[I’m around 9 hours into GTA V, and as such, there will probably be some slight early-game spoilers ahead. But I’m also well aware that anyone reading this who isn’t an immediate family member is also probably playing the game as well, and is probably ahead of me, story-wise, and so I’m not going to sweat it too much. Still, though, people will gladly accept any excuse to get angry where the internet is concerned, so consider yourself warned.]
I’m in a strange place with respect to GTA V. I’ve been in a strange place for a while now, to be sure, but I’m specifically talking about this weird feeling I get when I finally get my hands on something long-awaited, whether it’s a game or a book or an album by a favorite band:
- I get ridiculously excited in the days leading up to its release, so much so that I either have trouble sleeping or I have constant dreams about the thing;
- and then, when the thing finally shows up, I’m so intimidated by it that I’m sort-of afraid to open it;
- and then, once I’ve gotten over all that and I’m finally in the thing, it’s hard for me to know if I’m actually enjoying it or not.
But it should also be noted that I’m prone to binging; when I get into something, it is very hard to tear me away from it. (When Infinite Jest first came out back in 1996, I was so entranced by it that I basically stopped going to class for about a week; I barely slept; I’m not sure I ever changed my clothes. I devoured it and could not be bothered by anything else.) But while I’ve played GTA V every night this week, I have only been playing it in short 2-hour bursts, and I’ll often pause it and check in on the baby, or get a snack, or check my email. To put it another way, I have not taken any sick days, nor do I feel particularly inclined to.
In the case of GTA V, I remain in tremendous awe over the city itself, and the technology that powers it. I took my first dive into the ocean last night (during an early Michael mission where he’s trying to be involved in his two kids’ lives, one of whom he rescues from a porno yacht) and my jaw dropped when I saw what was under the water. There is a part of me that kinda wants to ignore the story entirely (and also the mini-map), and line up towards something off on the horizon, and just go.
But this isn’t Skyrim; there aren’t hidden dungeons and treasures. There are ambient events, of course, but those aren’t quite the same thing. The game can be enjoyed in whatever fashion you might desire, but the game can only be played by moving the story forward.
And so that’s where I am; I’ve done all the available side missions for both Michael and Franklin, and I’m in the process of getting set up for the first heist. There’s one last thing I need to do, but that thing is only available at certain times of the day, and since I missed the window I have a few in-game hours to kill; that’s the state of my most recent quick-save.
But in terms of where my head is at? Well, like I said – I remain in awe of the world. And the missions themselves are fun, and the new combat controls sure help a great deal, but some of the missions can get a little janky, as open-world games tend to do – that aforementioned mission with Michael and his kids ends in a jet-ski chase and it was very, very unclear what I was supposed to do and where I was supposed to go, and when I managed to outrun the people chasing us I didn’t understand why – they’d been on top of us the whole time, did they suddenly disappear? I think I ended up trying and failing that mission 6 or 7 times before I stumbled into a Mission Complete – and while I was grateful for the new, less punishing restart feature, I still felt no closer to understanding what the hell was going on.
But the story, and the characters, and that dialogue – it’s making me wonder if I’ve outgrown the franchise, if my being a new father and suddenly seeing the world in a different, protective way makes me somehow less inclined to play along with the game’s ridiculousness. The game’s outright hostility towards women cannot be excused by the banner of “satire” any more; the incessant vulgarity does not shock any more; the game’s been telling the same satirical jokes about American culture since GTA III, and it’s just not all that funny any more.
So I wonder; is this game really for me, anymore?
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As I wrote this, I happened to check Twitter and saw that Leigh Alexander basically just took the words right out of my mouth.