One of the most prescient developments of our world becoming more focused on technology is the way they’ve shaped our leisure time, and nowhere is this more relevant than with gaming. Games, whether via our computers, consoles, phones or any media device, have become much more than ways to pass the time, cultural events and signifiers of society that become obsessions for some. The influence of games on behaviour is constantly debated and there is also evidence of their use extending into the professional world, with the extensive database used to power players on Football Manager rumoured to be used by Premier League football clubs as a preliminary scouting exercise.
The recent announcement concerning the latest instalment in Rockstar’s GTA franchise goes to prove the huge lure games have in the twenty first century. The internet had been awash with rumours about GTA V for a prolonged period of time, with a short video of amazingly detailed CGI created screen shots of cars surfacing in May earlier this year among many fake attempts at hyping up the game from outside users. There was some truth finally forthcoming in an announcement in the autumn of the game’s likely release date of Spring 2013, and then the gaming community was sent into hyper-drive levels of excitement when two posters were released around the same time. That distills the eagerness that the game has created; even the briefest of glances into the world it sets out to inhabit can create a spellbinding level of anticipation.
The GTA series are all classic examples of the type of computer games which have become as huge and culturally resonant as the Movie industry, the computer age’s Hollywood blockbuster. Grand Theft Auto first premiered in the nineties as an evolution of the classic platform concept, but as the software developed it become a third person played masterpiece which veered between classic shoot-em-ups like Doom and Duke Nukem and fast paced car simulators such as Gran Turismo, creating extensive story-lines in the process which followed the plight of an anti-hero.
They would also go onto break new ground with the music as well. Although they were not the first to bring in radio stations as a means of imbuing personality, with Vice City, released in 2002, the ambition was stretched well beyond anything that had happened before with seven radio stations featuring individual DJs across differing genres, for which players could easily oscillate in real time when driving a vehicle. It shows that down to every last detail, the GTA series has always been about pushing the concept of what a computer game can represent. This time the radio concept will be combined with score, meaning music is once again used in more extended detail than Rockstar have managed before.
But GTA V is setting itself up to delve further into the recesses of how vast a computer game can be. The narrative this time isn’t singular; there are three protagonists at the heart of a story and when completing missions involving them all you can veer seamlessly between each one’s role. The depth of the terrain is huge as well; although based on the fictional city of Los Santos there is also a monolithic country expanse added entitled San Andreas. Their interpretation of Southern California, it includes mountains, desserts, countryside and villages, all with its own ecosystem. The space is equivalent to totalling up the entirety of the previous two GTA titles and Red Dead Redemption, another one of Rockstar’s vaunted games.
The result is that rather than being a blockbuster movie, what GTA V really represents is the game equivalent of something else. That being the sprawling and vividly wide-ranging TV programmes which have become another of our new cultural obsessions in the twenty first century, shows like the Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Wire. Certainly the parallels with the latter can’t be ignored, particularly on the sheer density of the characters involved within it as well as the constant crime focused sources that GTA mines for its plot.
It’s hard to think of another game in history having had quite as much hype and fervent interest, its release having been heavily reported in the UK’s and the US’ mainstream media, rather than just splashed across the gaming blogosphere. For many fans Spring 2013 is too lengthy a time period to wait, and already a glut of tribute sites have been set up poring over the rumours and snippets of information that have slipped into discussion already. It’s going to be very interesting to see if the final result really does deliver on all this anticipation.
Fans of the previous GTA games should explore the toys AppToyz have which relate certain characteristics of the game, notably the driving simulators AppDrive and AppWheel and the shoot-em-up AppBlaster.