5) Sex Is Still a Taboo, Especially if it's Virtual, and Particularly if it's Hidden
You didn't think I'd be so dumb as to not mention the infamous "Hot Coffee" mod, no? Perish the thought!
The rundown on "Hot Coffee" is this: at some point in the development of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar was planning to involve a crude series of mini-games where you could have virtual sex with your girlfriend. Before the game's release, they wisely thought to themselves, "eh, this probably won't go over very well," so they cut the scene from the game - but they didn't remove the actual code from the disc.
Long story short, people found the code, hacked into the game, the news media picked up on the story that "POPULAR MURDER SIMULATOR CONTAINS HIDDEN CODE FOR HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHIC SEX," and there were product recalls. And lawsuits. And federal investigations.
Could the infallible Grand Theft Auto mass media shock-a-thon have finally met its match? Could these "MURDER SIMULATORS" have finally gone too far? Not exactly. As a result of the class-action lawsuit filed against Rockstar Games and Take-Two, anyone who purchased a copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was allowed to return the game and receive up to 35 dollars cash in compensation. Not such a bad trade, when you consider how much you'd get for the game if you tried selling it these days.
The funny thing was, people didn't want to sell it back, apparently. Less than 2,700 people bothered to return the game, and considering that San Andreas had global sales at that point of nearly 17 million copies, that number seems a little odd.
Maybe, just perhaps, people liked these games for what they were: fun. And not just because they could shock or titillate anyone. Regardless, Take Two and Rockstar lost that particular legal fight, but more importantly, they won a major battle a little bit later.
4) The Disbarring of Jack Thompson
I've mentioned how the Grand Theft Auto games have an uncanny ability to outlive their most ardent critics. But one of their staunchest, most devoted enemies had an annoying penchant of lingering far longer than the others: Florida attorney and avowed human parasite, Jack Thompson.
A lot of you probably already know about Thompson's one-man crusade against video games, but before Grand Theft Auto came around, Jack Thompson was one of many clueless idiots masquerading their inherent racism as a war against rap music in the late '80s, and generally trying to blackmail various radio personalities by threatening them with FCC fines. Oh, and he also waged a war against Janet Reno and a local Florida school board for made-up claims that Reno was a "lesbian" and that the school board was issuing "homosexual education tapes." A real class act.
But Thompson's raison d'etre, and also his downfall, came once Grand Theft Auto entered the national stage. As well as, tragically, the murder case involving Devin Moore and the deaths of two cops and a dispatcher. A copy of GTA: Vice City was found in his possession, and boom - like a fly on crap, Jack Thompson was there, implicating both Sony and Take-Two for providing the previously mentally-stable man with the urge to kill.
That motion, suffice to say, did not withstand the scrutiny of our nation's courts. That did not stop Thompson, who continued to tilt at windmills valiantly until, in 2008, the Florida Bar Association officially became fed up with Thompson's insanity, his media-baiting, and his righteous indignation, and banned him from practicing law in the state - also requesting he pay the state around $44 grand for "recovery for the court's time and expense."
Never before in the storied battle between pop-culture and censorship zealots have those zealots been so thoroughly trounced. Thompson's disbarment was like a victory lap for Rockstar, having defeated their most vocal and powerful adversary - and not through extravagant legal fees or courtroom dealings, but simply by the reasoned sanity of the populace.
On to less controversial things!
3) The Creation of an Entirely New Genre of Entertainment
Despite all the hand-wringing and the controversy about the game's content, there's one thing that even its most ardent critics can't take away from Grand Theft Auto: the fact that it has, essentially, crafted an entirely new genre and form of interactive entertainment.
Now, there were "open world" games before GTA, sure. But these were roughly-hewn curios that lacked the technology and personality to pull it off. GTA was essential in the creation, popularization, and standardization of the truly "open world game." A virtual sandbox you can use to your own (nefarious) ends. What's remarkable about this is that the "open world game" is something completely original and only capable in video games. The types of what is known as "Emergent Gameplay" all have their modern roots thanks to the natural evolution of GTA, and that is something that only video games can allow.
Sure, there is a "story" to GTA, and there are linear missions and heavily written dialog. But the fun of GTA, and its resonance, comes from the stories we tell our friends about what happened in its weird little polygonal world. Skydiving from a jet in San Andreas and landing on top of an ambulance. Stealing a tank in Grand Theft Auto III and seeing how long before the SWAT teams take you down. Bending the game's complex rules and physics for your own fun and amusement; before GTA, these things were unintentional glitches, and Rockstar found them, tweaked them, and made them integral to the experience.
And that ingenuity has not been lost on other creatives in entertainment.
2) Grand Theft Auto's Influence on Hollywood is Massive
Film director Duncan Jones (now, coincidentally, on track to direct a movie based on World of Warcraft) was on a press junket, talking about his film Source Code. Jones is asked about his "favorite scene in the film." He responds:
"Well, on a purely technical level, the scene of Jake jumping off the train was a real opportunity for me to try and push a boundary on the effects side that I hadn't seen in any other film. We achieved it, I think it looks great and it is a shot that no-one else has done before. And it's a homage to Grand Theft Auto, the computer game. So it's fun in that respect too, because I think one of the other things about the film is that it is about a guy who gets multiple attempts to complete a mission and that's a computer game. As someone who plays games, that was another reference that seemed very natural to the film."
Boom. And it's not just Duncan Jones, either; countless others in and around the various realms of film and television have praised and/or borrowed concepts from the games for their other projects. Plus, in a rare example of creative purity, Rockstar seems to be in no hurry to sell away the GTA movie rights just to make a quick paycheck.
In a world where the entertainment mill is constantly grinding its own innards to provide gristle for the easily-entertained, its sort of ironic to see Rockstar's churlish, violent parody of modern life as a paragon of nobility in this world of crappy superhero movies, lousy toy tie-ins, and endless sequels.
1) Video Games Have Officially "Grown Up"
Regardless of what Hollywood thinks, the general public, more importantly, has learned a valuable lesson from Grand Theft Auto. To wit: video games aren't just kids toys anymore. Since the heady days of Vice City's enormous launch and record-breaking sales, the general public - once equating "video games" with mind-rotting children's pablum - has seemed to warm up to the idea that video games, in and of themselves, can have a wide audience, young and old.
it took comics until the '70s and '80s to reach that same level of perceived maturation; the notion that previously kids-only material could evolve alongside its readership was a wobbly one. Video games came a long way, from the manufactured childish violence of 1993's Mortal Kombat, to the layered, interesting, bitingly satirical voice of GTA: Vice City.
So congrats, Grand Theft Auto V. You're gonna make a lot of money, and you're going to make a lot of people really, really glad they skipped work today.
I mean, uh. Cough. Cough cough.
Previously by Brian Hanson: