scwoo's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PC)
| [April 19, 2012 01:49:04 PM]
| Day 3|
Kill count: 5
I've been talking about my gameplay experiences with my wife, who's a fellow gamer and game scholar. I told her my thesis from yesterday's entry (that the game really has no internal morality, because consequences aren't permanent and logic doesn't always apply). This was her reply (paraphrasing):
The game *does* have a moral system in it--the police and the wanted level system. It's just that the police only exist as an obstacle to the player.
In other words, the only entity in the game that provides moral judgement on your actions isn't there to provoke self-reflection in the player. It's there so that the missions become less boring, since you have at least something to chase you. Hence some have compared GTA to Pac-Man,* with the pedestrians as dots and the police as the ghosts (I'm guessing the rocket launcher is the power pellet).
Maybe that's why GTA seems so amoral to me. For all the window dressing of drive-bys and high-speed chases, it's easy to see through to the abstracted gameplay: navigate a maze, don't get caught. The weird things I noticed before (the amnesiac police department, the NPCs who return to life the same day they die) only reinforce the "gameiness" of San Andreas.
I remember listening to Diane Rhiem on NPR when the topic of the day was violence in video games. She and her guests seemed outraged that gamers could sit at home and recreate killing sprees without remorse. The reason we don't feel remorse for running over that cop is because we've been constantly reminded by the game that what we're seeing isn't real. The constant reinforcement of "gameiness" is the best thing Rockstar has in defense of its critics.
That reinforcement is a double-edged sword. If nothing seems consequential to me, and I have no emotional investment in what happens on-screen, then GTA becomes less a game and more a way to waste time. I think it's telling that the entire gameworld is not available at a new game load. It's almost an admission on the part of the developers that the real enjoyment factor is playing in the sandbox, not experiencing a narrative or exploring moral choices; they have to hold the former hostage to the latter.
For my part, my last play session consisted of toying with the physics engine, modding car handling attributes,** and driving around aimlessly. I actually found the process of breaking the game (try giving police cars negative mass!) more interesting then exploring the game in the context of it's formal rules.
I really don't see myself spending any more time in San Andreas.
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| [April 18, 2012 09:37:57 PM]
| Day 2|
Current killcount: 5
I've come to an important realization about GTA. It's not a game with an *immoral* framework. It's a perfectly *amoral* one. I want to talk about two incidents in-game.
First, I was on a mission that involved pulling a drive-by on rival gang members. More specifically, I was piloting the car whilst my three passengers swapped bullets with gangsters on the sidewalk. Since I'm trying to minimize my kill count, I avoided running the targets over on my first few playthroughs, letting the AI duke it out instead. The end result was my car getting destroyed in a very impressive fireball, killing my homies. CJ managed to survive with minor injuries.
Naturally, this results in a mission failure. But unlike most games, this doesn't force a reload on the player. Instead, you can walk back in real time to the mission start point, watch the exact same cut scene, and drive back to the same neighborhood where the rival bangers we just wasted are back exactly where they were, very much alive. The in-game clock has advanced. The sun is going down and the sky is a nice shade of orange. But everything else has repeated as if nothing happend. I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Like Murray's Phil Conners, I find myself in a world where my actions have no lasting impact. Blow up a city bus? Just walk down the block for a while and it will go away. Traffic goes back to normal, pedestrians walk along as if a terrorist incident did not just happen. Even if CJ gets killed or arrested, he's plopped back on the street a few in-game hours later. No one remarks on his being dead; the police don't bother keeping a close watch on the guy they just arrested for mass murder.
Which brings me to the second incident. I was riding my bike down the sidewalk, and accidentally hit someone. They're dead, lying there in a pool of their own blood. I'm standing right over her. Another pedestrian moseys past, making some remark about "happens all the time." People are driving past nonchalantly. I can't get help. I can't turn myself in for a hit and run. I'm just supposed to pick up my bike (and maybe the dead woman's cash) and move on.
So San Andreas is a world where life is cheap, violence isn't particularly shocking, and death is a slap on the wrist (as is the sentence for quintuple homicide). Can I really say my actions are moral or immoral if they ultimately have no consequences? I suppose Kant would say yes, but Kant only applies to a rational world, one that adheres to rules of logic (e.g. dead people stay that way). GTA is anything but.
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| [April 16, 2012 11:54:39 AM]
| I had to tap out of the "reformed CJ" playthrough. From what I can tell, most of the game's locations/shops/restaurants are closed unless the player reaches a certain point in the storyline.|
This refutes one of the main defenses of GTA's gameplay: that the game is only as violent and antisocial as the player wishes it to be. I wished for no violence or crime, and in return I recieved a closed-off virtual world. It looks like I have no choice but to be a bad guy.
That doesn't mean there isn't still some ethical agency for the player. Here's a forum thread documenting "minimal kill" playthroughs:
I'll give this challenge a try as a sort of compromise.
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| [April 15, 2012 04:38:50 PM]
| Ah, GTA...|
It's been a while since I've played any Grand Theft Auto title. I've played GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas when each was first released. I've only ever owned GTA III, and so far that's the only game in the franchise I've played to completion. The others seemed so similar in gameplay that I never really bothered picking them up.
Before I started this entry, I played the first few missions to get my bearings. I really can't get into the story. I think after about an hour I had enough of the "young black thug" stereotypes and overabundance of "n****r" in the dialogue.
What's even more infuriating is that this game comes from a Scottish developer; it erases any hope that team members have any familiarity with American race relations. Yes, young black men are disporportionally represented in our prisons. Yes, America's racial minorities are disporportionately poor. But San Andreas isn't going to explore the social forces behind those statistics.
This all effects me, the player, because my character, CJ, has no defining characteristics other than "street thug." The more I play up to that stereotype--pulling drive-bys, beating up rival gang members, spraying my turf--the more I level up my character and advance the plot.
I've decided to spite the designers. At the onset of the game, CJ has renounced gang life. I think he deserves a chance to live life on his own terms. I'm going to attempt to complete as much of the game as possible with the following restrictions:
-I will not steal any vehicles
-I will not attack anyone except in self-defense
-I will immediately surrender to the police if wanted
-I will only acquire income or rewards through legal means
The following entries will be a record of a reformed CJ's adventures in Los Santos.
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