GTA4: values at play

Mikhail FaustinGTA4, viewed strictly from a narrative, “playable movie” perspective, does offer a coherent moral worldview, one in which the bonds of kinship trumps other personal commitments. It’s not a universalist worldview but rather one tied strictly to, as Helen Haste emphasized, the conventions of a known and well-understood genre. Condemning any of the GTA games for “teaching” evil behavior would only make sense if players were unable to recognize genre play – a danger that some research suggests is both overrated but, perhaps, most possible for people who sit far outside the portrayed culture. As Helen pointed out, stories such as Hansel and Gretel convey their moral messages not because the audience confuses fantasy with reality, but they construct a system encompassing both worlds. (“The moral of the story” is abstracted from the specifics of the narrative: Hansel and Gretel doesn’t, I imagine, teach children about pushing old women into ovens!).

If GTA4’s characters take seriously their strong, maybe even stereotyped code of honor, there’s also a clash with the game’s sandbox recreation of New York City. Once the brutal edge of the Euphoria Engine wears off, Sam observed, the open-ended aspects of the game take on a cartoonish feel (Matt specifically cites South Park): running over pedestrians goes from sickening to interesting to flat-out convenient (given that the game’s physics make driving safely almost impossible). It’s another example of the game’s schizophrenia: what it tries to say departs from what you do.