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A gamer remembers: losing myself in Grand Theft Auto

11.13.2012

Grand Theft Auto V 2

Grand Theft Auto III released in October of 2001, about six months before I picked up my very first video game system (a Playstation 2). I had of course played plenty of Playstation and N64 before with various friends, but this was the first time I'd had a system all to myself. I fiddled around for a while with Madden and Jak and Daxter and the like, and while I certainly had fun I never managed to find something that quite captured me in the way that I had dreamed when I first picked up the system.  Until I played Grand Theft Auto III. 

I don't even remember how I got a hold of a copy, but I did, and nearly instantly I became completely conscious of something special.  Something new.  Something acutely real.  What Grand Theft Auto III had, what so instantly captured me as the opening cinematics ended and I gained control of my silent protagonist? Expansive storytelling possibility.  The video ended, the HUD came up, and I just stood there for a moment.  Then I started to walk.  And then all of a sudden I was running, and people were passing me by, and music blared from cars that were seemingly going somewhere, and there was a little L on my minimap saying that someone wanted to talk to me, and I consciously realized that I could do whatever the f**k I wanted.  I was free.

Grand Theft Auto V 1

Here's a funny anecdote for you: I was so amazed by the gameplay and the freedom and the detail of the world that I actually checked online to see if Liberty City was a real place.  Somehow the game and its storytelling so got under my skin that I became convinced that they had to be at least based in reality, if nothing else.  I of course realized before long that they were based around NYC, but that's the point - below all the hooker pickups and violent vengeance and messy heists and acid-dropping hippies on the radio was a beating heart of humanity, of possibility of experience, of learning and growth and heartache and consequences and reality.  Of a whole range of characters who had very real fears, hopes, dreams, loves, and losses.  And so I devoured Liberty City.  I devoured Grand Theft Auto III.  And yes, I dicked around and made it to the highest wanted level and went toe to toe with a hapless army.  But I would never have bothered if I hadn't already been signed, sealed, and delivered by an engaging story about human experience amidst a world that boggled my young mind. 

After Grand Theft Auto III came Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game that I loved even more than GTA III.  Maybe I was just older, maybe it was just a better game in terms of story/design/world building, maybe the cast of characters were just more unexpected and engaging, or maybe the graphics were just better.  Whatever it was, despite not having seen any of the shows or gangster movies being referenced in every twist in the tale and facet of the world, I was still instantly hooked.  I easily conquered Vice City far faster than I had Liberty City, and went back without hesitation for seconds, thirds, and fourths.  And while I wasn't as hooked by San Andreas as I had been by GTA III or Vice City I still dug the hell out of it, and rank it well above most other games to release in its generation.

Grand Theft Auto V 3

Yes, this is in-game footage.  No, I'm not messing with you.

I've never viewed video games as an escape, at least consciously anyway.  I played, and currently play, games that engage me.  That fascinate me.  That grip me.  That take me on the sort of journey that another medium can only feebly imitate.  And so for me, the single most memorable moment I have had with Rockstar's stellar work on the Grand Theft Auto series has actually been a series of moments.  A succession, building on what came before in a snowball effect that swept me away. Because, fundamentally, it's always been about the possibility.  About living a life that I had never known, going through an experience (be it criminal, minority, violent, immigrant, or what have you) that I had no access to in my own everyday life.  GTA has always been about looking up at all that I as Alejandro Stepenberg have from the underside, taking on a brave new life in a strange new world (looking at you, GTA IV) where I had to scratch my way out to survive.  Humanity has always been, and will ever be, the unique heart that pumps blood and life into this series. 

And drive-bys.  Those are good too.

Grand Theft Auto V is "developed by series creator Rockstar North [and] takes place in a re-imagined, present-day Southern California in the largest and most thriving game-world [they] have ever created set in the sprawling city of Los Santos and for miles beyond – from the tops of the mountains to the depths of the ocean." 

It is currently available for pre-order in advance of its release in Spring 2013.

Grand Theft Auto V 4

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite memory connected with what Rockstar has created in Grand Theft Auto?
Source: JoBlo.com

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