What GTA V Gets Right (And Wrong) About The Real World

What GTA V Gets Right (And Wrong) About The Real World

Grand Theft Auto V is a game caught between two distinct impulses: it wants to be real but needs to be fake, too.

In his newest Errant Signal video, Chris Franklin takes a look at how Los Santos is constructed both as a place meant to closely mimic reality and as a virtual space meant to support over-the-top gameplay:

“You know how a 3D model can look great in screenshots and horrible in motion? Grand Theft Auto V looks gorgeous in motion but terrible when pretty much interacted with in any way.”

“It is at once a stunning recreation of modern Americana and a collection of poop and sex jokes that remove any gravitas that the game might have otherwise had.”

Part of the dissonance Franklin finds in GTA V is owed to the game’s design and tonal approaches. It needs action, laughs and drama to happen frequently — justifying its own existence in a sense — which undercuts any instances where moments of wonder or cultural commentary seem to happen organically. It’s a game that made up of a lot of well-crafted things but Franklin ultimately finds GTA V could be so much more.


  • I just wish Rockstar will hurry up and announce if the PC version is delayed or not, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to be delayed until either late February or early March.

  • I dunno, I can happily just stroll around Los Santos and watch people going by and look at what’s put where. It doesn’t need action on every street corner at all

  • I always enjoy the Errant Signal videos, probably the most high-brow analysis of games I’ve seen.
    I haven’t played GTAV, but that’s because I gave up on the GTA series a long time ago largely because of what he spends a lot of time hightlighting here – that they’re making a whole lot of stuff, but not giving any of it purpose.
    GTAV is a game with a ludicrous budget. An insane number of hours went into making all these magnificent places and content, but not enough time was spent putting things into context.

    The game seems to frequently be aiming for satire, but lacks a straight man or a punchline to accenctuate it or comment on it. Ultimately this leads to it coming across less like satire and more like mimicry, it presents and references things but doesn’t say anything meaningful about them. It ends up less like South Park and more like Epic Movie.

    All this isn’t to say GTAV is bad, simply that it could be so much more if they’d decided to let things have a point.

  • GTAV is not perfect. The story is very thin. But they hope that the sandbox nature of the game makes up for it. It is fun to play. I agree with a lot of what was talked about in the video. I feel that they make good set ups in some missions. But they fail to deliver. GTAV will be the last GTA game I’ll play.

  • The video makes some valid criticisms. Most of which have been made before. The point about GTAV’s problems with female characters, in particular. It’s very valid, and I suspect GTA6, when it happens, will move to try and address that.

    But I think Chris Franklin is missing the point. Yes, he’s right; GTAV’s attempts at satire are way over the top. It’s not subtle, and *that’s* the point. It doesn’t want to be subtle.

    It does OTT satire for several reasons, I think. First, GTA has never been about subtelty. Even way back when the series was a top down driving sim, it was a world where you could run over pedestrians, usually without fear, and get into shootouts with police all in the name of making money.

    Over the course of the series, GTA has kept that core game play element and evolved that idea of making money into a statement about capitalism and its hold on America. In a sense, Rockstar is saying that actual American culture is about making money and fu***ng people over, at all costs (be it taking someones job, property, dignity or life). That capitalism has taken such a hold over the American way of life that it permeates to it’s art, it’s social interactions and, of course, it’s criminal element. Again, none of this is subtle, but Rockstar is purposefully not going for subtle.

    Another reason they probably don’t want subtlety is a defense mechanism. In a world where Target will stop selling GTAV because the internet demanded it, Rockstar needs to be able to say “Look, our game is crazy. It may look like a real world, and you can do almost anything you want in it, but the game is so OTT that it would be hard for anyone to think that it’s actually real, or that it matters.” They can say this when Target stops selling it, when little Johnny is caught by jis mum visiting the game’s strip club, or when the day comes that someone does something horrific with a gun in the real world, cites GTAV as the reason, and FOX News comes knocking with pitchforks.

    In fact, Chris Franklin says in the video he loves Saints Row IV. I do too. But I think both games are OTT, and I think they’re more alike that Chris Franklin might care to realise.

    But it’s worth noting that there is some subtlety in GTAV, which the video acknowledged. One such instance it missed, which is my favorite, is of the three main characters, it’s Franklin who is probably the most moral of them all. While Michael and Trevor don’t bat an eyelid killing people or whatever, Franklin doesn’t want to do it, but does as a means to survive. At the start of the game, he’s against kidnapping, and drugs, but gets involved with it because of the company he keeps (namely Lamar, who he clearly has some contempt for). Franklin helps people because he can and wants to, and is working a relatively ‘honest’ job that he hates because it involves a shady element. He wants to get ahead, but as Lamar points out during one of the story missions, the “9 to 5” isn’t going to get Franklin ahead. So the only way to do so is to embrace the culture of the fictional world of Los Santos…

    … which goes right back to to the statement on capitalism, Franklin is the ultimate personification of GTAVs satire on the topic and indeed, the American dream. The honest African-American is ensnared and corrupted by capitalism. In the end he becomes a (relatively) honest, successful criminal. Whereas Trevor and Michael are still as corrupt and untrustworthy as they were at the beginning. There’s statements in Franklin’s journey on race, on culture, on capitalism and what the world (and indeed, the player) makes of people within it. It can be unwrapped, and examined in a multitude of ways.

    Or you can just shoot things and run people over. That’s there too. Which leads me to the criticism the video makes about the story being ill defined which is, again, a valid one. You could argue, however, that GTAV and its amazing open world aren’t about the story. The story exists, and you can play through it if that’s your thing. But the world GTAV gives us is the very definition of a digital playground. Some of the best moments in the game come when you DON’T play the story, and just explore the world doing whatever.

    Indeed, I’d go so far as to say if Chris Franklin has such an issue with the “message” the game is trying to impart, he may enjoy the game much more if he avoided the story and its OTT satire all together. He could turn off the in-game radio, never watch the in-game TV and then he’d be exposed to almost none of it, bar some of the bill boards and dick jokes.

    tl;dr version: GTAV has problems but it’s MEANT to be OTT satire for a number of reasons, and I think this video misses the point in that regard.

  • I feel like people need to stop assuming they entirely understand a craft before they start lumping definition upon the experiences of individuals. It’s my belief that humour and horror are the most insanely misunderstood conventions in all of media, people are almost always of the opinion that humour undermines drama ( which is why comedies rarely win Oscars) and that horror should not be “enjoyable”. I obviously don’t agree with any of these points because it requires both to be simplified to an almost microscopic degree in order for any of these generalisations to work. Player agency and mechanics as metaphor play an integral role in storytelling in gaming, no one can argue this but everyone seems to omit it when it damages or complicates their position on the matter. I’m not saying there aren’t criticisms with GTA V and ones highlighted in the video, however, something about calling this “wrong” really unsettles me. I don’t like the idea that creative works are no longer allowed to be confronting unless it favours specific ideals. Now, I might dislike or disagree with what doesn’t fit with my ideals, I might even be angered by it but at no point will I have the arrogance or self indulgence to assume I know enough about what an artist is saying (without dismissing half of the discourse) to emphatically state that they are wrong in their craft, their story and the underlying issue. I don’t assume this of game developers because that’s like assuming all girls are “fake gamer girls”, it’s just stupid.

    In GTA V, I’m sure I hear the humour as being one of the most polarizing parts of the game. Humour in itself is polarizing but it’s also entirely clear that many people who hate it, find a general difficulty in empathizing with perspectives that don’t suit their own. When they’re criticising humour, it’s almost like a badge of honour that they refuse to empathise with an alternate perspective. If I acted like this after I saw Trainspotting I’d be telling you what an awful film it is for promoting heroin use because I didn’t or even attempt to understand the damn perspective the film was taking. It’s the same here. People can label anything meaningless but it doesn’t make it so. Meaning is up to the reader/viewer/player, it extends way past exposition and through your choices and perspective no amount of ignorant dismissal or convenient omission can change that. Games will mean more once we stop pretending our discourse is good enough.

  • He asks the why, but didn’t really answer it like i see it.

    Why? Because it’s been designed to sell to as many people (read: gamers) as possible.

    A lot of gamers don’t like their games getting serious on them. That’s why every time GTAV looks like it’s going serious, there’s a punchline to get itself out of it. The only people this detracts are the people that like to heavily analyze things, like this guy.

  • This bloke is a real whinge.

    Theres always someone who takes things way to seriously.

    This fella is over analyzing it. Its not trying to be the funny that he wants or expects. The problem isnt with the execution of the humor, its his own preconceived idea that it would be his type of humor thats the problem.

  • It’s not too different from South Park, where they address and poke fun at both sides of the coin, except it’s tackling all of them at once. If this game was designed with an agenda, you would have even more lobbyists all over it. The idea is to skirt the themes just shy of being outright offensive, just like they’ve danced the line of being rated, or banned.

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