My best friend and me came of age loving two things: video games and movies. We grew up owning Playstation 2s and seeing games expand as many companies were willing to pour money into crazy idea after crazy idea. Games no longer were the simplistic high that Mario and PacMan provided. Games were committed to creating whole new worlds to explore and substantial narratives to live and truly immerse you in them in a way that Fallout or Planescape Torment couldn’t, by simple virtue of their limited resources.
The catalyst for this expansion on the time of the PS2 was, of course, Grand Theft Auto III. It wasn’t the first open world game and it wasn’t even the best. But it was what finally struck a chord strongly enough to convince people that this was the way to go. That big expansive worlds were nothing without a veritable way of navigating them. Previously, all you did was walk and hiked through Hyrule and the Wasteland, interacting with NPCs and trying to find the location of your next adventure, a new community to help and then move on. In a way, it was all very Mad Max.
But in Grand Theft Auto III, you became the inhabitant of a community and you strived to raise above your peers through crime. This vision was in many ways, a butchering of what many gangster movies often do, caused by the filter of the easiest interpretation of movies like the Godfather and Goodfellas. GTAIII is the sort of game that’s written by people who watch gangster movies for the “badassery” of its criminal protagonists and see men as Henry Hill and Michael Corleone as Men, relics from a bygone era that should be revered and seen as sources of inspiration, rather than the symbols of brutality and excess that they’re supposed to represent in their original text.
This dissonance between the texts that Rockstar would take as direct inspiration and the games they would create to heighten the feelings those movies originally caused through interaction would become the key problem for me as Rockstar built their new empire.