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Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009
The growing trend of films that rely on CGI and huge action sequences to the point of leaving behind the strengths of the medium.
From Warner Bros.

From Warner Bros.


In the wake of Transformers 2 achieving almost complete critical fallout yet still earning buckets of cash, an uncomfortable reality about action films is becoming apparent. So long as the CGI and action is entertaining, viewers are willing to dismiss a lack of proper characterization, plotting, or coherence. Where could an audience of young viewers developed such a preference for action despite suffering through a terrible plot?


After watching the second Matrix movie in theaters a friend of mine commented that the movie seemed to wish it was a video game. That got a laugh since the action sequences all take place in a virtual reality, but he persisted in the point. The incoherent plot, the wooden acting, the unnecessary fight sequences, they were all things one expects to be in a video game. Many of these motifs aren’t intentional in games, but because of their current high action nature they aren’t huge problems either. When all your audience wants to see is explosions and fighting, usually because they’re the ones doing it, you can get away with slacking in a lot of areas. You might even go so far as to argue that it helps encourage wanton destruction and mayhem if the player never really connects with the characters. Yet in a film, where we are always going to be passive observers to the thrills, action can only carry us so far. If all one is doing is watching explosions and CGI, it gets to a certain point where you wonder why you don’t just play the more enaging video game. The tension, the sense of danger, all of the things a movie must carefully orchestrate to create can easily be found in a video game. Even a bad one, really. A review for Gears of War 2 made this comment about the action blockbuster, “Hollywood, your days are numbered.”


From orangephotography.com

From orangephotography.com


Part of this problem is just the simple difficulty of depicting a coherent CGI world. Stanley Kubrick once said, “If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.” Thanks to affordable special effects that statement is now quite literally true. Movie goers have seen dinosaurs walking across the jungle, aliens invading a major city, and anything else that can possibly be imagined. The problem is that none of this is happening in front of the actor. A Slate article on how filming for CGI affects filming points out that essentially two movies must be created. It explains, “During the live-action part, the star often works on a so-called limbo set, aptly named because the actor is in a sort of limbo stage, standing, for example, in an empty room, wearing a green spandex jumpsuit, and mouthing lines of dialogue—which will later be filled in at a looping session—[all this] while holding imaginary objects and reacting to imaginary dangers.” Afterwards a team of technicians will go in and build the rest of the movie around these scenes. Ian McKellan once described the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring as a tennis ball on a stick. Ewan McGregor commented numerous times on the difficulty of working on a set where you have nothing else to go on except green walls and the person standing next to you. The few success stories with CGI in movies work around the problem. Peter Jackson had Andy Serkis stand in as Gollum and work the other actors so they could get a feel for the character. Sam Raimi did the Spiderman films by only using CGI for action scenes. The edge that the video game can assert over film is that their entire world is CGI. The characters, the world, and the player’s avatar are all a part of one aesthetic whole. Even the moments where the depiction doesn’t make sense are at least consistent about it. If there is bad acting in a video game it is not just a blip because of awkward CGI work, it is the standard of how the world works.


From Crackdown

From Crackdown


Yet it’s not like anything happening on a movie set is particularly real to begin with. A column at MSN Movies UK points out, “Real filmmaking” is a slippery concept anyway, because everything on celluloid is false, from the moonlight streaming into Rick Blaine’s office to the rustle of Rocky’s boxer shorts. King Kong is a fake gorilla whether he is made of plasticene or pixels.” It goes on to point out success stories with CGI like Sin City, filmed under similar conditions to the Star Wars prequels, yet far superior. In the hands of a capable film maker with a good script, CGI is just another tool in their movie making box. The issue of game envy only comes up when a film decides to rely on its CGI action scenes instead of the medium’s other strengths. The problem being, if we are not going to be watching interesting people interact then we may as well be doing it ourselves. The Dark Knight succeeds because Heath Ledger and company deliver great performances, not because the action sequences are anything new or amazing. An elaborate ten minute fight sequence featuring crumbling buildings and kung-fu may have its tiny moments, but it is hard to not make the same observation my friend did about The Matrix sequel. They already have video games where I can smash an entire skyscraper, why would I want to watch someone else essentially play a game in front of me?


From The Dark Knight

From The Dark Knight


There is also the simple fact that video games have so much progress left to make. Compare a game from 2000 to today, the progress the medium has made is astounding already. Although a few gems will always come along every year in film, it’s hard to not notice that everything is becoming increasingly formulaic when it comes to film. You can set your watch to the thirty minute rule in a blockbuster. Romantic comedies almost give away their entire stories from the trailers.  One CNET column cynically writes, “There is very little drive for anyone to make a unique and extremely exciting movie anymore because producers know that many of us will go out and watch the garbage no matter how bad it is. On the other hand, video game developers—largely relegated to second-class by the Hollywood-types—have something to prove.” Whereas the traditional blockbuster film is struggling to find ways to improve an overused formula, the video game could be improved on almost all fronts.


From God of War 2

From God of War 2


Finally, the growing trend with films trying to depict games is that an action movie has yet to improve on a video game. Video game movies bomb for a variety of reasons: the director and actors refuse to engage with the source material or the game’s plot is threadbare anyways. Yet at a very fundamental level, the inability of a film to make an action sequence we are watching instead of inducing through play more

exciting speaks volumes. A video game’s action sequences can be longer and can occur more often because we, the player, are engaged with them instead of just watching repetitive fights. The fact that what we’re watching isn’t real doesn’t matter because knowing that doesn’t stop our engagement. The ability to get people to care about things that are not real is the bread and butter of the video game.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Aug 7, 2009
While the idea of seeing our legs in a first-person shooter isn’t new, the way some games let us interact with our environment through our arms is new.

“Physicality” has become a buzzword in the gaming industry, used as a shorthand expression for anything that gives the player a sense of their avatar’s physical self. The intro to Call of Duty 4 is a good example: The character is shoved into a car, driven around, then dragged to a stage and executed. As he’s thrown around, the camera is also thrown around, so not only do we see what the character sees but we experience the same distortion he does. But watching this intro now, one gets a vague sense that something is missing: Limb movement, but specifically arm movement. Other games have embraced this new approach, putting an emphasis on the character’s limbs. While the idea of seeing our legs in a first-person shooter isn’t new, the way some games let us interact with our environment through our arms is new.


Far Cry 2 has an interesting approach because of what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t show your character’s legs. Despite this omission, the game is praised for its immersiveness and how well it portrays a sense of physical self. This praise is entirely due to the game’s unique healing animations. Our character will stab himself in the arm with a syrette, snap a dislocated finger back into place, burn a wound shut with a flare, and the list goes on. The important takeaway here is that we heal ourselves by interacting with our body, and most of those interactions focus on our arms. Because of the unique and memorable nature of these animations, we think of them when we think of the game, not the lack of the character’s legs. Most players probably won’t even realize they don’t have legs over the course of the game because there are few reasons for us to look down. When we do have to look down to pick up an object, the character’s hand reaches out and grabs that object instead of magically picking it up by walking over it. Our body, our arm, interacts with the environment, attracting our attention away from the fact that even though we’re staring straight down we don’t see any legs.


The Chronicles of Riddick games also realize the importance of showing the character’s arms. Escape from Butcher Bay, was one of the first games to have first-person hand-to-hand combat. The game fully embraced this idea by making guns “DNA encoded” so that Riddick couldn’t pick up enemy weapons. This forced players to use the hand-to-hand combat, whether it was stealth kills or punching/knifing a man before he could shoot. It’s interesting to note that even though you can see your legs in both Riddick games, there’s no practical reason to show them. As an FPS like Far Cry 2, players are more concerned with what’s ahead of them rather than what’s below them. In this case, making the legs visible was a purely aesthetic decision.


Mirror’s Edge takes multiple approaches to its version of gaming physicality, combining the methods of Far Cry 2 and The Chronicles of Riddick. Faith’s primary form of combat is hand-to-hand, but it plays a larger role here than in the Riddick games, and unlike those games Faith uses her legs to fight. While she can pick up guns, she can’t reload them, only firing whatever bullets are leftover inside. The weapons are not meant to be carried for long periods of time, instead the game prefers you fight with you fists. In addition to fighting, the animations for Faith’s general movement all work to add a greater sense of self to the game. When she jumps her feet stretch out in front of her, when she vaults over an object we see hand her hand rest on it and her legs swing out; her body is constantly on the screen so there’s never a moment when we feel disconnected, as if we don’t really exist, in this world. But unlike Far Cry 2 or The Chronicles of Riddick, physicality is not the sole purpose of such animations. They aren’t just meant to add a greater sense self, but also sense of momentum. Mirror’s Edge prides itself on how fast-paced it can be, the Time Trial mode is evidence of this. The game encourages players to move through its levels as fast as possible, and those moments when our limbs flash in and out of our field of view help create and sustain that sense of speed.


Shaking the camera is effective to a certain degree, but using one’s arms to interact with the world should be a new standard. It’s surprising how little seeing one’s legs matters; you could see you legs in Halo but did that affect the experience in any way? Far Cry 2 proves it’s unnecessary in first-person shooters, and it’s only for show in the Riddick games. They’re useful in Mirror’s Edge when judging our distance from a ledge, but that’s an entirely different kind of game. As far as shooters are concerned, it’s all about the arms.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 4, 2009
A brief synopsis of one of the most praised books in game designer circles.

Often cited amongst game developers as one of the key texts to understanding how games can be better built, Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things is a layman’s guide to a simple idea. If you cannot figure out how to work something, it is the design’s fault, not the users. Technological gadgets, household appliances, doors, cars, anything and everything should be clearly understandable to a casual user if the design’s purpose is to encourage use and efficiency. The book begins this premise with an example of why bad design is so dangerous: Norman worked with the technicians at Three Mile Island who misread the controls just before the nuclear accident. Starting with that premise, he expands to how bad design causes everything from wasted resources in offices (you have to factor in time and money to train staff, the worse the design the more it costs) to the trivial such as confusing doors and the dreaded VCR clock. The book then expands this concept to explaining the basics of user psychology and how we interact with objects relying on previous experience, visual cues, and feedback.


Like a lot of engineering books, Norman often has to define complex concepts into a single term to keep the text legible. The difficulty of this necessity is picking a word that still means roughly what you’re talking about and is recognized by a casual audience. If you’ve ever read an article where the author is using some bizarre foreign word that you don’t recognize, forcing you to constantly recheck what the word means as it crops up, you know what I’m talking about. Here, Norman keeps things moving by using words that apply to their commonly understood meaning.


For example, he defines ‘affordances’ as “the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used.” (9) People have an instinctual relationship with materials and objects based purely on how they look, in other words. When we see a chair, we recognize that it is a place we could potentially sit. This is developed by a person’s mental models which come from experience, training, and instruction. The more aesthetically connected to an item’s purpose your design is, the more likely someone is going to do the correct action with it. That’s the gist of Norman’s book, but it’s a surprisingly complicated concept to put into action. Take the term ‘natural mapping’, which Norman defines as, “taking advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards to [create] immediate understanding.” (23) An example would be your car’s steering wheel. To turn right in a car, you turn the wheel to the right. A person has a psychological predisposition to think something is going to work a certain way based off their past experiences, so the car steering wheel simply builds on that. Designing an object which ignores natural habit forces the user to create a new ‘map’ in their minds for how something works. He uses the example of a turn signal to demonstrate. You don’t adjust the turn signal to which direction you’re going because it only moves up and down. You instead form a new ‘map’ in your mind to think of left as down and right as up.


From steeringdevelopments.co.uk

From steeringdevelopments.co.uk


Norman points this out because the more you make the user develop their own understanding of an individual piece of technology, the more they are moving outside their past frame of reference and thus are going to be teaching themselves how to use your device. This is where visual cues and good design become very important: if your device is complex and features unfamiliar concepts, you have to make it so that it is self-explanatory. This is the bulk of the book’s tiny details and concepts: self-explaining designs. For instance, take a common door. Numerous things are being communicated at a user by the design of a door. The location of a door knob, for examples, tells me whether the left or right side of the door is the side it opens on. A push bar indicates that the user needs to push, a door handle indicates the user needs to pull. A push bar that does not indicate which side the door swings open on is flawed because users can potentially use it incorrectly. The only way to teach someone using a misleading push bar is force of habit, which takes time and familiarity. Although easily resolved in everyday life, Norman is quick to point out that during a fire a confusing door suddenly becomes a huge risk.


The book lists a variety of methods for inducing behavior through design. A physical constraint that makes it impossible to do something, like opening your washing machine while it is still on. A semantic constraint is a word on the door telling you to ‘Pull’ instead of ‘Push’. A cultural constraint is a limitation that society itself has imposed. Take the standard English keyboard. It was designed for typewriters so that letters which caused jamming when pressed together rarely crossed. It still persists in their electronic counterparts simply because we are used to it. Forcing functions are when a person must do X before Y can occur. You have to remove the keys from the ignition before the doors will lock on your car. This is to prevent users from locking their keys in the car.


From gettyimages.com

From gettyimages.com


Complimenting this range of design techniques are a list of common errors in devices and their origins. The basic argument he makes is, “Human thought – and its close relatives, problem solving and planning – seem more rooted in past experience than in logical education. Mental life is not neat and orderly.” (115) People often develop what Norman calls “selective attention” or how our brains zone out peripheral issues to accomplish a goal. Sticking a knife into a toaster, for example, is really dumb. People do it to get the bread out because they’re not thinking about the other potential hazards. You have to design with the reality that people organize their thoughts by what they want, not how to get it done properly. (164) As a consequence, in addition to providing visual clues and functions about how an object works the design also has to avoid conventions that lead to errors. A capture error is when the initial stages of an action begin the same way but then break off so that you cross into the wrong behavior. Dialing the wrong number on accident would be the common example. A ‘mode error’ is when the controls don’t make it apparent what is happening or worse, confusing because it only gives off a strange chime. Norman stresses that visual cues and feedback must reinforce to the user what they are doing and what is not working.


Among the common faults Norman outlines with design, giving in to aesthetics over function is his biggest complaint. Designing a kitchen sink so that it looks cool instead of making sense is a complaint he goes on about for a while. If you put the hot and cold handles for a sink vertically, so that like the turn signal you forget which does what, it is a huge waste of time. Put them left to right so that the user instead relies on the standard of hot being left, cold being right, is the better design. Norman expands this to a lengthy complaint about light switches and common controls for them. They often make no sense. How many times have you had to flip switches at random trying to figure out the right one for your goal? Although he only offers a solution of putting all switches in one standard location (by the door), he considers this better because the user will learn the controls through habit anyways. Standardizing their location is the least you can do.


From atariage.com

From atariage.com


How to apply these concepts to video games? You can already see a lot of these elements at work in the older genres. People playing an FPS expect it to behave like the last FPS they played. If I’m using an Xbox 360 controller, the right trigger is probably going to shoot and the left is probably going to aim from the shoulder. Crouching is usually pressing one of the joysticks. Start opens the menu. Everything else should be one of the four buttons. Games that violate these conventions often suffer, such as Mass Effect making the grenade be the Select button or Kane & Lynch using an auto cover system instead of mimicking Gears of War. Games that attempt to innovate in their design have both the problem of explaining new controls to a user while also teaching how the game itself works.


What is perhaps most troubling about this is that a new video game is by definition not going to do this well the first time. Norman explains, “It usually takes five or six attempts to get a product right. This may be acceptable in an established product, but consider what it means in a new one. Suppose a company wants to make a product that will perhaps make a real difference. The problem is that if the product is truly revolutionary, it is unlikely that anyone will quite know how to design it right the first time; it will takes several tries.” (29) An innovative game like Mirror’s Edge not achieving blockbuster sales is not necessarily a sign that it’s a bad concept. Almost every popular franchise on the market began with humble origins: Halo 3 is miles better than Halo in terms of design. At the core of Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things is the message that much like the user figuring out a strange device, designing things properly is an exercise in trial and error.


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Text:AAA
Friday, Jul 31, 2009
A look at an experiment that makes a family of Sims homeless in The Sims 3.

The Sims 3, like all the Sim games and really anything by Will Wright, is a playground in which we can make our own stories. Sometimes we try to keep thing realistic, but the potential for insanity is never far away. The Sims has always been a great source for over-the-top melodrama befitting the worst daytime soap, but it’s also a source of far more serious stories.


One that stands out is the blog “Alice and Kev.” Alice and Kev are homeless Sims. Kev is described as “…mean-spirited, quick to anger, and inappropriate. He also dislikes children, and he’s insane. He’s basically the worst Dad in the world.” His daughter Alice “…has a kind heart, but suffers from clumsiness and low self-esteem.” Each blog post is a snapshot of their daily lives, and while some are humorous, there’s an undercurrent of sadness running through the entire blog. Reading about the hardships Alice faces while trying to go to school and dealing with a father who hates her is frighteningly realistic, and seeing the joy she gets out of simple things like a good meal and a bed are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Kev provides some comic relief with his haphazard attempts at love, but it’s also hard not to feel sorry for him when his attempts constantly fail, and the drama returns when he comes back “home” and takes his anger out on Alice. It’s a captivating story in its own right, but this premise has been done before with The Sims 2 and can be reproduced by anyone who has the game, what really makes “Alice and Kev” unique is its presentation.


Its blog reads like a documentary. Its creator, Robin Burkinshaw, takes himself out of the story as much as possible. He doesn’t mention himself in the writing unless he’s talking about a specific aspect of the game, such as personality traits or life goals. He doesn’t even exert much control over Alice and Kev, or at least that’s how it seems. Of course he must exert some control over them, and the fact that this story may be purposefully constructed is always in the back of the reader’s mind. At one point Kev starts walking and doesn’t stop, wandering the open land for a couple days before returning home. A commenter points out that Sims don’t normally do this, and it’s entirely possible that Robin made Kev go away so Alice could have a chance to bond with a neighbor. But exactly how much control Robin exerts over the Sims is irrelevant, it’s how much control he’s perceived to exert that matters. And since he doesn’t mention himself much in each post, his presence is easily forgotten.


By removing himself, the player, from the story, Robin has switched the focus to the characters. The blog becomes a story about the Sims, not of someone playing The Sims. This makes it more appealing because it seems as if this story doesn’t have an author. Even though it’s clearly a straight narrative, since the characters are the focus and the player is (almost) nowhere to be seen, events feel natural, spontaneous, and unpredictable. There’s an authenticity to their actions: Even though they may just be AI, the AI is making these decisions on its own. The possibilities of what these Sims might do, free from any player input, is just as fascinating as the actual story of their lives. 


The blog is on hiatus now, but there are more than enough posts already written to introduce new readers and make them care. No matter what comes next, “Alice and Kev” has proved itself to be a unique kind of story: Part game, part documentary, Robin has turned the open world of The Sims 3 into a directed social commentary. I don’t know when the posts will resume again, but I know I’ll be watching closely.


Tagged as: the sims 3
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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009
Engaging a prostitute, stealing a car, and straight up murder are all forgivable offenses in the GTA universe.

This discussion does contain some spoilers about the plots of various games in the Grand Theft Auto series.


While a hue and cry arose over the drug dealing simulation that served as a secondary gameplay element in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, critics of the Grand Theft Auto series would likely be surprised by the series’s rather moralistic approach to the question of drug use and abuse.


Despite the fact that the games most popular setting, Liberty City, bears an appellation suggestive of a commitment to a libertine philosophy, when it comes to drugs, the Grand Theft Auto series has always had a very simple message: “Just Say No.”


Certainly, Chinatown Wars does feature a protagonist, Huang Lee, that largely depends on drugs as his primary source of income and the catalyst of the plot of Vice City is a drug deal gone wrong that that game’s protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, was involved with, but despite the fact that the main characters in these games are drug dealers, they are never users.


Drug usage in the GTA games is left largely to the minor characters, and most often, these secondary players in a GTA drama are made to look like fools.  In Vice City, Tommy Vercetti’s first underworld contact is the crooked lawyer and lunatic cokehead, Ken Rosenberg.  Rosenberg (a character likely inspired by David Kleinfeld from Carlito’s Way, a similarly coke addled, shady lawyer played by Sean Penn), is a less than competent, extremely neurotic compatriot of Vercetti’s.  Both Rosenberg’s ineffectuality and paranoia seems largely attributable to his coke habit.  Other “friends” of GTA protagonists that are featured as crazed by their dope habits include CJ Johnson’s hippie, peacenik pal, The Truth, from San Andreas.  While one of The Truth’s kooky conspiracy’s concerning alien technology being secreted away in a government facility does prove to have some veracity, nevertheless, The Truth’s role throughout the game is largely as comic relief.  He is a paranoid dude that hasn’t woken up from the marijuana haze of his hippie youth.  Neither of these characters’ problematic personalities probably even compare to the peyote induced stupidity of the members of the fictional band Love Fist in their appearance late in San Andreas.  From getting themselves lost in the Las Venturas desert to sleeping with a red neck gal infested with all manner of sexually transmitted diseases, these bozos clearly cannot handle their illicit substances.


However, it isn’t just intellectual retardation and generalized insanity that GTA typically associates with imbibing in pharmaceuticals.  Drug use is quite simply put, an easy enough marker for recognizing villainy.  This tendency is especially true and noticeable in San Andreas.  Part of what makes anti-hero CJ Johnson sympathetic and even potentially heroic in the game is his mission to clean up his hood, specifically by ridding it of the dealers that are enslaving his home.  An early cutscene in San Andreas introduces the player to one of CJ’s former Grove Street crew, a now rather broken down junkie named Big Bear.  Big Bear has been reduced through his drug dependency to slavery.  We find him cleaning the toilet of his dealer for the sake of protecting the source of his next fix.  Big Bear’s degradation inspires CJ’s commitment to “freeing” his people from this insidious chemical master in a that perhaps nods to Malcolm X’s opposition to drug use and observations about the effects of drug abuse on his community, specifically its tendency to become a new means of enslaving them.


If dope becomes an identifiable plague in CJ’s hood, his former friends that prove to be traitors to the Grove Street cause, Big Smoke and Ryder, are incarnations of that plague.  Big Smoke’s name has an obvious association with a chemical hobby while Ryder is almost never featured without a joint in his hand or a commentary on how he would rather be smoking.  As CJ discovers towards the close of the first act of San Andreas, Big Smoke and Ryder have betrayed Grove Street and are partly responsible for the invasion of dealers in the Los Santos neighborhood through their dealings with Grove Street outsiders.


San Andreas‘s main antagonist, the crooked cop Officer Tenpenny, likewise, is partially responsible for the surge in the drug trade in Los Santos.  He, too, is featured as a user in the game’s cutscenes; CJ watches him take a hit off a bong in a scene in which Tenpenny manipulates our beloved thug to do some dirty work for him.


The only time that CJ does get high in the game is accidental.  He does so as a result of torching a crop of marijuana in an attempt to dispose of evidence for The Truth when federal agents raid The Truth’s farm.  Appropriately enough given the negative connotations associated with being stoned in the GTAn series, this accidental high proves no end of trouble as CJ’s flight is impaired by a greenish haze and wavering camera.  The impaired gameplay itself indicates the problematic nature of being under the influence.


Interestingly, GTA‘s prohibition against drug use does not apply to legal drugs.  Alcohol abuse is entirely permissible in GTA IV.  While driving drunk is a possibility for Niko Bellic, it is a choice that can be avoided as Niko can do the responsible thing and take a cab following a night of binge drinking or otherwise suffer from ill effects similar to the accidental impairment of CJ Johnson.  That Niko does have this choice, though, may be related to the fact that drinking can have positive effects in this game and that legal drug use is treated in a more evenhanded fashion.  As one of numerous activities that can be selected from when Niko dates or builds relationships with his friends, drunkenness provides a for a kind of bonding experience between Niko and his chosen drinking buddy.  Like all social activities in GTA IV, drinking is a way of provoking dialogues that further reveal the personalities that he interacts with.  In particular, the dialogues that Niko takes part in with his drunken friends are especially illuminating about who these people really are as the drunken dialogues are completely uninhibited reflections of these individuals’ ids (for instance, note that the stool pigeon, Michelle, most overtly spills about her duplicitous nature when she gets smashed).


However, corruption, betrayal, and foolishness are the consequences of illegal drug abuse in what is otherwise a series of games that encourages the most illicit and questionable behaviors from its protagonists.  Engaging a prostitute, stealing a car, and straight up murder are all forgivable offenses in the GTA universe.  They are the cost of doing business.  But the protagonists’ bodies are generally treated as if they are a temple as the main characters may serve as distributors of drugs but never as users of these products.  In this emphasis on self restraint as a moral virtue, GTA may be reflecting a growing brand of moralism that focuses less on how the individual treats others as it does on how the individual treats him- or herself.  The “bad guys” in our culture are those that cannot control themselves: the tobacco user, the overeater.  Though, this emphasis on making sure that the individual does no harm to the self may reflect a belief that less evilly intended individual choices may have negative consequences on community.  We fear the perils of second hand smoke and the rising cost of health care for the obese maybe more often than we do the people directly or intentionally doing harm to someone else.  Thou Shalt Kill, Thou Shalt Steal, Thou Shalt Generally Interfere With the Life, Health, and Well Being of Others, these are the libertine commandments of Grand Theft Auto.  But when it comes to protecting the long term well being of the main character himself, the GTA games eschew the liberty of jacking up yourself for a clear imperative: Thou Shalt Deal, But Thou Shalt Not Use.


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