Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Grand Theft Auto IV and double time-wastage.

I’ll tell you what I hate about Grand Theft Auto IV. Bloody nothing, that’s what. Who knew recreational murder, casual arson and amateur car theft could be such darn good fun? In all the chatter about the best of the …

Wed, Dec 30, 2009, 01:58

   

I’ll tell you what I hate about Grand Theft Auto IV. Bloody nothing, that’s what. Who knew recreational murder, casual arson and amateur car theft could be such darn good fun? In all the chatter about the best of the decade, the arrival of that gloriously amoral video game — resurrected from its top-down rudiments as Grand Theft Auto III in 2001 — has been scandalously overlooked. You didn’t get to blow up an oil refinery when reading Atonement. That bleeding Arcade Fire album offered no opportunities to slit the throats of strolling nuns. Does anybody get hacked to pieces in the average Martin McDonagh play? Erm. Okay. That’s a bad example. But, you get the point.

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Die, die, die! Oh God, I feel awful about myself. Die you motherf**ker!

If, rather than listing best plays or best films or best operas, we stopped to list best stuff of  the decade then the Grand Theft Auto series would stroll into every sensible maniac’s top five. But, here’s the issue. There is something that annoys me about GTA and it’s annoying me right now. The so-called Sandbox genre — games in which you have the freedom to wander about an imagined world randomly — has introduced a entirely new class of guilt-within-guilt to the human condition. Here’s what I mean. If you have work to accomplish — as I do this week — then, when you displace yourself into GTA and begin murdering passersby, you, quite inevitably and quite properly, feel bad about yourself. Oh, no. I’m crashing cars into buses when I should be designing cathedrals or unplugging drains (or whatever it is you do).

Meanwhile, within the game, rather than accomplishing the allotted missions, you find yourself idly firing at police helicopters or trying on new clothes in the boutique or attempting to jump motorbikes across urban ravines. “Oh Lordy,” you mumble to yourself as your wanted level creeps towards a fourth star. “I really should be delivering that package of cocaine to the  prostitute on the subway. Hang it. I’ll just slit a few more throats, try on a few more leather jackets, play a game of pool in the bar and then I’ll get round to it. I promise.”

The work doesn’t get done. The missions don’t get accomplished. But the awful mayhem continues. Two levels of guilt eat away at you ruthlessly. Even J G Ballard didn’t imagine that happening