Kacper Niburski
The Silhouette

It is a universal truth that Monday mornings are the worst and mine was certainly veering on astronomically bad: I committed a double homicide.

I didn’t mean to, really. I was just driving along and one thing led to another and before I knew it, I found myself knee-deep in the offal of another man. His liver wobbled underneath my tire as I put my phone away.

Sure it could be argued that his Monday was undeniably worse – he was nothing more than a meat pillow now after all – but I had to deal with the messy aftermath and car washes certainly weren’t cheap these days. I’m sure that my fender was bent too and I liked my fender. It shined in the sun.

While I was considering these complications, I heard the scurrying of feet behind me. A different man who had witnessed me mow down the ground-beef lookalike underneath my car was screaming and running. As if my mechanical problems weren’t enough – I couldn’t have any loose ends. So off my car went, spinning bright red tires and fading maroon tracks as I roared towards the high pitch shrill in front of me. I might have even put on my blinker as I performed the U-turn. I can’t be sure – sometimes these things escape me on Mondays.

I wouldn’t call this a regular Monday though. Instead I would call it a tradition that has lasted some seven days since the release of Grand Theft Auto V, a seminal electronic masterpiece that has not gone without its share of controversy and senseless diatribes. Despite its high anticipation, exalting reviews, five years of development, an extensive original soundtrack and spellbinding portraits of real individuals captured in the minutia of a video game, the common critique is that the game is a juvenile, shortsighted, and degenerate caricature of life.

As these critics myopically see it, GTA V dissolves life into a cycle of carnage, carnage, and more carnage in that order. It is violence unbridled and unadulterated, which says nothing of the potential for senseless malice and misogynistic tendencies. Choppy, unrealistic and driven by sociopathic tendencies for brutality, some say the game is a gross, uninformed cliché of reality.

This criticism, I feel, is absolutely true and that’s the point. What so few seem to understand is that Rockstar, the game developer, is not trying to hide this overt excess in human indecency; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Debauchery is relished, vice defines the norm and the world is nothing short of ugly. The hellscape is entirely intentional and familiar; it is a reflection of ourselves rather than an impression – and for this reason, GTA is the most authentic, most provocative and most compelling piece of art I have ever experienced.

Though it is difficult to unanimously define, art is meant to subvert and change. It is a manifestation of cause and effect in order to reverse that process inherently. By viewing a painting or a statue or reading a book, the viewer is meant to vicariously experience something emotional, psychological or mental, and in doing so, they are meant feel, act and do. For art is not a depiction of what is necessarily, but what has been and what should be instead.

The world of GTA V – Los Santos – is exactly that blend of unique, creative temperament distilled down to encapsulate humanity’s dirty, crude, and abhorrent nature. As a complete globe littered with desires and insecurities stretched to their extreme, the player sees their own world – this world – without its filter. Behind the sunlight, roaring mountains and endless beaches, everyone is driven by self-interest. Whether it is corrupt FBI agents, plastic wives, duplicitous TV hosts, people are either being exploited or exploiting someone themselves. In the game, all are victims but none are innocent, us included.

But it is also more than just a simple mockery of perverse lifestyles, contemporary pop culture, invading social networks, ridiculous political systems and our own vices magnified. Because unlike other art forms that simply mirror life, GTA puts life back into art by putting the player in control of the world and its ramifications.

In each mission or event, we see our actions run their course and we find ourselves in an inescapable torrent of contempt and pain. Wherever we go, suffering follows and we hate it. We don’t enjoy it. No character is happy. No character is left unscathed by their proclivity for violence. Lives are ruined. People are killed. And though the game goes on, we are not enamored by the violence. We are rebuked, chastised and horrified by it. Not because of its grotesque nature or because of how ridiculous it seems, but because we see ourselves in that world of Los Santos and we see how recognizable it is to our own, and that scares us.

There is one scene where a raging psychopath must perform torture on another character in the game. But there is no enjoyment. There is no fun. The controller vibrates. The screams are blood curling. And after it all, we are left with the imprint of our action, the despicable, disgusting, and fruitless action for very little information is gleaned if any at all.

And we hate ourselves for it. Or at least I did.

That is art. It is the agitation of a cruel universe only to provide a message afterwards. In GTA, the message isn’t violence though some people can only see that limited end. Instead it is a cry that with moral choices and consequences, we are responsible for our actions and how society comes together as a whole. If we breed hate, hate results. If we are selfish, others will be too.

Though GTA is a world inhabited by these sins, it is not an embodiment of them. Among the bloodshed and bodies, it whispers that as humans we often get caught in our excesses and mistakes, and this is not right. Earth need not be Los Santos. By showing us what is disgustingly possible in an extreme sense, GTA is a hope that we don’t have to succumb to our selfishness, vanity, and depravity. We are better if we want to be. Like the characters, whether we are good or evil is our choice. It always was. And in order to realize that, sometimes we just need to have a bad Monday morning.

 

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