Game Tech: The truth about a grand gamechanger

Daniel Radcliffe in The Gamechangers, a BBC drama on the developers of Grand Theft Auto.

ONE year ago, I was living in an Asian capital city, and the walls were closing in. So, I turned to Grand Theft Auto V. I turned to a freedom simulator, writes Ronan Jennings

The rolling hills and open highways of San Andreas may not compare to the green fields of home, but they did the trick for a hemmed-in Irish ex-pat. On Tuesday, the BBC will air The Gamechangers, a TV film in which Daniel Radcliffe plays the ‘genius’ developer behind Grand Theft Auto — but Sam Houser is not a genius.

The genius of Grand Theft Auto is not individual, but collective. The genius of Grand Theft Auto lies in the end result itself, a sprawling world created by hundreds of people, an interactive, open-ended model of American real estate. A living, moving, malleable piece of art. A little piece of freedom wrapped up in gigabytes.

The Gamechangers was made against the will of Rockstar, the developers of Grand Theft Auto. It focuses primarily on the ‘collision course’ between Rockstar’s British developer Sam Houser and US Senator Jack Thompson, played by Bill Paxton.

For years, Thompson made it his life’s work to denigrate gaming whenever possible, with the majority of his ire directed at Grand Theft Auto, which he called a “cop- killing game” and a “murder simulator”. The BBC film centres specifically on the case of Devin Moore, an Alabama man who shot three police officers in 2005.

Thompson claimed that Moore’s ‘obsession’ with Grand Theft Auto had ‘trained’ him to kill the police officers. He appealed to the family of Moore to hold Rockstar and console-makers partially responsible for the crime. Sam Houser and Rockstar, rightly, saw things differently.

It will be interesting to see how the BBC handles both sides of this story, even if Thompson’s viewpoint is far from sympathetic. America, after all, is the self-proclaimed land of liberty, a haven of open roads and endless opportunity, where everybody owns the horizon. So what better game to honour that than the open highways, peaceful mountains, coastal roads and towering skyscrapers of Grand Theft Auto V? What better game than a freedom simulator?

The Gamechangers will air on BBC Two on Tuesday, September 15.

VIRTUAL CERTAINTY

Freedom comes in many forms, one of which is strapping a headset over your eyes until all sense of reality disappears and you question the nature of being. Yes, virtual reality (VR) is a strange and wonderful technology.

Long-term, the advent of VR is inevitable, but even Palmer Luckey isn’t sure about how long that will take. Luckey, who created the Oculus Rift, told Gamespot it will take time for the technology to evolve.

“I don’t expect everyone to be interested in VR as it is today,” Luckey said, from his swimming pool filled with caviar and supermodels, or maybe that was just the VR. “It is honestly a pretty expensive, relatively primitive proof of concept compared to where we want it to be, where science-fiction depicts it.

“But it is inevitable that it will become better.” The question, of course, is how much quickly it can become better and whether the resources will be made available for those speedy advancements. Oculus, which was bought by Facebook for €2bn, has huge financial clout behind it, but that doesn’t mean the future of digital freedom is here quite yet.

“People could argue that ‘I don’t believe that the cost will go down because nobody is going to care about it and you’ll stop innovating,’” Luckey said. “And they might be right about that in the short term.

“I don’t believe they will be right. But I’ll concede that they could be right. But in the long-run, it’s impossible to stop. At some point, technology will advance to the point where VR comes along for free.”

Speaking of free, if Grand Theft Auto V can generate a vast sense of expanse and freedom on 2D TV screens, just imagine what it could do in virtual reality. By that point, much as we hate to admit it, Jack Thompson might finally have a point about games simulating reality.


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