GTA:LCS/VCS – Capitalism Allegory

February 23rd, 2010


It’s seems the harder I squint at GTA’s, please excuse me, f**king terrible storytelling, the more abhorrent and offensive it becomes. There’s a consistent theme though, where your regular, fair-dinkum crook climbs the criminal hierarchy by sucking off his scummy superiors. Perhaps it’s a lesson in power and the people whose inheritance of capital grants them power. In this way, the GTA games could be seen as an allegory for capitalist culture, after all, the radio stations are keen to critique American culture, so it would make logical sense for the narrative to participate also.

In GTA, drugs are the main form of capital. Drugs translate into money which can then be used to buy/facilitate the purchase of more drugs, so basically whoever runs the best drug racket runs the city. You’re goal, beginning from the bottom is to reach the top of the criminal hierarchy. Because GTA’s world is market-driven, you take missions which involve obtaining and securing your capital. Of course, being a game of capitalism, GTA is all about subordination since the weight of power in a capitalist system is akin to a pyramid, where power is held by as fewest people as possible. So, you’re not really obtaining and securing your capital, but the capital of your wanker superiors. (And as an aside, its the flamboyance of these characters which is the bane of my frustration).

Your correspondence between these gate keepers also mimics the capitalist system. You begin as a lowly hitman and climb the ranks, switching to people of continually significant power, until you’re granted a little bit of capital yourself. It’s often at this point where some form of manager steps in to assist in your affairs and the game approaches the final chapters as your connections grant you quick gains.

The most interesting part of GTA’s representation of a capitalist system is the endgame. The GTA narratives conclude only after the protagonist has climbed to the top of the ladder, thereon completing the “game of life”. Toni Cipriani doesn’t simply carry on as a contented hitman or chauffeur. Part of the decision to conclude the narrative at the top of the system is inherent. Games, as programmed creations need an absolute ends, and it’s much easier to justify a position of “maximum” power as the conclusion, rather than simply the contentment of the avatar which the player themselves co-authors.

GTA offers no alternatives to capitalism either, the narrative begins with the protagonist’s submission to a gang leader, the representation of the player’s newfound place at the bottom of the food chain.

Along the way the player is introduced to heroes and victims of the system. The heroes are the drug lords and gang leaders who commission the trade of capital and become the eventual lower rungs. The victims are the rival gangs and syndicates who succumb to the power struggle and the deceased which pave your way forward. It would be remiss of me to forget the real victims, the citizens who become caught up in and around and player’s activities. Most curiously, from my experience—and no, I haven’t played GTA IV—the only time the player’s narrative intersects with the people’s is in Louise Cassidy-Williams subplot in Vice City Stories.

So maybe all of that squinting had resulted in something after all.