I’ve never truly understood open world gaming. Why make a game that resembled all aspects of reality? Yet as I explored the universe in Grand Theft Auto 4, I was left with an impression that extended beyond the technical “wow” factor of the game.


It would be an understatement if I said, “there are a lot of reviews, thoughts and comments surrounding GTA 4 and the franchise itself”. And to be honest, there isn’t much I could say about GTA 4 that has not already been covered. But as I played the game I was left with an impression that I really did not expect.

I really enjoyed GTA 4.

Despite playing a character far removed from my reality; GTA 4 provided me a level of role-play that allowed me to enter the universe as Niko Bellic. Rockstar was clever enough to allow me limited opportunities to shape aspects of Niko in ways I felt most appealing to me and despite Niko’s shortcomings, there was an element of loyalty to his cousin that I connected with. Niko, to me, was an example of honour amongst thieves – and for that, I could forgive his shortfalls.

Instead of recklessly allowing the player to commit crimes, you are placed into a predicament that implicates you into a world of crime. Over the course of the game, I found myself drawn further into his demise.

As a player I was actively involved in the game by my occasional choices – Do I kill her/him? And from these decisions, I could see the consequence of my actions delivered in the story as potential mini-missions as well as the plot alternatives.

What gripped me more was the sarcasm that flowed throughout the game, from the obnoxious DJ on Integrity FM to the over the top characters that you meet along the way. GTA 4 provided a satirical look at the underbelly of modern life. In some ways, GTA 4 was not just a game, but also a subverted imagery on the ridiculous desires and expectations of modern society: love, fame, money and power.  As they say, there is always a level of truth in sarcasm.

Representation VS. Interpretation

Brucie is a classic example of an idiot. His over-the-top macho rants revealed an individual who was completely insecure and compensated his shortcomings with steroids (image), money (freedom) and cars (masculinity). A stereotype?

In my eyes, yes – insensitive to the plight of white middle class men who are lost in this new world of labels for men (metrosexual, Sensitive New Age Guy etc)? I don’t believe so because these labels are accepted by the groups who apply it as well as the majority who presume to live accordingly to it.

I’m sending my daughter to a convent!

Which draws me back to a topic explored by Omar Yusaf; Stereotype Vs humantype, (07/30/09). In his blog, he discuses the insensitivity of how ethnic minority groups are portrayed in videogames.

Despite Rockstar’s adamant claims that their games are meant as satirical parodies of contemporary culture, it’s difficult to deny the developer’s guilt in the fetishization of Italian-Americans, Latin-Americans, and African-Americans.”

It is fair to say, Omar’s observations are true – Video Games can reinforce negative stereotypes and exhibit postcolonial views. Yet, rather then looking at video games and it’s failure to represent ethnic minority groups in a positive light, it may be worth re-interpreting the issue as a reflection on what our society accepts as the norm.

Is it wrong for developers to use stereotypes to portray and possibly make a connection with the audience? In the attempt to dispel stereotypes in games based on modern society, the developers may inadvertently fail to create a parallel “world” that gamers can believe as “realistic” and “immersive”.

The question that exists is not why did Rockstar (or any other game developer) chose to create a stereotypical protagonist (in GTA4’s case, an illegal immigrant from a war-torn eastern European country) but rather, why couldn’t they escape this stereotype?

I remember a controversial discovery in the 90’s. For those who have played Maxis’ Simcoptor they may already be aware of what I am referring to.

The premise of the game was to fly a helicopter around the city helping the citizens. If the player zoomed in close enough on the population in Simcoptor, programmer Jacque Sevrin gave the viewer an image that Maxis did not want the public to see: bikini-clad, kissing men.

It was the 90’s and homosexual representation did not find a suitable forum to exist in the mainstream media. I found it hilarious when I read about this “easter egg” surprise but alas, the publishers did not and Mr Sevrin was fired from his post.

Sometimes to destroy the social paradigms that exist in our word, we need to subvert it in order to show the ugly truth. Rockstar’s satirical parodies is perversely empowering because it brings into light the debate so often overlooked – representation in the media.

It would be fair to say that the media (in any industry) rarely portrays minorities (ethnic, sexual and gender) in any fashion other then “secondary”. This argument of poor representation of ethnic minorities could easily extend further to include representation of women in video gaming


evolution of girl power – i like it! (but my girlfriend doesn’t)

Not too long ago, a potential FPS game was halted in its tracks for fear of how the game developer had planned to represent the U.S marines and the insurgents. The game was dubbed “Six days in Fallujah”. What many feared spoke beyond the concept of a mere FPS game – the topic of war and how it would be presented was brought into foray.


anyone up for Modern Warfare?

It’s much too soon to start making videogames about a war that’s still going on, and an extremely flippant response to one of the most important events in recent in modern history,” said Tim Cummins, a British veteran of the Iraq War…Without that buffer, gamers are confronted with the uncomfortable question on what it means to play a game based on real life tragedies. Is it wrong to create entertainment from death? Is it offensive only when someone is still alive to voice an objection?[1]

Do we, as a multi-racial and culturally evolved society fully understand the “differences” that exist in our world? Do we fully embrace these differences? If media is a reflection of social temperament then the lack of sensitivity in video games suggest a society that still fails to understand these differences.

In these debates, it has come to light that video games are not just entertainment. In the economic world, the gaming industry has emerged from a “past time” to become a legitimate instrument of economic regeneration but not of social regeneration.

Until mindsets change in both society and the gaming industry, until people do not perceive games and gamers as “geeks” – Video Games will never be able to challenge social stigmas.


[1] A Brief History of Videogame Controversy, IGN, Mike Thomsen