Irony is very ripe for the picking throughout my life in nearly all of my experiences. I had no idea what GTA was or that it even existed until I attended the United Men’s Christian Conference (2002) at Calvin College. The conference itself is an open forum on how Christian men can stick to their values throughout their lives.
Yes, it is here that I saw my first hooker being beat. I don’t remember who did it but someone snuck a Playstation 2 to the conference, it was the first time that I’d ever seen one in person. I ignored what was on the screen cause it looked like a really stupid silent movie (my thoughts at the time). After a few minutes I realized that it was a game, a game much more realistic than the Mario Kart and Goldeneye titles that I was used to playing. It was amazing to see such realism and freedom in a game. The player could pick any car, drive anywhere, listen to real sounding radio stations and take on all sorts of jobs or randomosity.
One moment you’re essentially working for the mob and the next you’re performing favors for a demolitions expert or recovering your health. In fact, recovering health was what captured my attention the most. You still had the body armor and heart power-ups from normal video games but you also had whores. Bold, ugly, cheap whores. Watching your health increase while a car rocks sounds a bit dull. Imagine that you’re a 14 year-old male that has had a girlfriend for about a month or two, it’s slightly more interesting due to the sex factor. Add the realism, or really the expansion of gaming possibility to the mix and you can understand why I and about 20-30 other guys were all captive in watching a GTA 3 play session. The player got out of the car, switched to a bat and beat the women until she was drowning in red and took back the money he spent on her.
It didn’t register that this act of violence in game was a reprehensible thing to do. Nope. It was the fact that you spent money in game and were able to take it back from a character after you “defeated” it. It showed previously unknown persistence in the coherency of a game world. In the rpg Final Fantasy VII, you never received anything back that was stolen from you by a character named Yuffie Kisaragi. You could defeat her and she’d trick you. You could get her to join your party and you would get nothing back. The closest you ever came to getting anything back that was lost in a game was Mario’s cap in Super Mario 64. The greatest freedom I had experienced in gaming at that point was the world of Hyrule in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the land of Johto in Pokemon Silver.
I didn’t feel guilty about watching this at the conference. The moral implications were greatly drowned by the expansion of a world. An abstract yet definable world of gaming. I was getting lost in Liberty City almost as much as I was getting lost in discussions of marriage and Star Wars (yes, one of the speakers actually referenced Star Wars. I’ll save that for another post!). Shaq was on the radio promoting Burger King with Shaq Packs. I was still a kid, those Shaq Packs were good even if they were bad because of the Shaft-style music.