Roman, I would love to go bowling with you
No! No I don’t want to go fu…
Actually, yeah. Yeah, let’s go bowling Roman. Lets go visit a casino. I’ve missed you man. Lets do it. Shootouts and car chases can wait till tomorrow!
Let’s leave this life of crime and violence and debauchery behind. Let’s get away from the stealing, shooting and inadvertent slaughter of innocent bystanders. Let’s stop pulling elderly men out of their cars and leaving them, confused and upset, lying in the middle of the street while we drive off to rob a bank in their beat up old convertible.
Because let’s face facts here, this situation isn’t good for me and it’s not good for you either. I have a “star” rating now. And even if I rob the bank and that sets off a chain of events that result in Liberty City bowing down before me as its underworld leader, things still don’t end well for you do they? Roman, are you listening? They don’t end well, do they?
And the poor man in the middle of the road. What becomes of him? He’s confused. Alone. Liberty City is a dangerous place. Let’s face it, without his vehicle, he’s not going to make it. You’ve seen how many pedestrians are run over in the world of GTA. Even when they’re not directly caused by me (Niko), some other gang member will run him over. Or he’ll get mugged. That happens a lot too. And even if none of those awful fates befall this poor man (let’s call him “George”), then George still has to get home. Have you ever followed a pedestrian in GTA? They never make it home. Let that sad fact sink in. THEY. NEVER. MAKE. IT. HOME. They just wander around, changing direction as they walk down a long street, like an old, escaped mental patient trying to remember where they live, shivering in the cold as they pull their hospital gown around themselves. “Mummy, can I go home now?”
You have murdered George. MURDERED HIM! Now I play games to be a hero, and this is the problem I have with how people play GTA. How can they be the hero, when their actions have killed George, and thousands more like him? This poor man, who may be a grandfather or Uncle. Maybe he has a nephew called Peter. Peter would be the real hero, because he would seek revenge on this villain. As the player, I am the villain of the story. Or more accurately, the villain of another story, but one with better morality. Lets hope Peter doesn’t get any sort of powers to seek revenge on us.
And as we move into a new generation of GTA, it’s even tougher to be a good guy. Sure, Franklin might be essentially decent. Michael is trying to adapt to a normal life, albeit with little success. But Trevor? TREVOR!? He’s pure id. Instinctive, rage-filled – the very embodiment of chaos. Or maybe he’s just a hipster, as Michael taunts him at one point in the story. Whatever these three are in the story, when it comes to the game they are the personification of the banality of evil. Traffic ahead? Time to mount the pavement. Killing those three people reduced my journey time by five seconds. Well worth it!
That’s not how I play though. Over the years, I’ve shied away from the implicit chaos of the GTA world. Tried to be decent. Tried not to kill. And when I hit a bystander by mistake, I feel bad about it. Sometimes I stop my car and try to help. Best of all, in GTA V this approach jibes pretty well with Michael’s story arc. I’m playing the same game as the story is telling me. I’m roleplaying. Goodbye ludo-narrative dissonance! And if I play as Trevor…. well even then I try not to murder every single person I see. It’s an interesting revelation that no matter how terrible a person can be, they can never be even a fraction as evil and callous as your average GTA player.
And of course Rockstar do a good job of creating a city of assholes; cardboard cut-out’s of all the worst things about American culture that you’re free to shoot holes in. To this day I marvel at the irony of a game that cynically skewers every aspect of the American Dream, made by a bunch of misanthropic Scottish guys, then sells that game to American’s who gobble it up. Sure, the smart American’s get the irony. Contrary to popular belief there are a few over there that understand that form of humour.
So to go back to your question Roman, yes, I would love to go bowling. In fact, let’s do all those activities that don’t hurt anyone else. Let’s play darts. Let’s go for some chokey chicken. Let’s call Michael and Trevor and Franklin and play a round of golf. We can even go drinking afterwards, but when we do we should walk home at the end of the night. It will take a long time, but at least no one will get hurt.