A few weeks ago, my friends and I were talking about games that we used to love playing as kids. None of them were Indian so it was nice to get to know what games defined their childhood. Almost everyone answered Nintendo exclusives. Most of the mentions were Zelda, Mario Bros, Smash, Pokemon, Metroid. When it was my turn, I paused for a bit before answering with the correct answer ‘GTA’. I felt it was inappropriate and everyone would judge either me, or my parents for letting me play it. I had played GTA as a kid, as a teen, and as an adult. It’s silly but I would go crazy like Smash fans if Claude, Tommy, CJ, Niko, Michael, etc. had a game together where they just hang out with each other, GTA style. I was still paused. Hesitantly, I answered Mario because I had played it a few times on a knockoff $5 console with $1 cartridge that claimed to have 999 games on it. I didn’t even know it was called Super Mario Bros. But I felt like I had wronged my childhood game, so I immediately switched to GTA. They were surprisingly okay with it, which made me think, it’s not so much of a big deal. But it was still bothering me, why GTA? I googled, and found that Nintendo does not sell in India. I was relieved, the mystery of Nintendo not being a part of my childhood was solved. But the question remained, why GTA?
When my friends talk about playing these games with their childhood friends, the way they describe their experiences, that mental picture, resonates with mine, for one exception – Their screens had a little character jumping on turtles, while mine, had a gangster on a rampage in the middle of a busy street. Was it fun? yes, a lot. Passing controller and alternating missions with friends, exploring side quests, getting 6 star wanted level just cause, it was all just FUN. And there it was, the answer to my question. Why GTA? Because it’s fun. It isn’t complex to learn, the story isn’t convoluted, and it’s not linear. Even if you’re not progressing story-wise, you’re still having fun.
Now, to address the elephant in the room. How did GTA affect me as a kid? I don’t think it had any negative effect at all. All I have are my memories with my friends. I had seen blood in movies, so I knew what to expect when there was a shooting. I didn’t magically learn that it would be fun to shoot people in real life, but I understood more about the types of guns. How different guns shoot differently, and how magazines work, how guns reload, etc. I learned about American culture, I learned about different groups and people. It just felt like general knowledge to me rather than an encouragement for picking up a gun and start shooting on the street. The consequences of doing such awful things was shown through the police in the game as well, so I would say I was rather discouraged about even thinking about committing a crime. The lewd jokes? I didn’t understand almost anything of it. Dry humping was just a funny dance move. CJ was really only having a coffee when invited to his girlfriend’s house, and Candy Suxx was just an actress.
In a country where censorship in games was the least of its problems, GTA was booming. The only problem was, Piracy.. When I was about 15, I was at my cousin’s place who lived in a bigger city, where I later studied Computer Science. She gifted me a $10 Spongebob game. The content was not even 10% the amount of content in a $1 GTA game. I was very disappointed, but appreciated the gift. Then, I started getting active on the internet, and soon, I realized that all the games I had bought in my small town, were pirated copies. I was shocked, my whole childhood was a lie. But, I still had time. A little too late, but finally, I could do justice to my childhood. I bought legit copies, and played through them again, and again. GTA is fun.