Wednesday, September 18, 2013
All my Niggaz
Yesterday saw the release of Grand Theft Auto 5 - the much anticipated and several-times postponed ultra-violent computer game where you take the role of three criminals (and a dog) in a huge perfectly rendered rendition of Los Angeles. The previous game, set in New York, took up quite a lot of my life a few years ago, and I didn't even finish it. I was in two minds about whether to buy GTA5 as apart from having three characters and a different city, it looked like more of the same - driving around and shooting people or wandering aimlessly through a beautiful city, where the sense of awe at the gigantic game-space always gives way to a horrible sense of loneliness (I am wandering alone and have no-one to talk to) and futility (I'm wasting time playing a game and not even playing it with any sense of purpose).
But my biggest problem about GTA is the unrelenting, Tarantino-like violence, which characterises about 90% of computer games these days. It's not that I expect it will turn players into violent nutters (you could equally argue it's providing a safe outlet for nutters), but I don't want to play that role. Even in a "sophisticated" way. I'm not interested in the little character nuances and dilemmas faced by people who have chosen violent crime as a way of life. I find them boring and it's why I could never get into the Sopranos.
But I got swept along with the glowing reviews last week, so last night went to buy a copy. A news article noted that someone had been stabbed on the way home from buying the game. For the first time ever, there was a queue in my local Game (all of us buying the same thing). As I entered the shop and asked the assistant at the door whether there were any copies left, a posh man in a suit barged in and said "Can I just interrupt you, are there any copies of Grand Theft Auto 5 available?" Because I'm a bit slow socially sometimes I just let him take over, but my fella has a maternal DNA strand from the "battle-axe" tribe and is made of much more assertive stuff than me, so he let the guy have a few snappy comments (which had no effect). For a second or two, I wished I was a character in Grand Theft Auto, equipped with one of the more exotic weapons in the game's endless arsenal.
I got the game home and played it for most of last night. It feels like all the other games in the series, although with slightly better graphics. "Can you turn the dialogue off?" my fella asked after one of the characters called another a "homo". After a couple of hours, I worked out some of the dialogue rules of GTA5: If a black character is speaking or being spoken to, the word nigga must be used (preferably twice in the same sentence). Every time someone speaks, the f word must be used. Every time someone speaks, there must be reference to private parts or a sexual act involving private parts. All women are bitches or hos. Claiming that someone is homosexual is still a valid way of insulting men. And everyone must always sound ironic and world-weary.
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to find the language funny or realistic not. It's so over the top that it becomes a parody of itself. And GTA prides itself on being very postmodern and clever. So characters are critical of capitalism: "just a legal way of screwing people over" and the tv shows you can watch in the game show programs like "Republican Space Rangers: Intergalactic war on terror" which features one of the homophobic troopers having gay fantasies. The radio stations make digs at censorship and the way that sites like Facebook invade privacy. But at the same time, there are no playable female characters. And ultimately to get on you have to kill people.
There's so much talent in Grand Theft Auto. It might be the best computer game ever made. It's clever and funny and beautiful. But at its core - it's rotten.