Virtual Real-cities

It’s amazing how realistically video games can portray cities these days. These cities have seemingly endless streets filled with cars and pedestrians with block after block of shops, houses, and skyscrapers; and these games allow you the freedom to explore those virtual cities. Perhaps the best example of the virtual representations of cities in video games and how they compare to our real cities is Rockstar Games’ extremely popular franchise Grand Theft Auto.

The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) franchise is a series of games that explore similar themes that take place in different cities around the U.S. GTA III takes place in the fictitious “Liberty City” which was molded after New York City; Liberty City is also the setting for a couple of their other games too including GTA IV. The setting of Vice City is modeled after 1980’s Miami and San Andreas is modeled after three different cities Los Angeles (Los Santos), San Francisco (San Fierro), and Las Vegas (Las Venturas).

As can probably be interpreted from the title Grand Theft Auto the theme of each game is centered mostly about crime (committing crime, not preventing it). The cities that these games recreate provide the backdrops for the violence and criminal activity that occurs throughout the games. As a result of the sociopathic nature of the games cities are portrayed as dangerous and corrupt places. However for the same reason the cities become like a playground and more exciting to explore.

The best thing about these games, for me at least, isn’t the necessarily the plot-lines and missions, but just driving around aimlessly and exploring the cities (typically with a three star wanted level and a trail of cop cars behind). The games actually encourage players to explore the cities, there are all kinds of side missions to complete and hidden packages to find that are hidden in all corners of the cities. In San Andreas one of the side missions requires the main character to tag his gang’s sign in graffiti over the signs of rival gangs.

GTA also allows players to experience the cities from both the street level perspective and the bird’s-eye perspective. The entire game is played on street-level with the pedestrians and cars but in most of the games players are able to fly various kinds of aircrafts that allow for a nice arial view of the city– which is best from a parachute.

These game are notorious, not only for the graphic nature and violent material featured in the game but, the game’s portrayal of women. It becomes clear that the targeted demographic of the GTA games is predominately men because there are very few female roles and character development within the stories and (possibly the biggest reason) because in the games there is rampant prostitution plaguing the streets of the inner cities (prostitutes who can actually be paid for their services); this for obvious reasons reminded me of Walkowitz.








Filed under City Cultures

2 responses to “Virtual Real-cities

  1. I’m so glad that you wrote about video game cities. They are an example of what Jean Baudrillard calls a “simulacrum,” a simulation of something that takes on a life of its own and sort of replaces the reality it’s imitating. I find it really interesting that you like the exploration and side-missions more than the narrative of the game. Why do you think that is the case? Do you think that wandering around a sandbox game makes the gamer a kind of flaneur?

  2. It’s interesting to see how the portrayals of cities in video games has evolved along with technology. Sim City was one of the first games that I’m aware of, and it dealt with the city from a bird’s eye view and positioned the player as a city planner/mayor. As technology improved, sim games allowed for more intimate experiences. Games like the Sims allow players to visit homes and cities and interact with other characters, observe personality types (a la the flaneur), and create structures. However, driving and shooting have always been major factors in the gaming world, and for this reason it is unsurprising that the GTA series is one of the most popular. Driving and shooting weapons in GTA creates a feeling of autonomy and power that can out be addictive.

    I know that the guns and prostitutes are one of the main attractions of the game, but I remember my little brother getting a kick out of driving around and following all of the posted.
    Different strokes. I suppose.

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