Junot Diaz rocks my world by admitting he’s addicted to Grand Theft Auto (in the WSJ, no less!), and considers the game as one would a story—-well, at least as a phenomenon on it’s way to being a story. I think I might have previously admitted that I played Half Life 2 and it was like “reading” a novel in some ways, with a slowly developing story (you know, between the beating people’s heads in with a crowbar parts). Anyway, I think in the coming years you’ll see an increasingly dense collection of arts pages articles devoted to rubbing out the shame associated with video games. Much like you’ve seen the last five years of articles that have the sub header: “Comic books not just for kids anymore!” So be prepared. And upgrade your systems. Oh, and get a full spectrum light so you don’t turn Morlock-white like me. (Actually, that’s genetics… sigh)
I am one of them, the early adopters. I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto since the beginning. I was there in 1998 when GTA was a throwaway with two-dimensional graphics on the original PlayStation. I was there in 2002 when Tommy Vercetti, the main character in a follow-up, blew a “Scarface”-size hole in Vice City. I rebuilt my gang with CJ, star of another sequel, San Andreas. Sandbox games (which is a fancy way of saying a game where you can ignore the game’s objectives) shot through with criminal aberrance have always been a weakness of mine. Call it the American in me. Call it permanent adolescent.
So it’s 2008 and the latest edition of the GTA franchise has come upon us like corporate lightning. The new game took in more than $500 million in world-wide sales in its first week. The critical reaction has been widespread and adulatory and in certain corners beyond over-the-top: GTA IV is better than “The Godfather,” better than “The Sopranos,” better than say, a novel!
GTA IV is brilliant, but despite what virtually all the reviews claim, it ain’t the revolution. If you played GTA III or higher, GTA IV won’t exactly catapult you to higher plane of existence or induce metanoia. GTA III was the revolution, and established the grammar for the franchise. That grammar — the toggling back and forth between driving game and third-person adventure, the sandbox play with its many missions and bizarre admissions, the hot tunes in the background — is why we’re even talking about GTA in these pages.