‘Grand Theft Auto Taught Me To Drive’

Several days ago, a woman named Lucia emailed me to tell me the positive impact Grand Theft Auto IV had on her life. The game helped make her “a strong, independent black woman,” she told me. Hers was not the kind of e-mail you get every day, certainly not about a game like Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto. UPDATED: HOAX.

UPDATE 5/12/2014: This story appears to have been based on a hoax that was intended to trick us into publishing a false article. An indie developer said as much online last night and in a subsequent email to me, saying that he and a friend decided to play a "harmless" prank to see which of the emails they sent to Kotaku in the Q2 2013 would result in a story.

I should have known something was up when the person who contacted me with their driving anecdotes declined to share a photo of their driver's licence. They said it was out of fear of a racist reaction if the photo was made public. That should have been a red flag. Instead, in my interest in highlighting a positive gamer experience involving an oft-criticised game, I didn't vet this person's story with the rigour I do with anonymous sources for more weighty stories. I messed up.

How frustrating! A win for hoaxers. My apologies to our readers.

The original story is below.

Lucia credits GTA IV with teaching her to drive. This is no small thing. She told me that it helped her in ways her father and her friends could not. She'd been a 22-year-old in Miami who couldn’t get where she needed to go without begging a friend for a ride. The game had helped turn her into someone who could steer down her own path. She was serious about this.

We often hear about the bad influence a GTA game may have on someone. Lucia was flipping that on its head.

Lucia reached out to me because she had read a preview I’d written about Rockstar's next game, GTA V. I think Rockstar’s pledge to improve its series’ driving physics in the Los Angeles/Los Santos-based sequel, caught her eye.

“I feel like Rockstar gets undo criticism for the vehicle physics and the ‘traffic jamminess’ of the world of Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV,” she wrote to me. She had liked that in the 2008 game. “I appreciated a vehicle with a bit of heft and weight to it, as it prepped me to be aware of my surroundings and treat the car as an extension of myself.”

She recalled her in-gaming driving and the good habits it ingrained in her: “Waiting for a traffic light to turn green, pulling to a stop at intersections even when there was no light in Alderny, staying to the left and slowing for toll booths... It gives you a deeper appreciation for what Rockstar pulled off in creating a living, breathing world with traffic restrictions most players may choose to ignore.”

Lucia correctly anticipated my scepticism that this really helped her in real life. Driving in a video game is nice and all, but it can teach you to drive for real?

I, for one, remember needing to drive an actual car with a drivers’ ed guy sitting next to me, constantly whispering “slow, please, sloooooow.” That was a while ago. I can’t believe I remember that, but I guess learning to drive really is a big deal when it happens, when you can finally make it official.

“GTA really liberated me by giving me an environment where I was free to screw up.

“Let's slow down for a minute and go back to the beginning,” Lucia wrote. “Yes, I read the test-primer manuals online. I filled in the bubbles and got my learner's permit. But I couldn't be in a vehicle at all hours. There wasn't always a course available, and I couldn't always convince a friend or family member to give me lessons.

“This is where Grand Theft Auto IV — yes, a video game — filled in the gaps. Virtual practice for real world driving, and I feel it really helped me get up my confidence.”

Lucia told me that she started learning to drive when she was 22.

“I felt driver's ed was a waste of time,” she wrote. “Instead , I took a computer programming class, thinking my father would teach me. Unfortunately my father — an otherwise patient man — turned out to be very demanding and reckless when teaching me how to drive (he took me on the highway my first time out!), and made the experience so nerve-wracking I stopped trying with him. Instead, my boyfriend gave me lessons at the parking lot of Miami Dade community college.”

OK, so we have to give Lucia’s boyfriend some of the credit.

But GTA gets its due, too: “GTA really liberated me by giving me an environment where I was free to screw up while I went over the rules in my driver's manual.”

At the age of 23 she got her licence. “I felt at ease during the road test... thanks to my bf, and, of course, the more than reckless baddies of GTA IV.”

Lucia drives a ’97 Honda Accord these days. “I had it repainted dark green like Cal Poly, where I hope I end up,” she told me. “Maybe not Los Santos, but close to it!”

I loved Lucia's story. It reminded me how empowering it is when we transition from being kids to adults, when something like not being able to drive to having a licence gives us the kind of sudden, definite life upgrade many of us gamers love to experience virtually in the things we play. Getting a licence is a huge deal. It opens a world to us. I think Lucia agrees.

“Thanks to Grand Theft Auto IV,” she wrote, with a fan’s enthusiasm, “I am now a strong, independent black woman.”


    It taught me to drive too. I seriously don't understand the looks I get when I reverse over hookers to get my money back in the Valley though...

      I learnt to drive on gta3 on ps2 but now everytime I turn around - all the cars are different :-(

      K, not taking a shot at you smurf ), and I'm certainly not going to go all Pat Hernandez on you (because no one deserves that!), but nothing gives me the shits more than people, particularly kids, bang on about banging a hooker and then killing her for the money, especially in those shitty videos on YT hosted by punk brats. I don't think 'psychos', I think more like "Dude, there's a multitude of ways to make money in higher quantities, much faster than killing a hooker, you tightarse."

      Personally, my fave method was simply aiming a gun at someone in GTA III and every now and again seeing someone just drop so much cash that they were suddenly standing in a sea of green. I have a shit tonne of cash and no blood on my hands. Bam, like a pro!

      (And yes, I understand the irony of banging on about taking the moral high road whilst mugging someone in GTA! :p)

        it was never about making money, it was about getting free health.

          I wish I could get health through a blowjob like GTA. I'd get over my lingering calf injury in no time with a smile to boot. :D

    I liked the GTA4 driving physics too. The first 15 minutes were a bit of a steep learning curve but after that it was fine. I cant drive either so maybe the driving is only enjoyable for non drivers??

    I actually tried to drive properly and obey road rules in GTA3, but gave up pretty quickly when people were honking me for waiting at a red light.
    Or the mafia were shooting me :/

    This is a joke right? What a crock.

    The actual physics in GTA 4 where anything but real and that was the problem, the cars handled like cement blocks on wheels. Hell even the best cars in that game were on par with my then POS car literally made in 1990. It couldn't even park in 80% of car park spots because its turning circle was worse than that of a small bus.

    The whole article is nonsense. Its evident that driving with her farther made he a nervous wreck, then boyfriend comes along and teaches her how to drive without throwing her in the deep end, she goes on to get her license the end.

    Why did i read this trollop in the first place is beyond me,

    Last edited 14/05/13 3:01 pm

      No, you read that somewhere and now you are repeating it. No one here thinnks you are cool for saying it.


      A woman perceived as sexually disreputable or promiscuous.
      strumpet - harlot - streetwalker - slattern - drab - moll

      I think the word you were looking for is Tripe

      Last edited 14/05/13 4:23 pm

        Or maybe he REALLY dislikes Stephen Totilo?

          Hahah didn't actually know that was its "proper" meaning. Its just slang used where i grew up, used infavour of words such as tripe (never liked that word), wank, rubbish, nonsense, codswallop, bollocks and on the list goes.

          My point was this article is rubbish and reads more akin to a fox new broadcast with absurd hyperbole. I also have no idea what exactly mr brain damaged is referring too, though with a name like that its no surprise "it" speaks gibberish.

    “Thanks to Grand Theft Auto IV,” she wrote, with a fan’s enthusiasm, “I am now a strong, independent black woman.”

    So... she was a white man before she played GTA IV? *scratches head*

    Last edited 14/05/13 3:42 pm

    Waiting for a traffic light to turn green, pulling to a stop at intersections even when there was no light in Alderny, staying to the left and slowing for toll booths…
    GTA IV - you're doing it wrong

    Having the environment that allows you to screw up is useful, that's probably the biggest bonus. The traffic programming in GTA IV leaves a lot to be desired; if you queue up at lights the other drivers will try and overtake you, the roads are MUCH wider than the real world, and the scripting for traffic at intersections is just hideous.

    Most of the complaints about GTA IV's car physics melt away if you mod the game to have a speedometer in your HUD. Suddenly you realize the 'brick' complaints boil down to "NURR why can't I take this 90 degree turn at 110kph?!?"

    This isn't a joke at all.

    I was helping a friend of mine learn to reverse parallel and whilst I had the time to take her through the basics for real; I gave her the idea to practice them maneuvre in GTA (San Andreas at the time).
    Firstly to visualise what she was doing (from the 3rd person view in the game) and to get her head around the concept of how the vehicle moves (ie pivots on the rear axel etc). She could do all of this from the comfort of her own loungeroom, without the stresses of real traffic and without the expense of a driving instructor.

    She can still reverse parallel and has had her licence for years now.

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