down the sidewalk after work? I sure feel sick writing about it, but when you're in a virtual game world and there are no real world consequences (only the sense of feeling sick and knowing you've done wrong), not much prevents you from enjoying it.
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    [October 5, 2008 11:11:18 AM]
    Second Session:

    I have once again thrown myself into the streets of Liberty City. This time, I decided to flip open the in-game cell phone and type in an all-weapons code. The measly pistol just wasn't permitting me the kind of virtual violence and theoretical fun I intended to engage during my playtime.

    To what degree (and to what end) was I pursuing such violence? I wanted to play with the reactionary system of the game. Did the designers feel compelled to include any moral standard to which the protagonist is aligned? So far, I hadn't noticed any. And after using the all weapons code, doing my best to render the streets with chaos, the protagonist unflinchingly continued pulling the trigger -- while I, of course, continued pushing the button.

    I remember playing Grand Theft Auto III back during its release on the PlayStation 2, and I played the game the same way. Early on, I grew tired of the plot. If you've every seen the Godfather Part II, there is no need to see another mafia film. And I was always too interested in roaming about a near-fully functioning virtual world that reacted to my actions. You don't get the chance to do the things you can in a videogame in the real world, and I believe that is why I (along with many other gamers) have an inclination to performing violent, crazy, and random acts in a virtual world. Religion plays no part -- no one condemns you for your actions in GTA IV; the protagonist doesn't mutter anything despicable about "his" actions; the only ramifications for your violent tendencies are police tailing you and or the reactionary punch or gunfire from one of your unsuspecting victims.

    I tend to focus on the violence in this game because you have very little else to do with the control scheme and instruments available. You have an inventory that entirely consists of melee or distance weaponry, and so many of the controls involve aiming, firing, and hijacking cars that the player is left with very little else to do. I recall some games, namely Deus Ex, that are playable with minimal violence (perhaps none at all). GTA IV is not this kind of game. Violence is the pinnacle of its gameplay -- you must murder, you must steal, and you must push your way through the law to proceed. And given the circumstances the designers force upon the protagonist, it seems to be the only way for him to move up the ladder to success. The idea of GTA IV's completely open, virtual world is a facade -- you are free to do whatever you want, but if you want to complete the game, you must commit atrocities that would be hardly condonable in the real world. It's okay to do them here, where religion and moral obligations are left out, but you can't play the game successfully (or correctly) without surrendering to violence.

    There is nothing particularly wrong about this, either. Not much else would change if you were watching the Godfather Part II -- you see what's on screen and you can't finish the film without watching all of it. You can't finish GTA IV without completing all the relevant missions. It's entertainment. But something should be said about the fundamental design behind the game: that having the choice and freedom to do as you please within the game world is as close to an illusion as the ability to fast forward and rewind through a movie without missing an important plot development.
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    [October 4, 2008 05:51:45 PM]
    After having played Grand Theft Auto IV a good half an hour after the opening sequence, I feel I can reflect on several philosophical dimensions presents throughout its gameplay. Niko Bellic, the game's protagonist, is very much the epitome of the hopeful immigrant. With the incentive to restart his life from the petty crimes of his past, Niko sets his sights on Liberty City. And since the intention of this character's inclusion in the game was to derive a sense of cliched hope so many immigrants seem to hold when arriving in the U.S., I couldn't help but think of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sure, it's not the turn of the century in a meat packing district of Chicago, but surprise Niko has over his encounters with his cousin's living conditions certainly reinforces this naivety of the "golden streets of America." I didn't think was was necessarily played out to evoke a sense of dismay towards immigrants neither did I equate it quite so literally to The Jungle -- Niko clearly has made a choice to start anew in Liberty city, and race/ethnicity/gender politics aren't as prominently displayed as I'd have thought. Or if they are, I didn't take much care to think about it too much. No, more at play is the protagonist's aim for redemption!

    Harrowing redemption, however, was not my first instinct when I was finally given control of the character. With the promise of a fully exploitable game world, I put my virtual morals aside and immediately threw myself onto the streets. Walking around bystanders, listening to the accurate sounds of a bustling city -- it reminded me a bit of Chicago. But never once did I imagine myself running around a virtual Chicago. Instead, I ran up to a bystander, gentlemanly fellow, and threw the strongest punch my controller permitted. This was followed by another, and another, until I satisfactorily beat the man to the ground. The act was without regard to his well-being, and bluntly lacking any kind of guilt. I moved out of the way of some honking cars and ran to another street, picked a random car making slow progress, and hijacked it. Once again, I hardly felt any remorse in doing so, and the storyline I was introduced to just minutes ago was evidently pushed to the back of my mind.

    It wasn't until after playing the game for a good while that I was finally granted control of a gun. Why was I compelled to use it on innocent bystanders? First, to see the ragdoll engine (how the bullets and wounds are handled by human objects in the game world), and to see the scripting. That kind of thing fascinates me. I also did it because I could, and there was clearly no consequence (especially in the physical world) to my actions; at the very least, someone would spot me taking potshots at a guy and I'd be under pursuit by cops. After a good while of shooting the innocent populace, I did feel a pinch of remorse. The way the camera angle is handled when you fire a gun is brutal, and the occasional splash of blood drops on the screen cries out to the player over his malevolent conduct. So far, so good.
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    Pwilliams's Grand Theft Auto IV (360)

    Current Status: Playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 3 October, 2008

    GameLog closed on: Monday 6 October, 2008

    Pwilliams's opinion and rating for this game

    See GameLog

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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