69.4 F

Davis, California

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Virtual unrealities

Tuesday was a relatively inauspicious day. I woke up. I went to class. I came home around noon and called my buddy to go eat. He had an alternate suggestion, and we ended up drinking lunch. We staggered outside utterly blitzed at two in the afternoon. Since my stumbling was down to a minimum, I walked to the nearest vehicle and used a pistol to bust open the driver’s window and, subsequently, his skull.

Unfortunately my rather uncharismatic means of persuasion had attracted attention. Twenty seconds later three cruisers were tailing us, so I took a left and headed directly to an arms dealer, where with only minimal hassle I purchased several grenades, a light sub-machine gun and a rocket launcher.

I raced through alleyways lobbing bombs from my window and laughing maniacally. Suddenly, over the roaring of my engine I heard the characteristic whirring of police helicopter backup. To my right, Gatling gun rounds whizzed into a parked car, setting it aflame. The car’s detonation, combined with my grenades, sent everything behind us into a hell-spawned conflagration. Awesome.

I reached the heliport moments later, and with liberal use of shotgun shells convinced a pilot to take his lunch break. I lifted off and made a bee-line for the Empire State Building. It was a crash landing, but I leaped clear and nonchalantly equipped a rocket launcher. I took aim and blasted the first copter back into last Thursday, then the second, third, eighth. I stopped when I tried to reload but heard only an ominous click, and with no recourse left, I jumped. Splat.

Welcome to Grand Theft Auto IV.

The GTA series pisses a lot of people off. Aside from the above, the game allows you to have casual sex, commit massive blood-spattered sprees of vehicular manslaughter, pick up and subsequently bludgeon prostitutes, bomb cars, rob banks or assassinate unsuspecting friends. At one point I fired rockets from the roof of the Chrysler Building at the Statue of Liberty in a (failed) attempt to recreate Cloverfield. Essentially, any crime conceivable is possible, making claims that GTA is a murder simulator almost justified.

Almost. In truth, I feel that although the game not only quietly sanctions but actually requires cold-blooded murder, Grand Theft Auto is in fact fairly socially conscientious. Yes, you can engage in crimes both passionate and organized, and yes, even timid players will be responsible for thousands of digital souls. But a closer look reveals that all actions have corresponding consequences.

While the police are curiously unconcerned with your traffic violations, they grow quite irate after serious offenses. Kill a pedestrian and the cops are summoned, kill cops and you’re unlikely to exit unscathed. The game’s portrayal of your criminal cohorts is no more flattering; as the game progresses they drop like flies from arrests, overdoses and executions. As I plopped into the driver’s seat after my heavily-medicated brunch, my character slurred to himself,I’m in no condition to be making responsible decisions right now,and the game’s tutorial text suggested I hail a cab. Since surviving in-game drunk driving is both nearly impossible and likely to get you arrested, I agreed.

I know it’s been said with each successive iteration of the series, but I’m the game’s target audience, not a rabid pack of 12-year-olds. I will, however, admit that I had to curb my enthusiasm on the freeway after playing for a few hours. While that may have been more because my car has a top speed of about 70 mph and will only start on the seventh Wednesday after a vernal equinox, I still maintain that I avoided confusing video games with reality.

I mentioned my achievement to my roommate, who confessed he’d been assessing passing cars theft potentials. We shared a good laugh as I accelerated to ramming speed, obliterated a pedestrian and killed the Po Po. Or we drove uneventfully to our Ultimate Frisbee game. One of the two.


CADE GRUNST is too busy killing civilians to answer any mail sent to cade@ucdavis.edu. 


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