Why Is GTA So Important In Modern Gaming?

GTA 6 has leaked, and it’s both the most monumental leak in gaming history that will set development of the game back a decade (Twitter’s words) and a minor if irritating blip that means development will largely continue as planned (Rockstar’s words). A lot has been written about the leaks, including an analysis of how it will – or won’t – change leak culture by yours truly, but the size of the leak is only half the issue. The second part is the size of GTA itself. We didn’t expect it to be in the news cycle in a major way for at least another year or whenever it has its big reveal, but the leaks provide a unique opportunity to discuss the series itself, and the hold it has over gaming.

GTA has long been the medium’s darling. Since GTA 3, every game has boasted a technological prowess, scope, or detail beyond all of its peers. However, there is a small sense that this goodwill could dwindle. Fans love GTA, but they hate waiting, and they’ve been waiting a long time. It’s nine years since GTA 5, so we’re already in the biggest GTA drought since the series began, and we’re not seeing that dry spell end any time soon. It’s not just the waiting though, but the ways in which Rockstar has filled it. The greatness of Red Dead Redemption 2 aside, this void has been filled by porting GTA 5 to the next generation, and then the next one again. GTA Online has taken on a life of its own, though not without its critics for the game’s moneygrubbery. Red Dead Online tried the same tactics, but came and went without achieving the same level of success.

If we thought we were out, we’ve all been pulled back in. GTA 6’s leaks might have had some trolls complaining about how bad it looks, but mostly the reaction (aside from hysterical and deranged wishes that the poor corporation throws the mean old leaker in jail) has been outstandingly positive. Everyone wants a new GTA, and this leak shows that one exists. It needs polishing and finishing, but while the famously secretive Rockstar has refused to discuss it, this leaker has allowed us to.

This positivity has naturally spilled over to other games, which are now being uplifted as proof that the (inflated, and often fictitious) naysayers are wrong. Most of this focus has been on the technological aspects of GTA – the details, the physics, the things no other games have done before. This has always been GTA’s area of expertise. But is it really enough anymore? We’re yet to see GTA 6 for real, and it may be the most advanced game yet, but when the cavalcade of Sony exclusives is pushing the boundaries of tech in less time with lower development costs, how long can the Rockstar model work in an industry that’s already unstable? Is it even enough to be technologically advanced these days?

Do you remember any story beats that particularly resonated with you in GTA 4 or 5? Any missions that were your favourite? Not fun times you had in the sandbox the game provides you, which is admittedly part of the appeal, but good times you had within the structure of the game itself. For a game so advanced, GTA’s missions feel dated and on rails too often, and their binary starting points and scripted missions go against the feel of modern game construction. This was the one mark against RDR2, but I think GTA 6 will feel the pinch more because most people just want it to be a sandbox. Is a decade long wait for a game that’s technologically impressive but just kinda fun everywhere else something we should be rooting for?

Of course, video games are art. Art takes as long as it takes, right? But let’s not kid ourselves – GTA 6 is a commodity. A significant chunk of the discussion around leaks has been around impact on sales and profit – these are not conversations you have around art, they are conversations for products.

Then there’s the fact some people really do love GTA, every inch of it. The games are wildly popular, and it’s a little dismissive of me to say there’s nothing fun or worthwhile to the missions or narrative. But if you want to bring those aspects up for praise, you have to be ready to take the criticism. GTA is full of sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist rhetoric. Yes, it’s satire. Yes, if you love that stuff on purpose the game is making fun of you. But it’s far less satirical than, say, The Boys or even Joker. It’s closer to American Psycho, it seems to revel in its worst traits even as it claims to be inverting them.

What, precisely, is the comment on society being made by letting us beat up sex workers? Is GTA really the best game of all time, or is the gaming cultural narrative merely controlled by not just mostly men, but mostly socially awkward nerdish men who claim to stand for left-wing values but love punitive justice, might is right, and secretly think racist jokes are funny? Who can say.

All we know is GTA 6 is likely to be the biggest game on the planet and this leak isn’t going to matter even a little bit. But once the hype of it arriving goes down, can GTA 6 go the distance? Does it need to evolve for the modern landscape, and can it? Will its brand of satire still find an audience, or are we too uncomfortable with punching down these days? How much more technologically can gaming do, and how much will GTA 6 lead that charge? Will it justify its development time and costs, and as a piece of art, does it need to? These are questions the leaks can never answer, but in the aftermath, they’re all I can think of to ask.

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