Friday, December 31, 2004

Been playing Rockstar's newest Grand Theft Auto game, in the gloom and sag and sop of dark, dour Ithaca. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with the story line and its sociopolitical critique, or lack thereof; while it's certainly a much more epic and sprawling game than Vice City, there are fewer poignant moments, fewer trenchant satires and more unexamined and unironized digital cliches. I was interested in this game as a take on the competing cultures of California--gangbangers, hippies, mafiosi, right-wing freaks, etc.--not unlike Pynchon's. And I think it's right that they triangularize LA, SF and Las Vegas, even if the latter isn't technically in California (San Andreas). But there's a curiously moralizing quality to the story (perhaps a bone thrown to Rockstar's critics, a post 9-11 internalized censor): part of the story involves Craig Johnson's attempt to clean up his neighborhood of crack dealers, and there is a lot of attention given to CJ's refusal of proferred drugs. Of course, at the same time, one can check one's stats and see the thousands killed (many innocent), the billions of property damage created, etc. Despite his occasional homilies, CJ's still a violent force equal to capitalism itself. The two impulses, rampant and unfettered sadism and an overlay of platitudinous cliche, don't mix well. I admired the fearlessness of Vice City, the way it gave free play to the basest, most bestial of impulses, and allowed for their exploration while at the same time engaging in a subtle commentary on these impulses' relationship to racism, sexism, global capitalism and various psychological and cultural trends.

Of course I might be expecting too much from this game (a videogame as object of analysis?), since LA in the early 90's forms the spatiotemporal center of Toward a Pornography of the Sublime and I'm hoping to write a videogame section for the book, and maybe teach this game at some point. I do find it interesting that smack in the middle of the game map, equidistant from the three cities, there's a tangle of roads and canyons called The Panopticon. I also like the paranoid hippy character The Truth, who entreats CJ to sneak into the top-secret army base and steal "the black project." But the end result of this episode is intellectually disappointing, even if it's neuromuscularly exciting. Maybe I'll have more to say later.

Unbelievable that the death toll keeps rising in Indonesia and elsewhere (believable, sadly, that personal contribution's have topped the US government's). I truly hope that epidemics and starvation can be avoided, and I pray that the governments and NGO's involved make the right choices and that chance and nature cooperate.


gina said...

Josh mentioned your blog in his yesterday, which means i'm suddenly listening to you think again, which is always amazing, and much missed, and yes, it's been too goddamned long, as we said before, and I do owe you a letter, but now I can check in with you daily, what a gift. I'm reading.


Brennen Wysong said...


Welcome aboard! I'll add you to my list of links.