Imagine building your dream car out of blood money. Imagine making $18,000 for “picking up” some documents from a lawyer who you may or may not have killed. You befriend a stripper named Nikki and call her when you’re feeling lonely. The way you live your virtual life is only limited by the virtual money you make in Rockstar Games’ newest title “Grand Theft Auto: Online (GTA).”
Let’s be honest, you’re not the only one who wants to get away — from the breakups, loneliness and student debt. Nowadays, students are confronted with bullshit on a daily basis and have a need to consume their hostile realities, from listening to music to drowning in alcohol. Today, playing video games is one of the most popular ways people escape the everyday “9-to-5” lifestyle.
For many people, GTA is more than just a game. It’s like a rebirth, a second chance at a life never meant to be for John or Jane Doe. We sit forward in our chairs when we’re hiding for cover from gunfire. We hold our breath when we press the button to shoot our guns and we feel our hands get sweaty when the cops rush in to stop us.
Why do people turn to violence when they’re bored? Why do we lose ourselves in violent games and not in our studies? Violence is a norm in our society. Family and media taught us that violence gets the blood flowing. Rockstar Games understands this and we eat it up. It continuously sells and we want it. It satisfies our need to get lost in violent fantasies. Even though we wish to never see it firsthand, gun battles just seem awesome.
Players begin the game by choosing four pre-generated characters as grandparents and from the four, their mother and father are created. The player creates their own avatar from the brief family lineage. Players even create the lifestyle of their avatars through a “day in the life” process. Given 24 hours, the player must decide how much time is put into given activities such as “sleeping,” “partying” and even “doing illegal work.” If you attribute eight hours to “sitting on the couch,” your character will have a weaker stamina but will be more proficient in driving.
Through this unique type of character creation, gamers are often more inclined to make their character resemble themselves in looks and lifestyle rather than creating a purely fictional character. Players don’t know it, but this character design phase serves as the first step in entering the “matrix.” Players insert themselves into the game in good fun, but do not realize this virtual life is more than entertainment — it feels like a life experience.
As a massive outlet through which people escape their own lives, GTA poses a major concern because players, seduced by the freedom of their virtual lives, tend to forget their real lives for hours or days on end. You make a bank deposit for $400,000 and move into a luxurious apartment with a view of the city skyline and pay utilities afterward. You can go shopping for clothes at the Urban Outfitters-inspired store called “Sub Urban.” You can even take selfies with your in-game phone and share them with your real friends online.
Using GTA as an escape to alternate reality may seem deranged, but it is understandable. The game is popular because it’s based so closely on reality — the extraordinary things we do while we’re playing are believable. You’re not a trained soldier, you’re not a professional basketball player and you’re not a dragon-slayer (at least not in the daytime). But in this fantasy, you drop your life as it is right now and become the next America’s Most Wanted.
Is our GTA status something to be ashamed of? Of course not, it’s a great fucking game. It doesn’t hurt anyone to get lost in a video game every now and then. It’s crazier if you think of it more as an alternate reality than a video game.
GTA is a site of difference and excitement. It’s a space where one’s fantasies and personalities can be enacted in strange and unique ways. But it’s also a space that exploits real-world crime and socio-historical realities. We just need to accept that we’re not going to live a lush life of crime and money, but it doesn’t hurt wondering — or in this case, “simulating.” Just don’t pull shit like that in real life.