During the era of Grand Theft Auto IV, which takes place in a fictional representation of New York City, I moved to the real New York City. Fellow-blogger Jeff and I had fun driving through pixellated Times Square and lobbing grenades at innocent people. It was fascinating how much locations looked like the real-life counterparts I was seeing in person even when they weren’t labeled, like the Court Square Diner. I would order in from Court Square on weekend mornings, and had a good turkey club there with Jeff and our friend Shawn before exploring the fine wares at a nearby dildo purveyor. I never lobbed grenades at Court Square Diner, nor attacked it in the game either.
Today is the release date for Grand Theft Auto V, which takes place in Southern California, and I am a few months away from moving to Southern California. My life, it seems, follows the trajectory of Grand Theft Auto. The series, though, is marred by a controversial history: anti-video-game politicians have consistently used it as an example of poor-morals entertainment due to its violence, and one nugget that never fails to come up in alarmist detractors’ accusations of gross misogyny is the fact that prostitutes can be hired in-game, and also killed.
Today I have the dubious honor of defending that game element from misogynistic charges.
Several months ago I was forced to shoot my best friend and this got me thinking. I was playing the game Black Ops II from the series Call of Duty and this is not a series known for its meaningful player choices or deep story: in fact, it’s ridiculed as the opposite. I assumed, therefore, when the bad guys brokered a deal where I would shoot the evil terrorist from long range while he was tied up and gagged with a shroud over his head, that I had no choice but to comply. The problem was (spoiler here), I have an IQ, so I’d already figured out that it wasn’t really the terrorist leader I would shoot. It was my in-game character’s best friend under the shroud.
My students (High School Sophomores, who love Call of Duty’s lack of meaning and shallowness) informed me that a player can shoot for the leg, saving the friend’s life. That interactivity in the narrative got me thinking. There are excellent, well-written games out there where player choices influence the story . What if there was a game where player knowledge influenced the story? Continue reading →