The GTA series reflects the best, the worst and the weirdest aspects of our society. Grand Theft Auto V tackles social media- and other controversial cultural phenomena – with trademark Rockstar relish, showing us how funny and disturbing it all is when we step outside of it for a moment…
We all love to play around on Grand Theft Auto, exploring the diverse map, finding all the pickups, rampages and jumps, not to mention seeking out the best vehicles. Often neglecting the actual missions in favour of messing about, we familiarise ourselves with these worlds to the point that we know our way around Liberty City or Los Santos better than our own home towns. The more we wander, the more we notice the intricacies of these worlds, namely the parallels to the real world. These are usually in the form of brands within the game, be they food and drink brands, radio stations or car manufacturers.
Ever since the first instalment of the series, Rockstar have parodied our society to the verge of offensiveness. That’s one of the reasons we love them so much. Nothing puts a smile on your face quite like passing a ‘Pisswasser’ billboard or the first time we find a ‘Gruppe 6’ security van. While this has been a staple of the GTA universe, Rockstar have certainly outdone themselves with the spoof brands of GTA V. It doesn’t stop there however; since the introduction of an in-game internet browser in GTA IV, we have been treated to a delightfully brutal lampooning of mainstream social media.
The main social media site ‘Life Invader’ takes a pivotal role in GTA V. This Facebook equivalent is even the focus of the incredibly fun ‘Friend request’ mission, in which we get to see the inside of the Life Invader offices and hear the remedial conversations of the staff as we pass through the offices to reach our objective.
Each character in the game has a Life Invader profile, as we do with Facebook in the real world (whether we use it or not). The notion that you don’t have a Facebook account these days can be a shock to people, as if you are committing some offensive social faux pas. When you do use it and happen to say something they disagree with or simply don’t respond to endless game requests or ‘pokes’ it damages real, non-digital relationships. Photos taken of anything or anyone will, most probably at some point, end up on Facebook. ‘You have been tagged in a photo with x’, ‘x wants you to play Farmville’, ‘return poke’, ‘this random dick-head you haven’t seen since they bullied you in school wants to be your friend’ , these all annoy us even if we pretend they don’t. With the neurotic obsession a lot of us have with Facebook, it is in the truest sense a life invader. “Invasion never felt so good”.
In keeping with most of the content we find on our own Facebook pages, the characters’ profile pages are filled with side-bar adverts for ‘Sprunk’, ‘e-Cola’ and ‘Cluckin’ Bell’ as well as a long list of their friends’ updates and comments. In classic Facebook style they’re mostly all inane, opinionated and misspelled. Life Invader also shows how many people are currently ‘stalking’ the character.
Another social media site Rockstar take a swing at is, unsurprisingly, Twitter. ‘Bleeter’ is even richer with content than Life Invader, with about ten whole pages of ‘bleets’ per character. Rather than using a bird as Twitter does, Rockstar have used an image of a sheep. This alone lets us know what they think about Twitter at its core , or rather the thousands of people that blindly follow every vapid thought of celebrities or even people they have never met, tagging along like lost sheep, all bleeting or re-bleeting like a mindless herd.
While Rockstar takes swings at social media, it relentlessly tears apart the mainstream media. As always, it uses radio talk shows to discuss issues that are grossly exaggerated, to the verge of inanity. A running theme throughout many of these shows is the infiltration of our government and society by ‘lizard people’, referencing the 1988 film ‘They Live’, in which aliens brainwash us to constantly consume and conform. The meat of the parody however lies with ‘Weazel News’; Rockstar’s take on Fox News which they have used since GTA 3.
Whenever a mission is completed we hear a report from Weazel news shortly after. Just like Fox News’ method of reactionary and sensationalist reports which either focus on scaremongering or deceit to serve their own ends or push the public to nurture ignorance and prejudice in the masses. The tag-line of Weazel News itself is;“Weazel News – Confirming your prejudice”. There are almost too many instances to list in this respect so I’ll share a few of my favourites:
After a mission where the player infiltrates a chemical weapons research facility with members of the ‘FIB’ (the FBI of the GTA universe) and escapes with a deadly chemical strain, Weazel news reports this as a ‘perfume factory’ heist, asking “why would anyone want to steal a perfume recipe?” They skim over any real information, because it points to criminal activity by the government agencies who are warring throughout the entire game. Another illustration of the sweeping assumptions the mainstream media loves to make when they lack any real information comes from a side mission available to Trevor. He agrees to do odd jobs for an elderly couple who have sick obsessions with the most personal aspects of celebrity’s lives. They ask you to get certain ‘souvenirs’ from celebrities, including a dog collar belonging to a ‘Kerry’ whose only claim to fame was appearing on a low-brow talent show. After stealing the collar, Weazel news reports the theft “as a homeless man stealing it so he can probably sell it for crack cocaine”.
GTA V is so teeming with social commentary that it’s impossible to completely capture in this article alone; the out of control funding of American intelligence agencies and private security firms, politicians’ broken promises, the war on drugs, the war on privacy, the whoring of ‘talent’ for TV ratings and even the Illuminati. Through Rockstar’s dry humour the proverbial mirror has been held up, and the rose-tinted glasses have been sold off for crack. As a result we see a savage reflection of society unlike anywhere else with a degree of unparalleled immersion.
All Images: Rockstar Games