Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Grand Theft Auto V Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Critics have already voiced their dismay over the violent types of play enabled by the Grand Theft Auto games, but behind that criticism lies a selective memory of the idea of play. We forget that play is cruel. Left unsupervised, children are just as likely to maim cats with firecrackers as build forts out of cushions.

Grand Theft Auto V is the most elaborate playground for consequence-free cruelty ever devised, and appropriately takes place in Los Angeles, or a collage of its landscape remixed for short attention spans. But the illusion is shockingly convincing – so much so, in fact, that if you live in Los Angeles, playing the game may seem like speeding through a lucid dream. And when you put down the controller and get back into your real car, don’t be surprised if you experience waves of déjà vu and the strange urge to accelerate onto the sidewalk.

This sensation of persistent unreality is just a tech demo of our inexorable future. Video games are merely symptoms of our desire to live in simpler worlds, and if a developer can construct a simulation of a major American city with such fidelity in only five years – albeit at great cost and with the tedious dedication of a medieval monk – what hope is left for reality? Just as Grand Theft Auto discards useless stretches of real geography, it also cuts away at the excess fabric of life’s experiences: work, traffic, conscience, love, death.

It’s not surprising that the game has provoked an existential crisis in some reviewers, although this, too, is a case of selective memory. If the simulation seems to lack meaning, it is due only to excessive fidelity to the original.

Maybe they’ll fix that in the next version.