Why Is GTA 5 So Popular?
Video games continue to occupy the strictly entertaining spaces of the broth that is our culture stew, but as the medium grows, so does the natural inclination of developers to create games that function as natural outlets for the human psyche. Grand Theft Auto V is one such game. After reaching the billion-dollar mark in just three days, one cannot help but wonder just why this game, and the series as a whole, is so popular.
"Ego is the structure that is created by a neurotic individual
of a neurotic culture against the facts of the matter. And
culture, which we put on like an overcoat, is the collective
consensus about what sort of neurotic behaviors are acceptable."
- Terrence McKenna
We live in and on a world governed by rules. The physical world is governed by physical laws, or human definitions of observations of certain events that happen repeatedly enough to garner interest and thus, definition and categorization. These physical rules cannot be broken by humanity in its current state, for if they were, certain realities would surely come tumbling down, leaving video games a rather trifling commodity. This sense of impossibility has yet to dissuade us from the attempt though, as we continue to rail against the idea that certain dreams may never come true. A rebellion aimed at the physical world is rather odd when considering our full acceptance of the metaphysical world and the rules that govern our daily lives.
In the metaphysical world, freedom is measured in varying states, with true slavery being as rare as true freedom. Over the past few centuries, freedom has become more a marketing term than anything resembling the true definition of the word. Because we are not slaves in the historically defined sense, we think ourselves free, but nothing could be further from this truth. We are defined by rule and structure. From the roads we drive on to the unwritten etiquette that dictates dinner table behavior, we are a species enslaved by our own fear of chaos and the unknown.
This is not to say that structure is bad, nor order the antithesis of freedom, for without structure we might still be free-floating atoms. And surely there is freedom to be found within order, flight to be found within falling.
But are the structures put in place truly the form in which the human species is meant to thrive? We are a relatively young species that has yet to shed some of the more primal instincts afforded by a more primitive time. Could games like Grand Theft Auto V be vicarious outlets for these more primal urges?
"How people perceive what they are doing is not a question
that interests me. I mean, there are very few people who are
going to look into the mirror and say, 'That person I see is a
savage monster'; instead, they make up some construction
that justifies what they do. If you ask a CEO of some major
corporation what he does he will say, in all honesty, that he is
slaving 20 hours a day to provide his customers with the best
goods or services he can and creating the best possible working
conditions for his employees. But then you take a look at what
the corporation does, the effect of its legal structure, the vast
inequalities in pay and conditions, and you see the reality is different."
- Noam Chomsky
Similar to the world we occupy, Grand Theft Auto V operates on two planes of existence: motivation and retribution (read: cause and effect). The games takes many of our cultural norms and turns them into gameplay objectives, effectively forcing the gamer to examine the life he or she lives on a daily basis and react to it. This is the motivation.
Because we are such a young species and we have yet to come to terms with the more animal aspects of our nature, we tend to suppress them in order to fit in to the established structures of society. As it turns out, this is not an intelligent strategy. Choose any violent episode over the course of recent history as a stark reminder of this fact. As a species, we are ill-equipped to form orderly lines, repressing the very nature that has gotten us to this point in our evolution, but our fear of the chaos that may result in a lack of order forces us to do so. In this fear, we find outlets for our more base instincts.
One cannot deny the steep incline in violence and sexual deviancy that has occurred since the onset of the digital age and the free exchange of information that such an age represents. Instead of seeing the platforms in which both of these very primal urges play out as symptoms of suppression, they are seen as the cause of our very nature. This is an illogical argument, to say the least, but not one that can be pinned on the public-at-large, for they are merely sticking to structures and rules placed before them in the name of peace and security. This is where GTA supplies the relief valve for our simmering instinctual response, our digital retribution.
"I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased
to question stars and books; I have begun to listen
to the teaching my blood whispers to me."
- Hermann Hesse
Grand Theft Auto V offers the gamer the ability to vicariously act upon the more base instincts of human nature by confronting them with modern stimuli that provokes either violence or desire. Have you ever wanted to actively avoid the various rules presented on a casual drive to the movie theatre? Yes? You can do that in GTA V. Did you happen to kill someone in the process of such rebellion? Don't worry about it. As a matter of fact, you will be rewarded skill points as you evade traditional justice for your crimes.
Have you ever wanted to brutally end a human life? Please do so. Here is your reward for excellence in murder. Rinse and repeat for more points.
This relief valve is addictive purely because it is readily available. Outside of doing the deed in reality, there is no more "real" outlet available to the general public. This is not to say that this is either good or bad. As a species, we cannot point toward effect and call it cause. A video game that offers an outlet for primal urge does not preclude the onset of said urge.
Why is Grand Theft Auto V so popular? Because it satisfies a burning desire we spend a vast majority of our time attempting to suppress. This is neither a positive aspect of our nature, nor is it a negative, it is merely who we are. If we are to ever evolve past the need for such outlets we must come to terms with our very nature. But what's the fun in that?