Meet Joaquin Guzman Loera, AKA ‘El Chapo’. If you haven’t already heard of him, he is head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexican’s biggest and most powerful Cartel. He is also one of the most notorious criminals of the 21st Century, and America’s Most Wanted Man, trafficking billions of dollars worth of illegal stuffs to and from Mexico- and worldwide- every year.
Now meet Michael, a fictional character in the newest addition to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, GTA 5. Michael is 1 of 3 main protagonists in the new game; a millionaire retired gangster, who in the game is trying to move away from the illicit dealings and gang warfare that earned him his fortune.
In the apprehensive and exciting run-up the release of GTA V (UK September 17th), I cannot resist a look at the comparisons between the number 1 selling franchise, and our everyday real life society. Even whilst this article was in draft, I was sitting in a cafe in South East London the other day, and two guys behind me were debating the ‘effects’ of GTA on society.
The sort of notoriety and street fame of real life Organised Crime Syndicates ever-present in GTA are merely a homage to the real life extremities witnessed in everyday media. It isn’t just GTA that is guilty of glamorising the gangsters- the same notoriety is built up by high-end critics and magazines too. In November 2011, El Chapo was placed on Forbes Magazine’s list of the World’s Richest People, with a net worth of over $1 billion. Yes, that’s billion! He also placed #55 on the list of World’s Most Powerful People. With his name printed boldly across Forbes Magazine, he is given a certain notoriety only this magazine could provide.
Not only that, El Chapo is not just a Drug Lord: earlier this year he was declared Public Enemy Number 1, a title last used almost a century ago for Al Capone during alcohol prohibition. Now that is pretty cool, anybody has to admit.
Such well-run, successful criminal organisations are constantly portrayed in Grand Theft Auto; the Italian Mafia, the Mexican Cartel, the Japanese Yakuza. All of these criminal organisations have been going for years, and they are only getting stronger. In addition, the storylines, characters and location settings have been cleverly emulated and recreated in the series constantly: Liberty City (NYC), Los Santos (LA), Vice City (Miami). And all of our characters started from the bottom and ended up at the Top. Not only in Gangsterland, but in the all the Land, because in Gangsterland, you OWN the land. And when you complete the game, the ‘fictional’ world is your oyster.
You only had to massacre other gang members and members of the public to get there.
The chilling reality is, this is behaviour and crime that can be witnessed plainly all over the world. If we look at Mexico, for example, endless documentaries show us dusty streets littered with dead bodies; victims of gangland crime. And the citizens have become almost desensitised by the violence, as it is literally an everyday occurrence. GTA emulates the everyday horrors caused by organised crime, and each new mission leaves us as players hunger for more power and achievement in a ‘fictional’ city filled with sin and corruption.
Of course we mustn’t forget the if not more chilling realistic portrayal of people who are supposedly the ‘good guys’ in the real world: Lawyers, civil servants, Judges and Government officials. In a corrupt society, images of these figures in the GTA games serve well to remind us just why our criminal protagonists are able to get away with as much as they do.
We all know how to evade the clutches of the law when you’re witnessed throwing a hand grenade into a crowd of pedestrians: As long as you pay them enough, you walk out of the police station a free man.
And not forgetting on the occasion you might manage to escape the law, but almost blow your arm off in the process: You pay the Doctors a tidy sum, and they stitch you up and send you on your way. No more Police Stars on your back.
For a game that has in preceding years received vast negative coverage due to its ‘violence and graphic content’, it’s almost amusing to ponder further why, after so much analysis, the critics/ protestors do not see the exact same thing that is forced upon them and their children by the mass media every day. Whether it be in the form of a TV news report, a Tweet, a YouTube video gone viral, or a newspaper article. The gangsters, corruption and their world are free for all to witness, and are hauntingly real.
On a final note, it may be worth asking, what does this really mean for our society on a whole? The two guys in the cafe had differing opinions, but if we put aside all the ‘negative effects of video games on young audiences’ thesis, etc etc, and think about how these terrible crimes portrayed in video games are already being lived out in real life, it gets pretty deep. The inspiration for the guys at Rockstar has to come from somewhere, and my personal opinion is society need to stop looking at the effects of these games, and instead think about the reality of them.