Some Thoughts on GTA V

I must admit that I’m a little bit behind the curve when it comes to playing many popular video games. GTA V is a game that by now came out almost 10 years ago, but I only recently got to play it. I got GTA V for free on the Epic Games store a few months ago but didn’t get an opportunity to look into it before. I started playing this on my birthday, figuring that this slightly transgressive entertainment could not be denied to me on this special day.

Generally, I don’t not much enjoy playing action RPG type games. I find them generally a bit boring, and I must admit that GTA V got tiresome for me as well and I didn’t end up finishing the main story of the game. I think I completed around 30% of the story, and at that point everything got too repetitive for me.

However, I do think that GTA V has a few interesting points that can be discussed. I think it is quite interesting to look at as some form of social commentary; and while the game is in many ways goofy and often veers into simply bad writing, there are parts to it that are quite worthwhile. I especially liked the first 3 to 4 hours of the game where you would first play as the character Franklin and then later as Michael; because one could immerse oneself in the world of these characters, see how they inhibit different parts of a city – chiefly through the people that they interact with.

This to me really shows the power of video games. It enables you to step into other people’s shoes; to see the word from their eyes, even if it’s done in a rather limited way. Unfortunately the game takes a sharp downturn when you get to play as the character Trevor. While there are quite a few things about Franklin’s and Michael’s world that are unbelievable and weird, I found they had a bit more of a touch of realism to them than Trevor’s storyline, which was just completely over the top – filled with senseless violence and other sociopathic entertainments. I see what the developers aim to do here. The outlandishness of the experiences when playing Trevor is exactly what was intended. But to me, it just didn’t work as well as the worlds that were created around Franklin and Michael.

What I really liked about the game was its attention to detail. There obviously was a lot of work put into animations and making everything that you do in the world as natural and smooth as possible. To some degree, it really helps with the immersion that if you drive different cars, they drive differently and that the people you encounter on the street speak and react to you in different ways. And there are plenty more of these small little touches that I think work really well.

There are also a few really nicely put together missions in the game. In one example, Franklin meets his old friend Tonya when she hollers at him from a sidewalk (mission ‘Pulling Favors’). She asks Franklin to help her out with her business, which involves towing illegally parked vehicles. Her boyfriend, only referred to as JB, seems to have a serious drug problem and is therefore unable to drive the tow truck. When Franklin agrees to help out, him and Tonya drive to the tow truck, then Franklin uses the truck to tow vehicles Tonya gets told about over a radio dispatch. During all of this Tonya regales Franklin with talk about her life, JB and Franklin’s and Tonya’s shared history. This dialog between Tonya and Franklin is what I think makes this mission stand out, since it is well written and very well performed.

In another mission I liked (‘Friends Reunited’), Trevor learns that Michael lives in a nearby city, Los Santos. He and one of his associate Wade (not sure it would be appropriate to call anyone Trevor’s friend) set out to drive to Los Santos from a small town, Sandy Shores, where Trevor lives. This drive takes about 10 minutes and involves driving a meandering road up a mountain. Throughout this drive, Trevor relays his life story (as the story of a supposedly fictional character, who is evidently Trevor himself). Towards the end of the journey, Trevor stops the vehicle and himself and Wade get out to walk to a look out that provides a sweeping view of Los Santos at night. Even given this game is a bit old, I think this was quite visually impressive, as the game renders a whole city in real time. I also felt like driving through the mountains had a nice relaxed road trip feel to it – something that stands in contrast to a lot of other missions in this game and other games that are fast-paced and action packed.

Unfortunately, as with many virtual words, the illusion of immersion quickly fades, and you realise that for all the good content that there is, there are tremendous amounts of things missing. I think this most evidently expresses itself in the many houses, buildings, shops that you can see but that you can never enter. So eventually it is difficult not to notice that one is in this artificial toybox world, where one can only go that deep until the shallow façade reveals itself.

Overall, I found that GTA V had some interesting elements to it, but it’s by no stretch a perfect or even a good game. But it is certainly something that may be worth to spent a few hours with, to see and experience what the creators try to accomplish; and there are certainly many touches of artistic skill and sometimes ingenuity in here that can be appreciated – even if not for the full intended duration of the game.

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