Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!
If I ever were to write a GTA-themed memoir of a gamer, it’d have to be titled Driving in Cars with Criminals.
The Grand Theft Auto games boast detailed, living, breathing worlds, hundreds of criminals of various degrees of depravity and bloodlust, and enough guns to sustain several civil wars. They exist somewhere between South Park-style satire and Tarantinoesque crime fiction, with the occasional attempt to emulate the likes of Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese, though the mix tends to come across as uneven at best. I’ve stopped counting the number of people I’ve killed in pastiche versions of New York, Miami and Los Angeles.
Yet my favourite memories of GTA V are about playing multiplayer jobs online, mostly with friends but sometimes with random people. At the beginning of most multiplayer jobs, the designers would put you on one side of the map and task you with driving to the other side, which can take up to ten minutes – these game worlds are huge! – and during that time your employer tells you what the job is all about: stealing cars, destroying drug shipments, forcing a competitor off the road and over a cliff, that sort of thing. I don’t drive in real life and I’m not a great driver in games, so usually I’d wait until one of the people I’m playing with gets in the driver’s seat and I’d hop in the back while the rest of the team gets in as well.
And off we’d drive, from downtown Los Santos in the direction of the nearby hills or towards the beach. I’d love these drives, especially at sunset or sunrise, before the action begins and my set of interactions defaults to shooting people, punching people, running over people. People talk about walking simulators – I love GTA as a passenger simulator. Long drives, beautiful scenery, a good song on the radio (my favourite station was always The Lowdown 91.1, hosted by Pam Grier – how cool is that, to be able to listen to funk, jazz, soul, disco and Pam Grier’s amazing voice?). If I’d been a dog while playing GTA, I would’ve spent most of my time sticking my head out of the window and enjoying the wind.
After playing the game for well over 100 hours, I have to admit that the long drives at the beginning of each mission did get a bit old; by that time I’d driven (or been driven) back and forth across the state of San Andreas so many times, I knew all the roads, rest stops and convenience stores, the places where I could stock up on ammo, body armour and chocolate bars. More than that, the game’s idiosyncracies and its community of hackers bent on ruining your session had begun to grate. I don’t play GTA V much any more – but I still have very fond memories of those moments before the carnage and mayhem starts: looking out the window during long drives and enjoying the scenery, from the neon-lit skyscrapers of the business district of Los Santos to the wind farms bordering Senora Freeway and the dusty roads of Sandy Shores.
The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.