I play handheld games. Oh boy do I. Bought my first handheld system with lawn mowing money, and haven't looked back.
I'm also a self-proclaimed videogame anthropologist... the idea of videogame and videogamer culture is fascinating to me, and I love exploring it through the art, language, and communities that have cropped up as a result of videogames existing.
I have tried to play every Grand Theft Auto since GTA III, and I don’t get it. At all. I don’t understand the allure, the controversy, or why anyone would care about these games. Ever.
The first time I saw Grand Theft Auto III, I admit that I definitely understood the idea behind the appeal… the idea of “sandbox” games was still pretty revolutionary, and the concept of being able to do “anything” was utterly fascinating. Not having a next generation system myself, it took a few months before I was able to see the game in action when a friend of mine brought it over to my house, and the hype had me on the edge of my seat as I sat through that 4 minute loading screen.
It would take just another four minutes before I wanted to fall asleep while watching him play it.
However, I toughed it out… I assumed that I needed to get the controller in my hands and experience the game myself. So when I finally was able to try the game, I went for broke and tried all of those awesome things I had heard about in reviews and conversations.
I went and highjacked a car, and drove it around… and it was like driving in a racing game with crappy driving mechanics.
After getting bored, I got out and attacked strangers on the street... and it was like playing a 3rd person action game with crappy fighting mechanics.
I roamed the city, looked for trouble, tried my hand at missions, and generally became bored enough that I resolved that Grand Theft Auto maybe just was not my thing.
Burning bridges is never easy in the gaming world though… GTA is a rousing success, reaching near-universal acclaim across the gaming industry. Yet, as I comb through reviews, it is hard to find specific traits that people praise… in fact, most reviews are filled with criticism that makes the high scores that the games receive at best confusing. The highlights I usually find are, “you’ll have so much fun driving around,” or, “there are so many extras to keep you entertained beyond the core gameplay.” I found no thrills driving around aimlessly just because I could, and the extras struck me as little more than phoned in mini games. I kept looking to friends, bloggers, or anyone to explain what makes these games so iconic and loveable, to absolutely no avail. All I saw was as sandbox that was about as fun as a box of sand.
Finally, a beacon of light shown through my abysmal views of GTA: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS. Being a handheld gamer at heart, I finally felt like this was truly the opportunity for me to see what everyone was talking about when they raved about GTA. I was even more reassured when I read Destructoid’s review, which hailed it to be one of the best games on the Nintendo DS. I was thrilled to go into Gamestop and buy the game on the day it was released, ready to cut through the haze that had surrounded my gaming view for so many years.
And yet, as I tapped my way from mission to mission, the feeling of familiarity sank deep into my stomach. I was playing every Grand Theft Auto I had played before, from the terrible driving mechanics to the almost useless combat system. The “extras” this time around were just as unsatisfying as before, and the missions were almost an insulting waste of my time. The most fun I had with the game was buying and selling drugs for an hour before realizing I had nothing to spend it on except for more drugs or guns, the latter of which would only be useful if I cared about the combat.
I admit I suck at Grand Theft Auto games, but I also have to admit, I don’t even know what that means. Taking away all of the problems with gameplay, the lack of unique gameplay features, and a throw away story, the only thing this game could possibly provide is senseless fun, but I am even lost on this concept… I have yet to find the fun in driving aimlessly, button mashing to lock onto a proper target, or playing a button pressing game to have sex with a prostitute.
So I call out to the gaming community as a whole, can someone please explain the devout following that these games have, the high scores they receive, and what the hell I’m missing.
And why not, a prize to anyone who can successfully explain why GTA games are so damn special: a free, barely used copy of GTA: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS. The only noticeable signs of wear and tear on it is a scuff mark on the case from where it was thrown across the room in disgust approximately 2 hours after purchase.