Tuesday, May 20, 2008

GTA IV makes babies happy

I guess this is my first entry into the ‘blogosphere’. Well, here goes…

One of the best things about getting a little kid - she is one month old now and growing like crazy - is that I actually had more time to, well, do nothing much. Sure, taking care of the wee one takes up a healthy chunk of our time, and the whole sleep-poo-cry cycle can be tiring for all involved. But I had taken some weeks off from work to be a full time family man, which freed up so much time that, suddenly, I had the liberty to do all those things I never had the time for! Did I read all those books and articles lying around? did I watch all those films and series I missed? Did I even go out in the sun which scorched Holland in the past weeks?

No, I pretty much spend most of my free hours playing GTA IV.

Perfect timing Rockstar!. Some recent minor distractions aside, this is the first game to really pull me away from World of Warcraft. Which wasn’t that hard by the way, my WoW being hacked and plundered just after my kid was born (I lost 8000g on that one, thanks virtual economy!).

Thus, there I was, taking my new buddy Niko through all kinds of violent ordeals in Liberty City. And what a splendid killing spree it turned out to be. Gone are most of the troubles which plagued prior instalments like messy aiming, cars popping in out of nowhere, no multi-player. And now we can even skip those unnecessary long drives to and from quest objectives after failing missions again and again; now you can just take a cab, pick your location and skip the entire ride!

Skipping the ride almost always feels like a loss though as GTA IV’s Liberty City is one of the most beautifully rendered, vibrant and believable virtual worlds out there. It is however not just a New York 2.0 for virtual sightseeing. It is clear that, like previous GTA’s, Rockstar wanted to make a sandbox with a point. GTAIII, Vice City and San Andreas all parodied American culture through its radio channels, billboards, dialogues and so on. GTA IV follows suit but got rid of all the over-the-top silliness which tended to make you forget its finer details. So, no jetpacks, Area 51’s or overkill of ramps here. Calling the changes ‘gritty’ or ‘darker’ is marketing mumbo-jumbo but there’s truth in it as well. You could almost say that Rockstar has taken a more mature approach (gasp!).

More than ever, Rockstar’s Liberty City is a bleak, dystopian depiction of the real. It takes no prisoners; the media, the internet, the government, the crime gangs, even people just walking down the virtual streets, all of them are degenerated, corrupted, spoiled. It might still be far off - ‘it’s only a game’, remember - but it’s eerily recognizable. As suggested elsewhere, the American Dream has never been so far out of reach for Liberty City’s inhabitants. Drawn to Liberty City under false promises of freedom, peace and wealth, Niko’s downward spiral into sin is entirely believable, even logical. And you wish him while doing so.

Exposing a child to such harsh, violent worlds might be a bit unethical but hey, where else but in your lap do you put a crying baby when you’re playing! When I was ploughing down rows of pedestrians and crashing my car into other players (GTA multiplayer is a hoot!), the pleasure the baby seemed to derive from the rumble my controller made on her tummy made it al seem ok. She really digs that!

Ps. This post seems a bit dated already but Blogger decided to lock my brand new blog for suspicions of me being a spambot (sigh).


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