Case Study: Grand Theft Auto

The Game Grand Theft Auto was first developed in 1997 for the PlayStation, it was later released in 1998 for the PC. Grand Theft Auto was developed by DMA Design now commonly known as Rockstar North, which is a Scottish company. Other developers include BMG Interactive, ASC Games and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. Grand Theft Auto has developed from a small game into being a huge success with its fans and are now a highly popular video game with a large fan base. The game now spans across nine different games on a variety of consoles, ranging from places like Liberty City (New York), Vice City (Miami) and San Andreas (Los Angeles).


Before looking further into the concept of Grand Theft Auto, looking at the history is integral in fully understanding how Grand Theft Auto is what it is and how it has come to be.  The genre that Grand Theft Auto firmly rests in is the ‘shoot-em up’ category, incorporating large amounts of the gangster genre but mainly being a shooting game.  One of the most iconic shoot-em ups, even if it may not seem as such, is Space Invaders, developed in 1978. A very basic game with even more basic graphics led the way to shooting lots of enemies, all extra terrestrial, very much linking to the films being created at that time such as Alien.


Space Invaders

However the most iconic ‘shoot-em up’ and incorporating the first person point of view was Doom. Released in 1993, Doom was one of the first of its type mixing mass killing of monsters and aliens and fulfilling missions in order to survive…

Doom is a first-person shoot-em up, a game in which the player’s point of view is apparently through the eyes of the character he or she controls in the game.”1

Like Space Invaders, Doom was low graphics but was incredibly violent for what it looked like.  This shows the play of Doom, what needs to be accomplished, what the world looks like and what monsters you are to face within the game. Even though Doom is not seen to be of a high resolution compared to today’s standards, it still can be seen as an incredibly violent video game that should not be viewed by children “…despite (by today’s standards) low resolution graphics and pixellated monsters, the game still generates controversy.” 2

Even though it may not seem as if Grand Theft Auto and Doom link together, the similarities that Grand Theft Auto has taken from Doom is clear. Grand Theft Auto has the same basic graphics that Doom began with and the biggest similarity between the two games is the violence both of them contain. Even though Grand Theft Auto deals with the killing of people where as Doom deals with killing monsters, both are very violent for the low resolutions that they are.  However, even though Grand Theft Auto is a remediated version from the original Doom, the differences that Grand Theft Auto contains is that it is no longer first person and the biggest change is that you’re no longer killing monsters but you’re killing people.

The original Grand Theft Auto is a birds eye view and the player over looks the entire world, following your little orange and yellow clothed character around different areas trying to move upwards in the ‘gangster’ world.


Screenshot of Grand Theft Auto 1

Through all this history, the Grand Theft Auto series has now reached its most talked about addition, this being Grand Theft Auto 4. It was released this year (April 2008.) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox. Grand Theft Auto 4 was released later on in the year (December 2008.) for the PC. This new Grand Theft Auto has remediated from the first ever in the series. Taking what the game was originally about and how it developed in later years to combine to create the most realistic Grand Theft Auto there is.

There was a lot of hype surrounding Grand Theft Auto 4 as the last, big Grand Theft Auto was released in 2004, this game being Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This 2004 release surpassed the 2002 Grand Theft Auto: Vice City because of its realism to the character.

“In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar 2004), your avatar will be lumpy, bearded and shaggy depending on whether or not you visit the gym or the barbers.”3

This paved the way to how the next generations of Grand Theft Auto were going to look like. Audiences were expecting a more realistic game with a new release and this is exactly what Grand Theft Auto 4 gave them.

Throughout all the Grand Theft Auto’s violence was and still is the key element that it gives to its audience. Being able to run anyone over or mindlessly going on a rampage with a weapon and killing whoever was in your path. This type of senseless violence, as many see it, is why it can be seen that the Grand Theft Auto series is so popular with its fan base. The problem with this type of violence compared to games like Doom is because instead of killing monsters you’re killing people. This type of violence then can link to the real world, players can become completely immersed within the game and take on the persona of the character they’re playing, and this doesn’t happen in the majority of cases as a lot of people can distinguish between the two worlds. However, sometimes the immersion can be to strong.

“…losing oneself in the medium can be creative and liberating, but is haunted by the possibility that this immersion can be hypnotic, seductive, ‘mindless’ as well as bodiless.”4

On the other hand, this doesn’t always happen. Even though the game immerses you in the lives of the characters such as Tommy Vercetti, Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson and Niko Bellic audiences can differentiate between the virtual world and the real world, this being the case of many simulated situations.

“It might be phrased this way: If training in simulated worlds is productive of real-world skills, then why don’t actors that play serial killers usually go on to be serial killers?”5

This different way of looking at the game where the player can take themselves out of it to understand what is real and what is not. This becomes difficult when games like Grand Theft Auto become so realistic compared to the games it succeeded. Like all the Grand Theft Auto’s killing anyone you want is available, this even includes killing anyone involved within the emergency services. Police are a key target in Grand Theft Auto as they can take your money, make you lose your job and take your weapons. This type of brutally towards people that help is important in Grand Theft Auto as people now see them as evil people, instead of them being the good that they are. However, the developers hope you don’t make the distinction between what is happening on screen and real life “…encouraged to make no distinctions between the simulation and the simulated.”6

On the other hand, the large problem facing society and the public sphere is that anyone can gain access to Grand Theft Auto through getting someone older to get the game for you. Video game sellers don’t know if the game they are selling won’t get into the hands of someone who is to young to be exposed to this sort of content. With Grand Theft Auto on its ninth release and gaming standards rising, the realism of the game can be damaging to younger players if they cannot make the distinction between what is happening on screen and what happens in the real world. “‘In TV, if you want to make someone die, you can’t’ [nine-year old girl on the superiority of videogames] (Mark Greenfield 1984:91)” 7 This worrying view that underage players can get a hold of this game is also in relation to that nearly all children that have access to Grand Theft Auto have access to a computer. Now that the computer has more influence on how children are than how television used to influence people, is another concern if you cannot manage what your children are viewing “Videogames add to this panic the threat of the computer’s increasing influence in everyday life.”8

In relation to this, with the new release killing people becomes more brutal, it becomes more realistic than it has before. Instead of the body just bouncing off a car when ran over it moves and jolts as if it were really being run over.

This realism doesn’t only link to the way you can kill people within the game but the new aspects that Grand Theft Auto 4 offers. There is the possibility to get drunk, to take girlfriends out on dates, even the instance of immediacy when involved in a car crash. In previous Grand Theft Auto’s being involved in a car crash just made you stop and damaged your car depending on severity. However, in the new game crashing into a car when at a high speed projects you out of the car.

Grand Theft Auto 4 is not only realistic in the way that people are now killed but the developers have now put in the use of mobile phones in the new release. The mixing of different technologies that the player would be used to is a remediated object from the very first Grand Theft Auto. The mobile phone in the new Grand Theft Auto is key on keeping tabs on your jobs, girlfriends and even receiving texts, which has never been experienced in a previous Grand Theft Auto.

Grand Theft Auto 4 cell phone

Grand Theft Auto 4 cell phone

 The importance of the use of phones with Grand Theft Auto is key throughout all the games, even if in the last previous games its influence has decreased. The use of intertexuality on the part of the developers is so that they control where you’re going, everything is pre-planned so that every move you make has already been designed for you. Using phones, even if it’s pay phones or now mobile phones, they are still key in how to complete the game. Gamers don’t have to answer the pay phones, etc, but if they don’t, succeeding in the game becomes impossible. Therefore the developers, like in websites, choose where they want you to go, nearly all developers of a game do this as well but in Grand Theft Auto using phones are directing the player to where they want you to go. “It’s also important to realize that rules are essentially restrictive and limit what a player can do.”9

Niko Bellic using his cell phone

Niko Bellic using his cell phone

 On the contrary, the world that Grand Theft Auto is set in is expansive and allows the player to have some freedom as to where they would like to go. Exploring this world can give the player more than enough to do, as each new Grand Theft Auto keeps expanding, until they actually have to do what the game has set out for them.

“The author of a choose-your-own-adventure creates the structure that the reader inhabits, but the play emerges out of that system as the reader navigates through it. Even if the reader breaks the structure by cheating and skipping ahead, that is merely another form of play within the designed system.”10

The freedom that the game does allow is all planned by the developers. To create a world so expansive that the player can choose where they would like to go is stopped as the game does not allow you to continue without completing missions. It is seen that even though the player could be tricked into thinking that they have as much freedom as possible it is still another form of control on behalf of the developer.

However, the new versions of Grand Theft Auto have remediated from the previous Grand Theft Auto’s through phones. Now not only can you answer payphones and in the new Grand Theft Auto answer your mobile phone but you can now come face to face with the people that are hiring you. The only thing that was seen in the original two Grand Theft Auto’s, if you were to interactive with someone else within the game, was just a different coloured dot to the one you are playing with. As it has been seen in the previous Grand Theft Auto there was little interactivity with the people that were giving you jobs. Creating these new personas for the character you’re playing with was not needed in the original Grand Theft Auto, all the way up until Grand Theft Auto 3 was released. Only until when Grand Theft Auto moved completely on to the PC and other consoles where the game became 3D were new interactive characters made. The move from phone to person increases the interactivity that the game has because instead of just a telephone, Grand Theft Auto gives players new and interesting characters to become accustomed to and this develops the game play.

Vice City Boss Ricardo Diaz

Vice City Boss Ricardo Diaz

 Not only has the way in which you acquire jobs in Grand Theft Auto remediated but even hidden packages and kill frenzies become much more advanced than they previously were. Hidden packages are in various places across the virtual world which if the player acquires enough of will get ‘prizes’ which, are usually weapons like chainsaws and flamethrowers. These hidden packages remediate the previous Grand Theft Auto as weapons were generally searched out instead of bought. Now players have the opportunity to collect all these hidden packages and have a constant stream of weapons at their fingertips. In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas the hidden packages are either statues containing drugs or just a plain taped up parcel, looking as if it is a drugs package. The video shows the hunting for hidden packages in Vice City. Not only do you get weapons and vehicles but you also get money for collecting them, which within the game is another way in which to earn money.

As mentioned before, not only are hidden packages been remediated but kill frenzies or rampages have as well. The idea of a kill frenzy is to kill a certain amount of people as specified from the mission in a certain amount of time with a set weapon. These can range from killing innocent people, including police and paramedics, when they come to revive people, but in newer additions of Grand Theft Auto you have to kill members of gangs. These can give you large sums of money if accomplished but if failed just gives you a high police rating and if in the instance you are killing gang members then you be murdered. “Players lose constantly, replay and are ‘killed’ again.”11 Kill frenzies are another element of the Grand Theft Auto series which is realistic, as mass killings do happen in the real world. The following quote is in relation to the game Doom, which is linked to the meaning of a kill frenzy as it is killing a mass amount of monsters.

Doom is often implicated in this blurring of real and the mediated in violent events. Frequently cited in media scares around youth culture, particularly in the United States, the game has been blamed (along with other commercial youth-orientated media, particularly popular music) in the shooting of school students by a classmate in Littleton, Colorado in 1999.”12

Grand Theft Auto and games like Doom are being blamed for the reasons why young people commit such atrocities. It is difficult not to see a connection if players are young enough not to be able to distinguish between what is the virtual world and what is the real world. As it was mentioned popular music is regularly attacked along with popular games like Grand Theft auto as to reasons why youths kill, the most blamed music artist is Marilyn Manson and his unusual style of music.

Before in the original Grand Theft Auto’s the worlds that housed the kill frenzies was very small and therefore the amount of these types of missions was very limited. However, the new Grand Theft Auto’s are larger places which are home to more missions, more characters and more kill frenzies. This remediation for Grand Theft Auto 4 is from Grand Theft Auto 3, which are both set in Liberty City (New York). However, Grand Theft Auto 4 is a much larger world than the world Grand Theft Auto 3 had created in Liberty City.


Grand Theft Auto 3


Grand Theft Auto IV

All these larger worlds have followed on from the very first Grand Theft Auto. As players get used to the game and complete the worlds quicker, the bigger the world needs to be in order to keep fans purchasing the games. Each new game houses a fictitious world, even if it is based on a real life place. They seem magical or seedy depending on which game is being played and the social class of the character that you are playing with. For example, in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City the world is Miami so is therefore very sunny and seems like a place the player would like to be. On the other hand, in the instance of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas the world is in the ‘ghetto’ as the character CJ is housed there and that’s where his family grew up. 


Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Vice City

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

These two images represent the two worlds that home two of the most successful Grand Theft Auto’s. Both show two different worlds that come out when there is a new release of Grand Theft Auto. They are both based on real worlds but create a “perfect” world that players may wish to be in.

“Games are a sort of artificial paradise like Disneyland, or some Utopian vision by which we interpret and complete the meaning of our daily lives. In games we devise means of non-specialized participation in the larger drama of our time.”13

All the worlds that Rockstar create in their Grand Theft Auto series seem to be much better than the real world. However they do actually home the problems and issues that consume everyday life, including traffic, bad weather, insane pedestrians and underground violence and gangs.

However, the problem with creating bigger, better worlds to entice the audience to consume this media. This means that dispersal of the product becomes restricted with the large specifications that the games requires. Before, all the previous Grand Theft Auto’s, up until Grand Theft Auto 4, could be run on a standard PC, depending on how old or new the PC is would equal how fast it ran and how good it looked. On the contrary, with Grand Theft Auto 4 which was originally just designed for the Xbox and PlayStation 3 was then designed for the PC. This was produced as fans thought it would be unfair to cut out such a large fan base. The problems of making Grand Theft Auto 4 for the PC look as good as it does on the Xbox or PlayStation 3 is that only the best or most up to date computer would be able to handle this expansive game. This quickly became a problem for Rockstar as many buyers couldn’t run the game. On its official day of release many error codes as to why the game couldn’t run turned up on different websites to help fans sort out what was the problem with installing their game. After all these problems that fans were facing, many games were sent back or were receiving bad reviews on buyer websites like Play and Amazon. With all these problems it was not long before the Grand Theft Auto developers released a statement. This then makes a large demand for better technology, costing the consumer even more than originally thought. “The computer game both creates symbolic worlds ad generates consumer technology demand.”14

Not only is the problem down to not being able to run the game without an error code popping up, created another problem that Rockstar faced was with running an online community called ‘The Social Club’. The problem wasn’t that it didn’t work, it was all up to date and was everything that was necessary for a good online community. The problem that Rockstar faced was on the release of Grand Theft Auto 4 it was not running in the UK, it was only working in the US. So even if you got the game to install and play, you couldn’t use this online community to the best it could until Rockstar allowed Non-US fans use it. These problems limit the dispersal of the game by a huge percentage as if you couldn’t get anything to work you wouldn’t be able to use this game. The only way you could run the program was unless you lived in the US, had a better computer or even bought a Xbox or PlayStation 3.

If the player managed to install the new video game there was then what is new. Previously all the Grand Theft Auto’s centred around Americans or Italian Americans, the character you played was always predominately American. On the other hand, with Grand Theft Auto 4 is the introduction of a Russian main character, Niko Bellic. “Various degrees of difficulty, opponents, points of views, perspective, etc.”15 With introducing this new character to the Grand Theft Auto series came a new perspective of the ‘American Dream’. Niko Bellic comes to American to meet up with his cousin that comments on how fantastic it is but Niko finds out his Cousin isn’t as successful as he claimed to be. This then starts the whole portrayal of falling into the underworld in order to earn money to accomplish this ‘American Dream’. The entire game surrounds this idea and brings in the hunger for power and greed. Even though Niko is of a different ethnicity to what other Grand Theft Auto characters generally are they all still want and go after the same thing, money and power. “…characters in computer games are rarely complicated personae.”16 Even with Grand Theft Auto constantly developing the main idea behind the game remains the same throughout.

With the hype that surrounded Grand Theft Auto 4 came mass buying for the game. It was seen that worldwide the total profit gained was more than $500 million and selling around 6 million units, this was released in May 2008. So before the release of the PC version and only relating to Xbox and PlayStation profits. This figure was only a month and the video below even shows this was within the first week of release showing how much this game was really profitable for Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.

To conclude, when looking at different aspects of Grand Theft Auto, looking at its origin and what games it remediated from shows exactly why Grand Theft Auto 4 offers what it does to fans. With the beginning Grand Theft Auto being very basic like how other games were being manufactured. It was only a matter of time before it was necessary for developers to create better and more exciting worlds, which is evident in the time line of Grand Theft Auto. Each new addition to the series gives the consumer something they have never experienced before and shows the development of games in this time. Grand Theft Auto proves to be the most successful of all, branching out on to many different platforms to aim at a mass audience. Even with the problems, Grand Theft Auto 4 still has a huge following and by the figures displayed shows that including the problems it hasn’t fazed what Grand Theft Auto 4 was meant to do.


  1. Martin Lister et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge 2003) p.261
  2. Ibid
  3. Jon Dovey & Helen W. Kennedy, Game Cultures: Computer Games as New Media (Berkshire: England 2006) p.113
  4. Lister (2003) p.263
  5. Noah Wardrip-Fruin & Pat Harrigan (ed.), First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game (Cambridge: Massachusetts 2004) p.81
  6. Ibid
  7. Lister (2003) p.273
  8. Ibid p.261
  9. Wardrip-Fruin & Harrigan (2004) p.160
  10. Ibid
  11. Lister (2003) p.275
  12. Ibid p.262
  13. Ibid p.271
  14. Dovey & Kennedy (2006) p.64
  15. Paul Mayer (ed.), Computer Media and Communication: A Reader (Oxford Claredon 1999) p.178
  16. Lister (2003) p.276

11 Responses to “Case Study: Grand Theft Auto”

  1. Quantum Anomaly Says:

    Quote: “The problem with this type of violence compared to games like Doom is because instead of killing monsters you’re killing people. This type of violence then can link to the real world, players can become completely immersed within the game and take on the persona of the character they’re playing, and this doesn’t happen in the majority of cases as a lot of people can distinguish between the two worlds. However, sometimes the immersion can be too strong”

    Yeah, OK. Valid point – if you’re a 10yr old child, and an exceptionally dumb one at that!
    Seriously, if you can’t distinguish between a game and real life you are a loser.

    All these basement-dwelling controller jockeys who think they can run with real gangsters need to get capped in the face.

    Quote: “Grand Theft Auto and games like Doom are being blamed for the reasons why young people commit such atrocities. It is difficult not to see a connection if players are young enough not to be able to distinguish between what is the virtual world and what is the real world.”

    This is an excuse. Games are not the driving force for such atrocities. The Columbine kids shot up their classmates because they came from dysfunctional families, and then to make matters worse they were bullied at school. And then they met each other and found common ground in a shared hatred for the world. So they hatched a plan and carried it out. It’s not hard to understand when you place yourself in their shoes. We would probably all do the same thing if we were stupid kids with crappy lives and nothing left to lose.

    On the other hand, kids need to stop being sheltered and start being educated. The real world is even harsher than these games. The main difference is that the people trying to gangster you up here are not obvious gun-toting lunatics, but instead suit-and-tie corporate thugs. They are the people who repo your home when you can’t pay your mortgage. They are the cellular companies who smack you with hidden fees and then tell you it was your fault for not reading the fine print. They are the IRS, the FBI, and the CIA. They are the government itself.

    All this street-level strife is kids stuff. It’s low-level shit in the grand scheme of things. When you analyze the politics of the world from the level of the Rockefeller/Rothschild/Illuminati old money families then you start to to really see where you stand. So if you think organized crime is below you, go get a reality check because chances are there are people from above fucking you over every day and you are either refusing to admit it or you’re not capable of understanding it. This is the gangster food chain. Anyone who thinks they’re on top is just another sucker getting played. And these electronic games are the least of your worries.

    You, the righteous Christ-loving parent attempt to censor and protect the innocent. You lash out against such games because they put you in touch with things you don’t want to face. Well, you can say or do whatever you want because avoidance won’t change the truth. It’s a cold, hard world out there and you’d better wake up before someone comes and wakes you up… before you find your ass put out on the street or laid down in a coffin. Fact of the matter is: if you had any balls at all you would face the world as it is and try to teach your children that it’s not all fun and games out there.

    You people disgust me. Take your yuppie-ass problems down the road and stop policing my video games. You are a bunch of ignorant scum and you need to get fucking schooled in the game of life. I hope you get carjacked on your way home from work tomorrow. You could use a little stimuli in your sick, sad lives. Go get fucked, and have a nice day. 🙂

    • rebeccalord Says:

      Right I have no idea who you think you are but this was an essay for my degree, so before you come in thinking I’m preaching that video games make violent children then how about you go fuck yourself.

      This extremely long winded comment gives nothing except insults to what I have written and in all honesty I play these types of games and I love them, that’s why I know so much about them and not because I’m a supposed ‘yuppie-ass’ parenting my children about right and wrong.

      I know the difference between what is real and what isn’t but the basis of this essay was to work with the idea that video games are influential to younger viewers.

      So next time before you decide to think you know the writer of a blog, think again and take your own advice and go get fucked!!!!!

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