I’ve missed my last few posts, in no small part due to the recent release of Grand Theft Auto 5, an outstanding game that has basically occupied every spare moment of my life for about a week or so. Now that I’ve finished the main story, I feel like some reflection is in order.
I’ve been playing video games as a hobby almost my entire life, but it wasn’t until the last few years, when I really started nailing down my beliefs on politics and philosophy, that I started to look for various messages and subtle influences in them. As a whole, I think video games are surprisingly tolerant of libertarian themes and ideas, at least compared to more traditional media such as popular films, books, and television. This is probably in no small part due to the fact that games are more popular among younger folks, who not only more receptive to libertarian ideas themselves, but who are now becoming head writers and game designers.
Before I continue with my small criticism of some propaganda in GTA5, I want to state very clearly: I am not suggesting that this game, as a whole, is pro-state or anti-libertarian or any such thing. For the most part, as far as the main storyline is concerned, the government is portrayed in a very negative light. You meet several characters who are government agents of various types, and they range from “corrupt and useless” to “evil genius masterminds who will literally blow up the world if it increases their funding.” From a practical/gameplay perspective, the police are generally a roadblock to your ability to get things done. They are in the way, an obstacle to be overcome.
All that aside, there is one little aspect of this game that I find somewhat hilarious, and I’m a little confused as to exactly why it’s there, and that would be the game’s handling of drunk driving. Much like in its predecessor, in this game, your character can call up one of his friends to “hang out” and engage in various activities. One of the available activities is going to a bar for drinks. You drive to the bar, the screen fades to black, and then the game resumes (presumably several hours later) with you and your friend stumbling out of the bar in a drunken stupor. Your car is conveniently parked right in front of the bar where you left it. So you hop in, to drive your friend home. To simulate your drunkenness, the screen becomes blurry and the car randomly swerves a bit. And sure enough, the local police take notice, and you receive a one-star wanted level, meaning that the police are actively searching for you, and you must evade them in order to avoid being sent to prison.
Seems realistic enough, right? Drunk driving is bad, if you’re really drunk the cops will notice, and they’ll come after you and arrest you. Just like in real life. Those of you who have played the Grand Theft Auto franchise may be able to anticipate where I’m going with this. This particular interaction happens to be virtually the only time in which the police in GTA approximate real life. In GTA games, you can commit all kinds of heinous acts, up to and including murder, and unless you commit them directly in front of a police officer, they don’t seem to care. The following is a very brief and incomplete list of some of the things you can do that are less likely to result in the police coming after you than drunk driving:
Using a fully automatic machine gun to carjack someone
Running over a group of pedestrians and speeding away
Beating an old lady to death and stomping on her corpse a few times for good measure
Driving well over the speed limit on the wrong side of the freeway
Running every single red light you come across (in fact, the game expects you to ignore all traffic signals, if you actually stop at a red light, other cars treat this as you unnecessarily holding up traffic and your passengers will question why you’re stopped)
Blowing up a few cars (occupied, of course) with a rocket launcher
Given that all of these activities are quite unlikely to upset the local police, you’ll have to excuse me for questioning why drunk driving immediately gets their undivided attention. It’s pretty much the only thing you can do in a car, other than repeatedly mowing down multiple pedestrians, that the police will pay attention to. Traffic signals, speed limits, street directions, hit and runs, multi-car pileups, randomly making a high-speed u-turn in the middle of traffic. All of this goes ignored, but have some beers and jump in a car and all of a sudden you’re the department’s top priority.
So, the question becomes, why would they bother with this? Has MAAD propaganda gotten to them? Are they worried that, in a game that requires you to engage in the murder of literally hundreds of people, allowing you to drive drunk might be sending the wrong message to children or something? The entire thing seems very odd to me. I honestly don’t have a good answer for this one and would love to hear your thoughts/suggestions. What is it that makes drunk driving so especially egregious in the minds of Rockstar, that its virtual police prosecute it more urgently than murder?