Ends and Means —
As a father, I sometimes find myself reminiscing to them on the history of video games like my grandparents reminisce on the dawn of the automobile. Born in 1979, I grew up in the sweet spot of gaming history, when the first in-home consoles arrived. The Atari 2600 came out in 1977, but our parents didn’t give in to the video game fad until after Atari’s first competitor, Intellivision, debuted in 1980.
When I was their age, I played Pitfall, Burger Time, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and Night Stalker (all of those links go to video demonstrations, for the young’uns). I remember the excitement when I received my very first video game present, Sewer Sam, about a guy who seems to enjoy running through raw sewage dodging bats and rats.
Then came the very first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the very first Super Mario Brothers game in 1985, when I was in kindergarten. It was a revolution in gaming that set the bar for all future consoles. Nintendo also introduced us to some of the most beloved game franchises of all time: Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Metal Gear, Castlevania, Kirby, and Tetris.
I remember playing the first Mario Brothers game and thinking how cool it would be if there was a video game where you could “live” in a city and do all the things grown ups could do, like driving cars or flying airplanes. But that kind of game wouldn’t be possible for over a decade, when the hardware could catch up to the ambition.
In the meantime, NES got its first real competitor, the Sega Genesis (1989). Nintendo responded shortly thereafter with the Super Nintendo (1991). Our family skipped those versions, but I was able to get the Nintendo 64 (1996), whose chief rival was the Sony Playstation (1994), which made a big splash. By the time the child-friendly Nintendo Game Cube (2001) came out, I was too mature for that, so I became more interested in both the Playstation 2 (2000) and the new Microsoft Xbox (2001). But there was one game that I was more excited about than any other and it became the main reason why my girlfriend (now wife) Cady got me a PS2 in 2004.
Grand Theft Auto.
I learned about GTA when I was working for a company that supported developmentally disabled adults who lived on their own. The two guys I supported, Dave and DJ (names changed) lived in a house and DJ had an awesome video game set-up, including Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the fourth in the series. And we’d take turns playing it while I was hanging out with them.
This was the game I had dreamed of as a child, except I didn’t just get to drive and fly, I also got to carry an arsenal of weapons and outrun the cops. Vice City’s mature subject matter became popular media fodder as parents caught wind of the fact that you could both solicit and kill prostitutes. Since then, each subsequent version has been criticized for its mature content by concerned groups.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the version that followed Vice City, raised an even bigger ruckus when a player created a modified patch that allowed computer gamers to simulate sex with the characters. Rockstar, which produces the games, pulled San Andreas from the shelves in 2005 in order to give the game a mature rating.
Ironically, the most recent version, GTA V, is even more sexually explicit than any previous version. In fact, one of the early missions has you helping a paparazzo take pictures of a starlet being… er… serviced from behind. You can also visit prostitutes and watch your character have sex in a car, as well as visit a strip club with topless, non-pixelated dancers.
Everything terrible you’ve heard about the GTA franchise is true: it’s violent, sexist, graphically sexual, and should not be played by children under the age of 18, IMHO. When I’ve heard that a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old kid has played GTA, I shudder and cringe at the messages being poured into that kid’s mind.
So, why do I still play it? Because there isn’t a game out there that can compare to its open world, simulated reality.
I first came across the GTA franchise in college, when I found the game on one of our dorm’s community computers. Grand Theft Auto II was an overhead game that looked like other games, but it took place in the city. It didn’t look or feel realistic in the least, but it was still pretty fun.
Compare that to the last version, Grand Theft Auto IV (which is actually the sixth in the series), which is so realistic that when you are driving and you run into a wall or another car or a person, you almost get the actual, physical sensation of a two-ton vehicle hitting something abruptly. The physics of GTA IV was almost too real, making driving far more difficult than previous versions. Recklessness had far more dire consequences on the driver, Nico Bellic. If you hit a car going top speed, Nico was almost certain to shoot through the windshield and into traffic.
Another testament to GTA’s firm grip on reality is that when you climb to the top of a building and base jump from the top, your stomach drops with an intensity that seems far greater than you should be expected from a video game.
With the most recent installment, Grand Theft Auto V, the physics of the game don’t feel quite as “heavy” as GTA IV, but the world that Rockstar created with this version is so vast and so complex that it dwarfs every previous version and gives reality a run for its money.
For instance, when my character, Trevor, blocks traffic to take a selfie, this is what you get.
The story revolves around Trevor and two other characters, Franklin and Michael, all of which you can play as.
Franklin is an ambitious guy working for a shady car dealer who has him repossessing cars from people who took out shitty loans. In an early mission, Franklin sneaks through a really nice house to get to the garage and repo a teenager’s car, but when he gets out on the street, the teen’s dad, Michael, forces Franklin to take him to see the dealer. And by “see the dealer” I mean drive the car through the dealership window.
Franklin thinks Michael might be able to help him find better work than repo, and takes Michael up on his off-hand offer to talk to him later. Michael is a former bank robber who survived a heist gone wrong with his friend, Trevor, a psychotic, ruthless killer. When the heist went bad, Michael made a deal with a corrupt FIB agent (GTA’s version of the FBI) to go in witness protection for a slice of the take. Since then, Michael’s family had relocated to Los Santos, where he basically watches TV or lays by the pool all day, while his wife cheats on him with the tennis coach and yoga instructor.
You’ll have to play the game to find out why, but Michael and Franklin begin a life of crime together, using Michael’s experience and Franklin’s ambition. But one particular heist got enough attention that Trevor figured out that Michael was still alive. Trevor, who lives in Sandy Shores, which is way the hell across the state of San Andreas. The map of GTA V is enormous, comparable to the size of most of San Francisco, Manhattan and Toronto (home of Chris Farley character, Rob Ford).
And the attention to detail is amazing. From the way the sea plants wave at the bottom of the ocean to the changing phases of the moon, Rockstar has gone to obsessive lengths to make GTA V a virtual reality where you can drive like a moron, get in fist fights with weightlifters (I’m looking at you FCJ), and jump of a mountain with zero consequences. It is an amazing achievement and will go down as one of the greatest video games of all time, I’m certain. Not only because of everything I’ve mentioned or the amazing story-telling… there’s also this:
This is a mural prominently displayed in the cable car shelter at the top of Mount Chiliad, the tallest point in the game without leaving the ground. In the bottom three squares, there is a UFO, a cracked egg and what is obviously a jetpack. In GTA: San Andreas, there was a jetpack and it was fucking amazing. But if there is a jetpack in GTA V, nobody has actually found it. There are a bunch of clues that suggest there’s a mystery to be solved and thousands of people trying to solve it, but after nearly two months, nobody has figured out what the hell this map actually means.
As Ed Grimley would say, it’s all very exciting, I must say.
In any case, at this point in the post, if you’re still with me, then you are probably asking yourself “Why the hell is Shannon telling us about this damned video game?”
Well, it felt like GTA V had more fat-related content than previous games. In San Andreas, the main character, CJ, would get fat if he ate Cluckin’ Bell or Burger Shot too much, which slowed him down some. And as I wrote in my post on the inclusion of fatties in video games, GTA IV had Nico’s cousin, Roman, tell somebody to knock off the fat jokes.
But in GTA V, the main characters talk about their weight more than previous games. Michael calls himself fat, and is called fat by others. Often it’s used to reinforce how “soft” he’s gone since giving up crime.
And then there’s Jimmy, Michael’s son.
GTA V takes aim right at its core demographic: 20-something gamers who play for hours and hours on end. Jimmy is a lazy, good-for-nothin’ slacker who tries to sell his dad’s boat and gets robbed in the process early in the game. He’s also fat.
At one point toward the end, Jimmy has an emotional moment with his dad where he tells him off for being an asshole and tries to blame his being fat on his dad’s mistakes, but that he doesn’t want to be fat. As you walk around the house, you see this on the kitchen wall.
I don’t really feel like Jimmy is being mocked or anything. I think it’s a realistic portrayal of what happens in families today. I think this is probably how the average family sees the weight issues and I don’t feel like the characters are being unduly humiliated. But Jimmy’s character isn’t limited to his weight. It’s a relatively brief issue in a very, very long game.
What has really stood out to me is the the amount of random fat characters in the game. GTA IV and San Andreas both had random characters among the game’s population, but there seem to be even more GTA fatties than ever. The weird thing is that there seem to be more fat females than males. Walking down the street, you see women of different sizes and shapes throughout the city.
I had a harder time finding fat men. At first, they were all black men. At one point, I was so shocked to see a fat man that I accidentally hit him with my car. He got up and started running, which made taking his picture difficult. And then I accidentally ran him over again.
The two fat white guys in that GIF have suddenly appeared in the last few days, since the last update. And this guy…
GTA’s representation of fat people isn’t perfect, but being included in GTA’s world is better than being excluded. Over time, perhaps GTA will feature fat characters who don’t reference their weight or reinforce stereotypes about their weight. But for now, the general sense I get from Rockstar’s inclusion of fatties is that we are a part of the world, so get used to it. And clearly the writers been trying to breathe life into the fat characters with as much integrity as they do for thin characters.
Overall, it’s a great game and it’s fun to see fatties in the background. It’s good to be included.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some terrible driving to do.