Time Magazine contributor Lev Grossman uses GTA IV to examine storytelling in video games.
You can look at the whole GTA series as a sustained fictional inquiry into the myth of the great American badass — the criminal, the gangsta, the made man, the outlaw. It’s a loving inquiry, but it has a consistent critical distance, an outsider’s point of view. And no wonder: the games aren’t created by Americans at all. Houser, a Brit, is based in New York City, but most of the work gets done by Rockstar North, a team of Scots based in Edinburgh.
Freedom isn’t a problem for Houser. As a storyteller, he feels as though he’s lucked into the lawless, Wild West period of video games. “It’s not academicized,” he says. “There’s no orthodoxy on how things are done, so we can do whatever we want. We make it up as we go along!” As for the ongoing debate about whether games are art, he couldn’t care less. That’s what critics get paid for. “As soon as we get told, ‘Yes, games are high art. They’re almost as high as painting and slightly less than dance,’ it’s over. Freedom is dead at that point. Then the argument just becomes about people’s egos. And my ego doesn’t need to be told I’m an artist. I hate myself already!”