Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stomach Flu And Grand Theft Auto

How do stomach flu and GTA go together? They don't. However this week I've been dying from the stomach flu. (And by the way, screw you guys for not coming to kill me and put me out of my misery. If you were real friends you'd kill me out of mercy) I'm at about 65-70% now but still not feeling too great.

In other news, I was lying around being a total nerd while sick and trying to come up with ways to make my MacBookPro faster because it's seemed sluggish lately so I DL'ed a few things. While cleaning up my HD I found a few things I'll most likely be re-posting (some of them are VERY old posts from the beginning of this blog. Like 3 years ago.) or else posting for the first time, like today's post.

In my last semester of undergrad about 2.5 years ago, I was told in my Rhetorical Theory class to write an ideological criticism paper and then present it to the class. I decided to write it about Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Yes, I really did. I chose it because I was playing it at the time, and also because I didn't feel like writing about anything else. For your information this last semester of mine in grad school I also wrote about Tetris. So there.

Anyway, here's my paper. For those of you that think I'm slamming violent video games, THINK AGAIN. (And l2reading comprehension while you're at it, noob)

PS. I also wrote this in an hour. LOL. Yes, I'm a procrastinator.

GTA: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was one of the most hotly anticipated video games late last year by ardent gamers everywhere. The fifth release in the franchise, it was so anticipated because fans of the game had been waiting two years for its release, since the previous release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. What with the nature of technology, it was assumed and predicted that San Andreas would prove to be a far better game and provide more fun and better game play than it’s predecessors. Thus far it has been far from a disappointment, and overall it seems that fans of the franchise heartily approve of the game.

All of the games in the franchise have been distinguished by the brutality and violence in the game, the ruthlessness of the characters, and by the amount of gratuitous violence and bloodshed in the game. This game is certainly no exception. The game’s plot is set in 1992, in the ghettos of Los Santos, a copy of Los Angeles. The temporal setting seems to be perfect for the theme, since that was a time of extreme racial tension and distrust of the police in the Los Angeles area. The plot of the game is very similar to the movies of John Singleton and Spike Lee in this time period – about the difficulties of living in the hood.

I believe that the exigence of the artifact is society’s obsession with consumerism and capitalism, and it is my intention to utilize ideological criticism to reveal the latent ideologies in the artifact. The rhetorical functions of the artifact are numerous. The game illustrates many ideologies that are evident and manifest, just by looking at an advertisement or a screenshot of the game. The first of these would be racism, which exists both between the police officers in the game and between the different minorities in the game. The next would be classism, which is displayed by the different characters in the game, and even by the creators of the game in displaying the lower class as criminals. Sexism is rampant in this game for both men and women. All the men are defined as being masculine if they can do these three things: kill or physically hurt someone, have sex with a prostitute, or work out maniacally at the gym. As must be completely obvious, the game also shows society’s anesthetization of the horror of physical violence. The latent ideologies are consumerism and capitalism, which are pervasive all throughout the game, in subtle ways that the player won’t really think deeply about, which is what makes them dangerously insidious.

This artifact is extremely significant because of the game’s huge fan base, the popularity of the franchise is extreme, and millions of children, teenagers, and plenty of grown men have played all the games in the franchise and are faithful followers of the entire franchise. It appears that this game is the most popular in the series thus far. It is representative of other facts because of the other Grand Theft Auto games, and there have been many copycat style games since the first GTA was released.

In conclusion, although the ideologies of capitalism and consumerism were not manifest in the artifact, with careful analysis and thought, these latent ideologies surfaced, often in surprising ways. I have played all of the games in this franchise myself, and although this game is very similar in almost all its aspects to the other games in the series, it was also the first time that the character was “customizable” in terms of clothing, jewelry and other accoutrements. Not surprisingly, this aspect of the game was one of the most anticipated aspects. So many people I know that were eagerly waiting for the game would say things like, “Ooh, you can buy clothes and shoes, and jewelry just like in real life!” Just the fact that the players of the game would get excited about being able to BUY things other than the usual (weapons/guns or ammunition) says a lot about the exigence of the artifact.

Now is the time in our society when consumerism seems to be at an all time high, which leads to the question of whether or not the artifact was appropriate. It certainly seems to be an appropriate artifact for the time. It was well received by its fans, and did not seem to make an impression on the conservatives and the media, as the first Grand heft Auto did. The game also addresses issues and situations that are still a problem in our society (not just in 1992, the time period in which the game was set), by which I mean the surface ideologies explained earlier.

As to whether or not the artifact is effective, I can say with certainty that it was effective in reaching its audience and having a widespread impact on its demographic. Although the game was released about 7 months ago, it still remains one of the top games played by the demographic. In regards to whether or not the game is rhetorically effective and appropriate, I have to say that I think that if someone wanted to send a message about today’s society, they could certainly choose a better vehicle for their message than a video game. Although many critics have speculated that the ultra extreme violence in the game is satirical and ironic in nature, it seems to me that the message seems to be a bit lost in this particular medium.

After beginning this criticism, I was examining other games in the genre and realized that they too had many of the same ideologies contained within them. An extremely popular game called “Def Jam Vendetta” that was released after this game was brought the ideology of consumerism much closer to the surface than this game did, and that particular artifact I think would also benefit from an ideological criticism, as well as many other games of this nature. I would like to believe that this sort of criticism contributes to rhetorical theory in general because it always seems to be that when video games are analyzed or criticized, it always seems to be done by someone who has no knowledge of the game and does not desire to, and instead makes assumptions about it and about anyone who enjoys it or has ever played it. I also believe that society in general would benefit from more ideological criticisms of video games because it would bring to light all of the latent attitudes and beliefs that these artifacts are trying to induce. People could become more aware of when they’re trying to be persuaded to think a certain way. And while critics and fans of the game have talked about its morals and values, they nonetheless seem to have a tendency to focus on the surface ideologies manifest in the game, but are so much a part of consumer culture, that they do not recognize the latent ideologies of consumerism and capitalism that can be found in it as well, in equal amounts as the other ideologies, although they are less obvious. And as much as everyone rants and raves about the racism, sexism, and violence, perpetuated in it for today’s youth to see, it is certainly seems important to take a serious focused look at all the things that you don’t see.


  1. Interesting Read.

    I admit, I have played through each of the GTA games starting from III multiple times.

    I like how you pointed out the consumerism aspect of the game.

    Good write up.

  2. @Pago: Thank you, sir! Its funny, I played all of the franchise too, as I mentioned but I never thought about any of the themes I actually wrote about until I had to write this paper. Still, I don't care what anyone says, regular mainstream advertising is worse than porn + video games + hip hop music X 9k1 in terms of fucking up our society.