Random Observations: Social Commentary in Grand Theft Auto IV

Filed under: , by: Grundy the Man

The Grand Theft Auto franchise has been been public enemy number one for politicians all over the world. With each title released, Rockstar Games has made a point of challenging the what is viewed as "mature content" in video games. Politicians have taken it upon themselves to try to make an example of the studio. Numerous states have even commissioned research to find if violent games warp the minds of young children... but that is an conversation for a different day. Despite the obvious public resistance, Grand Theft Auto is the strongest intellectual property in gaming.

Traditionally, this a franchise that is known for gratuitous violence and raunchy, tongue-in-cheek humor. What makes this objectionable content palatable is the exaggeration and sharp wit of the script. Most people don't realize that the humor in the game actually works at two levels. There was always the punchline that was so obvious that you could see it from space, normally revolving around toilet humor or ass jokes. This barb would be used to stifle to underlying second level or deeper meaning of the dialog.

It seems as if the developers and writers had been sitting quietly in their offices, making observations on the media circus going on around them. This is reflected in how they portray the media in the game. First of all, the game's fictitious news conglomerate is named Weasel News. Boy, that's subtle... During gameplay, news reports consisted of a host attempting to deliver a piece of news, followed by placing their own sarcastic judgment on the topic. While this was humorous, the deeper message is reflecting the obvious bias of mass media. In some extreme cases commentators would even make jokes about a death! Deeper analysis would say that this reflects our that our society has devalued human life.

In-game advertising continues to paint a damning picture of our society. A brand that is advertised throughout the city is the beer company, "Pisswasser." The name alone is sophomoric shot at imported beer companies. "Pisswasser" billboards are really meant to be both shocking and amusing. They consist of an image of a mouth, performing what appears to be what can only be described as fellatio on the beer bottle. I think it would be a safe assumption that this is may be making a statement about the overuse of sex appeal in advertising.

In yet another shot at lampooning, Rockstar even has a sense of humor about their own past legal incidents. If you have a successful date you can get invited into the date's apartment. The "exchanging of pleasantries," will earn you an achievement titled "Warm Coffee," an obvious reference to the Hot Coffee scandal of several years ago. Though never officially acknowledged by the developer, a certain senator also makes a cameo in the game. Ironically, the seeming lookalike is actually in replacement to the Statue of Liberty, otherwise known as the "Statue of Happiness." A comparison picture is below:

You decide for yourself...

A last situation where social commentary is shown is the title's dating system. The player can use the Internet to arrange dates with different women. Most of the women that Niko can are misogynistic caricatures of female stereotypes found throughout society. Whenever a player picks up a date, she automatically comments on what you are wearing. This judgmental comment normally will set the tone for the date. One would wonder if this is a reflection of how our society places judgment because of what a person wears, without ever getting to know who that person is.

To close, here is a video of Niko Bellic himself making reflections on his life and decisions he has make. It becomes painfully obvious that there was a lot of work put into bringing the character of Niko to life in a very emotional way.

Below is the trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV --
"Niko's Reflections":