Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Grand Theft Auto 5 Made Me Sad.

Greg Tito | 17 Sep 2013 21:02
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GTA 5 Screenshot 09

The scene wasn't fun. It wasn't done to prove a point or to be satire. It was just mean, cruel and ultimately unnecessary. I can't really talk about GTA V without letting you know what happens so I'm going to spoil a mission about 5 hours into the game. If you are worried about that kind of thing, you should probably stop reading. Shit, if you have soul, you should probably stop reading too. And no, it's not the torture scene - we'll get to that later.

Final SPOILER WARNING.

The middle-aged white guy Michael does something stupid, so he has to make money fast. Michael needs help, so he contacts an old cohort named Lester. In exchange for working with Michael on a profitable heist, Lester asks him to do something in return. He makes Michael sneak into the Lifehacker offices- think Apple, Facebook and Google rolled into one - and plant something on a prototype cell phone. Then, hours later, Michael watches the press conference in which the Lifehacker CEO does a bad Steve Jobs impression and introduces the prototype. According to plan, Michael calls the prototype phone. The CEO answers the call, and the phone explodes, liquefying his brain in a splash of red. He falls down dead in front of the screaming crowd. Lester phones Michael to congratulate him, and Michael says, "That was heavy man."

The event is never mentioned again. On to planning bank heists!

There are several problems with this mission. It's meaningless. Lester seems angry at Lifehacker for some reason, but it's never adequately explained what his beef really is. If he committed the act for some purpose, say, to protest worker treatment in China, at least that would be something. Instead, it's just a terrorist act played for laughs, graffiti writ in blood.

Worse, you have no idea what the real culmination of Lester's plan is until the CEO is murdered before your eyes. Duping Michael, and therefore the player, into committing this heinous act magnified the disgust I felt at my actions. "I did that? How horrible!" The shock and surprise served no other purpose than to shock and surprise. As a player, I had no way to prepare for my actions. I had no context to affix the sequence as satire, if that's what was intended. It's a sloppily constructed sequence seemingly crafted to draw mainstream news coverage and ire.

This is further compounded by the fact that the player has no choice but to go along with Lester's crazy wishes. There's not even a binary morality system in GTA V, so I had to do this thing if I wanted to continue playing the game. It isn't a side-mission, or something that can be skipped. If you want to continue playing the story, you have to blow up Steve Jobs. You as a player have no choice in that matter. Taking away player agency is generally a bad thing. It's even worse when you make them do something they may not be comfortable with to further the story.

And this last point is the real problem. I have no opposition to creating mayhem within the world of GTA V. I've shot thousands of bystanders, run over them with my car and even hit a few dogs - yes, there are dogs roaming the streets of Los Santos. In previous Rockstar games, I've killed the people I was playing poker with or the occasional prostitute. But I made those decisions. I chose to switch off my morality for a bit, and indulge in testing out the boundaries of the simulation. It's fun to do so sometimes. It's a game, not real life.

But that's not how the mission above works. In the story, I was duped into blowing up a man's head on live TV and there was no reason given for the action. It means nothing, but I was forced to do it anyway. I don't think that's good storytelling or good game-making. It's shocking for the sake of shock, not in a fun or interesting manner. I can certainly imagine a player playing through that mission who might laugh or cheer when the guy's head exploded. That's not me, and I'd wager it isn't a large number of Rockstar's potential audience.

I was reminded of the controversy surrounding the Russian Airport scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. In that mission, you play as US operative masquerading as a terrorist, and have the option of shooting and killing civilians. Back in 2009, the internet and mainstream media went apeshit, but I always thought it the controversy was unfounded because you could choose to be a good person and not shoot anyone. In this scene in GTA V, you have no choice. Without any mental preparation, you suddenly commit a terrorist act. In my mind, that's a thousand times worse than No Russian.

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