Opened Worlds


Grand Theft Auto III (2001)

From The Ringer:

A smattering of memories from 2001, the year I turned 13: the death of my paternal grandmother, following several years of declining health; the Italian exchange student who emailed me a computer virus, following several weeks of uneasy cohabitation at my parents’ apartment; the high-level online Pokémon tournament I was forced to quit because of my duties hosting that exchange student; 9/11, of course. Not a whole lot more than that, I’m afraid. Time passes, memory fades, the accumulative effects of alcohol, marijuana, and Twitter conspire to pull a fast one on your brain, and so on, and so forth—the stuff great novels, and occasionally great movies, are made of.

Thus it’s with some mild surprise that within two seconds of thinking about it I located a firm memory of the first time I played Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto III, a game that rewired my—and possibly your—conception of what video games could look and play like, which is perhaps why I shouldn’t be so surprised to remember the moment even though I haven’t thought about it in 20 years. My buddy Steve and I have walked over to our buddy Tully’s house, where we’re going to sit with our buddy Tully’s older brother Ian in their parents’ living room, congregated around their boulder-sized television. My buddy Tully’s older brother Ian is hanging out with his own buddies, and while no one here is outwardly contemptuous, the kid brother’s snot-nosed friends merit no attention as history unfurls before us.

Not to make it sound like the moon landing. But kids today—to date myself by earnestly writing “kids today”—can’t exactly know what it was like to boot up a PlayStation 2 and drop into a three-dimensional world that looked just like ours, populated with skyscrapers and taxi cabs and passersby ambling down the street. Only none of this was window dressing, or walled off by the same invisible barriers preventing true movement in most video games we’d played—you could go here, you could go there, you could hop into a car and drive off the street onto the sidewalks, before launching yourself off a ramp and hurtling through the air and crashing into another car. You could play through the main story, about a lifelong criminal eking his way up the hierarchy of organized crime, or you could just roam for hours, unpacking every tucked-away secret inside this surprisingly detailed city. You could steal a police car and lead the cops on a wild and violent chase through that city, escalating the chaos until the military showed up with tanks and most likely put your joyriding crime spree to an end. Unless you stole the tank, too.

As a tween, all of this felt like the most unbelievable, incredible thing—an event worth crowding around the TV at my friend’s for, and hoping his brother would let me hold the controller for just a few minutes.

“After ‘Grand Theft Auto III,’ Open-World Games Were Never (and Always) the Same”, Jeremy Gordon, The Ringer

Screenshots via The GTA Place

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