Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Marxist Critique of Grand Theft Auto IV

[Regular readers of Histomat might remember that back in May I said that 'If anyone wants to write a Marxist analysis of GTA4, I'll publish it'. For the last three months one reader - Marvyn Trott - has dedicated himself to the task of playing the computer game almost non-stop solely in order to come up with what surely stands as the first explicitly Marxist analysis of the game. And he has given Histomat the world-historic opportunity to exclusively publish his findings, for which we are, obviously, extremely grateful.]

A Marxist Critique of Grand Theft Auto IV (of sorts)…
by Marvyn Trott

‘We Rock because We have the Freedom to Rock. So F. U. you Commies!’
(GTA IV Liberty Rock Radio)

Right, first things to say is stop reading this if you cannot abide encouraging deeply sexist or violent portrayal of contemporary popular culture. If you persist then you’ve no doubt been sucked into the hype surrounding the most popular game so far this year (2008).

First off, according to commentators, the UK firm that produced this game has accumulated approximately £360million globally and Hollywood is now acknowledging that video games are in direct competition with their own blockbusters. So much so that the film industry are now cashing in on the release of their own film rights sub-contracted to software studios, but need I say, these games tend to be shite.

Having read hardly any reviews for GTA IV but played the original GTA III and San Andréas i can say that these are the front runners in the state of games under capitalism. In fact GTA IV is an advert for aspects of popular culture vulgarised by capitalism.

The last point is an important one. Let’s give a couple of examples.

One is, as I said in the introduction is the sexism, the total and complete objectification of women, shouting at you from the TV whilst using of the worst expletives known in the English language against women. The complete sexualized imagery of women in the game via massive billboards as you drive down the street, an obvious universal commodification of women’s bodies under capitalism. Cynically targeting the game buyers audience which are predominantly teenage herberts.

Another is the violence. Ok, I quite like first person shooters ever since the release of ‘Doom’ back in the early 90s. But this game is just inhumanly contemptible towards its human AI’s. Niko, your character, likes to push people out of his way whilst calling them mofo’s (just as I’m typing snowball is beating up two homeless blokes). Niko is so alienated from his fellow human characters in the game one wonders who dreams up this shit.

The narrative says that Niko’s story is one of war victim or war criminal from the Balkans and that’s what makes him act as such. Fair enough, I think any self discerning gamer knows this. Then again everyone knows how violent capitalism itself is and the game reflects aspects of this reality. After all there are real war criminals stalking our streets in the back of cars with names like Bush and Blair.

Apparently I’ve heard that the game makers have been quoted in the media that they don’t care much for political correctness and I would say this is fitting in its backward portrayal of sexism and violence.

The worthwhile side to this game and that have certainly given the game its popularity is the music from the car radio every time you get into a car, whether jacked or stolen. The producers of the game have spared no expense in attracting some of the biggest names from the world of music and also the ingeniousness of the scripted dialogue that blares from the different radio channels.

The stars of the music world given airtime include Iggy Pop, Femi Kuti, DJ Premier, Roy Ayers, Bobby Konders, Francios K and Juliette Lewis. The playlists are just as good with Tuff Gong Marley tunes to the Black Keys. I’m thouroughly impressed with the hip hop classics and jazz funk tunes. I’ve been wondering how I can copy all the tracks off the game onto playable cd, the ones I aint got on vinyl! Suggestions welcome.

Was it Charlie Brooker that said this game satirises capitalism? Agreed. It ridicules capitalism and the ideology behind it. The ‘War on Terror’ is the standing joke throughout the game. Some inane fox news sounding presenter from ‘Weasel News’ is constantly reminding the gamer that the ‘terror threat level’ is ever increasing.

A eugenics advert tells you to throw away your children and buy perfectly cloned babies online. You get Iggy Pop telling you that, to paraphrase, ‘everyone wants to be famous because all the people who are famous have rich parents’, all Iggy wants is drugs but if he couldn’t get any he would jump off a tall building but can’t because all the rooftop doors are locked because of the war on terror… You get ‘the journey’ channels green message played after renditions of the Qyanasqatsii theme tune telling you that humans have fucked up the planet and it’s to late to do anything so it’s game over…

Also enough of the tunes speak out against the injustice of today’s system, Brand Nubian- One for All, Bob Marley and the Wailers - Rat Race, R.E.M -Turn you inside out & Gil Scott-Heron – Home is where the hatred is, are just pinch of musical plays in this game.

The anti capitalism of the game is its ridiculing of the corporate, fast food, consumer culture individualism and that to get ahead is to feign the criminal fraternity while escaping the uniformed state patrols and learn to drive a helicopter at the same time. I mean how many other working class teenage boys can impress their girlfriends by dropping into their garden via a helicopter then Rocket Propelled Grenade-ing the local police?

The games blatant anti racism is cool too.

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At 5:53 pm, Blogger Keith Watermelon said...

Heh, Heh... Marvyn Trott

At 11:52 pm, Anonymous Futurecast said...

Dude! I've been waiting for that review for a while. Thanks for that.

It wasn't bad - few things that may interest you:
If you play multiplayer mode - several of the descriptions of the different modes are politically charged.
e.g. Deathmatch's description is "It's kill or be killed capitalism style."

And without meaning to sound pedantic...
"So much so that the film industry are now cashing in on the release of their own film rights sub-contracted to software studios, but need I say, these games tend to be shite."
This paragraph seems to imply this is a recent development but this has been a common occurrence since the days of the Super Nintendo and and Sega Mega drive over ten years ago. Movie cash-in games are not a new trend and nor is their general shite-ness.

At 12:52 am, Blogger Haruspex said...

You may wish to review a soon to be released 15/11/2008) video-game called 'Mirror's Edge' which is set in a totalitarian, conformist police state and follows the story of 'Faith' whose parents were killed protesting against the government.

It deals with concepts like alienation and fits well with the current clamping down of civil liberties since the start of the 'war on terror'.

The gameplay is centered around 'free-running' which itself is symbolic in the context of the game. Also the lead character is female, she may be athletic but for once in a video-game she isn't sexualised or ridiculously proportioned.

Here's a trailer:


Stop selling papers and get gaming!

At 9:44 am, Anonymous tuxedo best said...

you know the GTA new release its full 3D and in high definition.


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