What Grand Theft Auto IV gets right about gangland and illegal economies.

The art of play.
May 9 2008 6:46 AM

Unjustifiable Carnage, Uneasy Alliances, and Lots of Self-Doubt

What Grand Theft Auto IV gets right about gangland and illegal economies.

(Continued from Page 1)

The story lines of GTA IV's missions also resonate with life on New York's streets. Should our protagonist help his cousin even if it is not in his own interest? Should Niko remain with his girlfriend, even if it might jeopardize his personal safety? Could an enemy gang be befriended and turned into an ally? I was always left with a residue of self-doubt after making these decisions. Right and wrong are never so clear—at least in terms of the consequences of one's actions—and Niko's mission can fail because you either did or did not do the right thing.

While GTA IV is both a dizzying and dazzling experience, I definitely won't be playing the game up until the final mission. I could never master the joystick in time to stop running over pedestrians while I'm steering Niko's car. But I am curious to see what comes next.  GTA IV was, by all reports, a huge improvement over Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and I can imagine GTA V taking us to even greater heights (or depths, depending on your perspective). *

Advertisement

If the creative team needs some fuel, they might want to visit Chicago's South Side. There, they will find that gang killings and mercenary actions have some interesting consequences—beyond the tragedy of injury and fatality. When a real-life mission fails and gangs are indicted, the remaining players must first form a gang before they can move on. No one can move forward until they come together and develop shared interests. The result can be a powerful feeling of solidarity—albeit in the South Side, it is one often wasted on disreputable pursuits.

Another logical step for the creative crew at Rockstar Games would be to extend the logic of the current game: Why not let us form gangs ourselves in virtual space? Imagine the possibilities: My friend and I could form a gang of nasty South Asian suburban nerds. A bunch of middle-class frat boys might realize their common interests. Let women join in the fun, too. They could create a group of disgruntled ex-corporate lawyers who, after failing to make partner, go after their pig-headed male superiors. In this way, the enemies would depend on the gangs we formed, and, over time, the landscape would reflect our decisions.

And, hey, maybe different gangs can advertise online and play each other? I, for one, would love to form a group of writers who could take on the editors at publishing houses who zap my creative juices with their unintelligible feedback. I'd like to run them over in the streets, get out of my car and bash their heads in, steal their keys and money, break into their homes and destroy their furniture, and then I'd … You get the point.

Correction, May 12, 2008: This story originally and incorrectly referred to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as the "third version" of the Grand Theft Auto series. It was actually the fifth Grand Theft Auto game—two titles, Vice City and San Andreas, were released between Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto IV. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Sudhir Venkatesh is a sociology professor at Columbia University and author of Gang Leader for a Day.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t Be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 20 2014 3:12 PM Terror Next Door Prudie advises a letter writer whose husband is dangerously, violently obsessed with the neighbors.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.