Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Sociological Analysis of the GTA V Trailer

Gaming's Biggest Franchise Looks To Get All Sorts of Political in Newest Installment

Last week, Rockstar Games unveiled the debut trailer for the next installment in the incredibly popular, incredibly controversial and incredibly lucrative Grand Theft Auto series.

And it, in short, was freaking awesome.

I’ve said this a couple of times before, but there hasn’t been a greater work of social satire in the last 15 years than the GTA games. Sure, all of the concerned parents groups and video game hating politicians may consider it to be the downfall of American exceptionalism, but what do those lunk-heads know about the art of parody? Take it from me, a guy with social satire genetics pumping through my veins - the guys behind GTA are some apt, APT social commentators. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the GTA games are the DEFINTIVE satirical work of the post 9-11 generation, a culture-skewering piece of art on par with “Dr. Strangelove” or “The Simpsons.”

Grand Theft Auto 3 was commentary on the mediocrity and uniformity of pre-9/11 urbanization. Vice City was a critical evaluation of the political excesses of the 1980s, while San Andreas was an allegory about the disenfranchisement of young African Americans and the hypocrisies of the liberal media. Grand Theft Auto IV, called “The Godfather of video games” by numerous publications, was about the influence of immigration, technology and mass consumerism on our cultural identities. Of course, if all you ever did was get your video game news from Fox or CNN, you would think that these games were nothing but hooker-murdering-with-golf-club-simulators. Imagine that: the mainstream media having no idea what’s going on the minds of mainstream Americans.

And so, the trailer for Grand Theft Auto V appears to be continuing in that steep, venerable lineage of social commentary. Although the trailer was only about a minute and a half long, it certainly packed a LOT of satirical elements, commenting on everything from the ongoing economic recession to the fact that Fed Ex can’t ever seem to get your packages delivered on time. So, who’s up for a second-by-second analysis of some of the finer points of the trailer?

Thanks to GTA V, I haven't been this pumped about alternative energies since that one Keanu Reeves movie about cold fusion came out!

00:00:007 – 00:00:10 – Don’t let the California vibe fool you, this ISN’T a game that seems to paint the Golden State as some sort of fantastical amusement-land like in oh so many other titles. Pay very close attention to the sidewalk , especially – just like the real Cali, the streets are cluttered and clogged with litter and debris. Not only is this a nice touch of realism, it may also be indicative of a new physics engine for the game. Does that mean we’re in store for fully shaded and fully rendered man-boob physics? My, we can only hope…

00:00:11 – 00:00:15 – It wouldn’t be L.A. without smog, would it? If this thing wanted to really replicate the California landscape, there would be more CGI haze in this one than the entire “Call of Duty” games combined

00:00:16 – 00:00:22 – Golfing, water skiing, backpacking. . .not only probable mini-games, but quite possibly in-game activities that influence your relations with non-playable characters. Note the characters holding hands and the international flags at the golf course – methinks that at some point, you may have to do a little social engineering with the virtual denizens of San Andreas, much the same way you did in “L.A. Noir.” 

00:00:23 – 00:00:26 – Apparently, one of the new character modifications for the franchise involves body piercings. And since its California, there will probably be an option to sign up for a government subsidized sex-change operation, too. . .

00:00:27 – 00:00:35 – Windmills, Pilates, and a cultural obsession with health and fitness, coupled with street crime, hyper poverty, and crass materialism. Where do these Rockstar guys come up with this stuff? 

00:00:43 – 00:00:46 – And the issue of illegal immigration? Or workers’ rights? Or environmentalism?

...if it were Arizona, they just would have opened fire instead.

00:00:47 – 00:00:51 – Clearly a Marxist take on the dissatisfaction of the U.S. laborer. Or maybe, the guys at Rockstar really, really think exterminators charge too much for their services. 

00:00:52 – 00:01:00 – Honestly, I’m kind of disappointed that they aren’t tackling the issue of the economic downturn and its influence on modern society for the new game. . .

00:01:01 – 00:01:08 – For those of you that aren’t hardcore sociology nerds, sleep easy: I’m pretty sure that somewhere amidst all of that social commentary, that’s probably a really, really fun action adventure game, too. 

00:01:09 – 00:01:25 - - Here’s something cool about the song used in the trailer, “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” by the English band Small Faces, according to Wikipedia, with relevant passages bolded for your pleasure:

“The B-side is based on an original fairy tale about a boy called Happiness Stan, narrated in his unique ‘Unwinese’ gobbledgook by Stanley Unwin, who picked up modern slang from the band and incorporated it into the surreal narrative...the plot of the fairy tale is that Stan  looks up in the sky and sees only half the moon, he sets out on a quest to search for the missing half. Along the way he saves a fly from starvation, and in gratitude the insect tells him of someone who can answer his question and also tell him the philosophy of life itself. With his magic power Stan intones, "If all the flies were one fly, what a great enormous fly-follolloper that would bold," and the fly grows to gigantic proportions. Seated on the giant fly's back Stan takes a psychedelic journey to the cave of Mad John the hermit, who explains that the moon's disappearance is only temporary, and demonstrates by pointing out that Stan has spent so long on his quest that the moon is now full again. He then sings Stan a cheerful song about the meaning of life.”

Apparently, the "meaning of life" entails performing jewel heists while dressed like Ghostbusters.
Could it be that Rockstar culled the plotline for GTA V from an almost 50 year old prog rock album?  Yeah, it does sound pretty out there, but seeing as how this is the same company that made video games out of the 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle AND a hyper violent re-imagining of an archaic Ah-Nald vehicle, who is to say that the crew is above a little allegorical gaming?

Of course, there are still PLENTY of mysteries surrounding the game, from it’s actual release date to how it will implement online play. This much, however, we know for certain:

Whenever and however this one gets released, it’s going to result in a LOT of squandered free time for the coveted 18-34 demographic here in the States.

Employers of America, you have been duly noted.

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