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Grand Theft Auto

MAY 12, 2008
One of the most provocative pieces of writing I’ve come across recently was a  New York Times review of the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. It was the first time I’ve been asked to consider a video game as a legitimate work of art, in the same vein as motion pictures or literature.  And here I was, just thinking it was about killing, raping, and all sorts of until now unimagined mayhem.

I’ll say up front that my video game exposure in the last 25 years has been limited to getting my tail kicked by my kids on their Wii, and wondering how the hell to turn a Nintendo DS off so that it would stop…that…music. Still, reading  the Times GTA review made me feel as though the train for pop culture’s future was leaving the station and I hadn’t bought a ticket.

A couple of months ago Chuck Klosterman wrote in Esquire about never having read any of the Harry Potter books and never intending to. What concerned him was the thought that he was willingly letting a generational gap open up between where he stood and those who had read the books. His point was that from here on out, the people who read the books would integrate the ideas and catch phrases into everyday life, and he wouldn’t even know that he wasn’t “getting it”.  He seemed to be at peace with the idea of not being in on whatever joke these kids are playing.

I feel the same with video games. To me, it’s just a bunch of noise, killing, and bad behavior. But when you look at the numbers – Grand Theft Auto IV has claimed two entertainment industry sales records, posting the best ever single-day and seven-day sales totals for a computer game. Last year’s Halo 3 sold $300 Million it’s first week. That makes your typical Hollywood blockbuster opening look like peanuts.

But is it or can it be art? I don’t even know what art is most of the time, so yeah, sure, it’s art. What I do know is that this is a huge industry that is only going to grow in the years to come. If I were a young artist getting out of school and blinking in the harsh bright daylight of the professional world, I’d seriously consider the possibility of killing, carjacking, and drugging my way to a career.