Doug Zeigler on the excitement surrounding the release of “Grand Theft Auto 5” and all the games he waited in midnight lines for in the past.
Standing in a line with mishmash of humanity: next to me, two teenagers in skater clothes. A few people behind me, a tired looking grandfather. Further up the line, a mother and her daughter, who looks to be no older that 10 or 11. A group of four frat boys, talking loudly about how drunk they were last night. A couple of gaunt looking kids in black alt-rock, flavor-of-the-month band t-shirts, waxing poetic about the sick looking graphics they saw online. A smattering of 30- and 40-something guys.
What are we all in line for, this unlikely collection of souls? A midnight release of a video game. Some of these folks are there to pick up the game for loved ones. The majority, though, are there to pick up this game that they have been waiting months for. We’ve watched trailers, scoured the web for online game play clips, followed every rabbit hole that could lead to some small tidbit information we didn’t know, discussed rumored character developments and weapons and maps. To many of us, it borders on an obsession.
Why do we do all this? That answer is multi-faceted: community and escapism. Games are almost always equipped to be played online. With games pushing the boundaries of what can be done and experienced, you can escape the mundane…but you can do it with friends. Communal escapism, if you will. It’s sharing these grand missions with your buddies, many times against complete strangers who are sharing that same mission with their friends but experiencing it in a completely different way. Whether it’s waging a bitter fight against foes in a World War II setting or guarding the earth against an alien scourge or exploring the vastness of fantastical kingdoms, gamers do all of this to break away from everyday life but remain tethered by their friends. It is a modern community, everywhere and anywhere there’s an internet connection or cell phone signal.
“Grand Theft Auto V” is set to break all sorts of records for sales on its first day this week. I’ve actually been a part of a few of the previous record holders: “Call of Duty: Black Ops”, “Halo: Reach” and “Gears of War 2”. With each of those I was standing in a line late at night, waiting with my gaming brethren for midnight to come so we can get that game we’ve been waiting so long for and race home to play as much as we can before we have to sign off to get at least a few hours sleep before work or school. GTA V will no doubt be played well into the wee hours of the morning when it’s released.
The appeal of the GTA franchise has always been is compelling anti-heroes and sprawling sandbox environments, seemingly limitless nooks and crannies to explore across miles and miles of virtual terrain. Grand Theft Auto also is considered a pioneer in the video game world for bringing in high profile actors to lend their voices to characters in the game. Some of the bigger names are Ray Liotta, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, James Woods, and even the Lord of Famous Geeks, Wil Wheaton. They excel at making the bad guy seem likeable, which is the product of great writing, superb acting and having the world immerse you. You can actually envision yourself as the character even though he is making awful decisions. How do you make a gangster empathetic? GTA doesn’t answer that for you; it compels you to that empathy for that “Good guy in a bad situation” character to the point that you begin to transpose your morals onto this virtual thug in the hopes of making him better.
Another component Grand Theft Auto does exceedingly well is pairing the music with the era that version is taking place in. Vice City was set in 1980’s Miami with a clear nod to Miami Vice. You had to spend most of your time getting places in a car. In each car you could choose a radio station that had a ton of oddball and mainstream 80’s songs. San Andreas was based in 1990’s LA, but expanded into Las Vegas. It was rife with hardcore gangster rap to fit the lead character who was from what would have been the real life equivalent to Compton. This latest version is also set in LA, but in modern times. I’m curious to see what direction this goes, musically. Although if it goes the route of Taylor Swift, I may have to stop playing the franchise altogether. Even I have my limits and my pride.
So, starting today, a bunch people are going to plunk down around $60 to get away from their normal life to embed their minds and hands into the story of good hearted baddies with other people who want to do the same. It’s an online community which people enjoy together and feel like they belong. Who cares if it’s real or not?