Grand Theft Auto: A Very British Game About America

A British gamer explains why the Grand Theft Auto series is more British than American.
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In case you haven’t noticed, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) V goes on sale tomorrow. This 15th title in the series sees the continuation of a franchise that has taken the gaming world by storm, receiving as much praise as it has stoked controversy. But what many might not have noticed is that, although for the majority of its series it’s set very much in America, it’s actually a very British game.

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A Very British Developer

Although Rockstar Games is technically an American company, with its registered headquarters in New York City, the GTA series was the fruit of Scottish games studio DMA Design Ltd, the studio also responsible for the infuriating fiendish cult puzzler, Lemmings. Through a series of acquisitions, it ended up being owned by Take-Two Interactive, who changed the company’s brand to what is now Rockstar.

Because of its British origin, and despite its US address, it has more studios in the UK than anywhere else in the world – Rockstar North (Edinburgh), Rockstar Leeds, Rockstar Lincoln, and Rockstar London – compared to its three locations in the USA, one in Canada, and another in Japan. Rockstar North and Rockstar Leeds are the two studios behind the development of the bulk of the GTA series.

But it’s not just the company’s geography that makes GTA so British.

A Very British P*ss Take

Throughout GTA’s majority of titles, Rockstar Games has indulged in a favourite British pastime; making fun of Americans. What we love to make fun about Yanks is the hideous bombast inherent in the culture; it’s simply not subtle and has very little shame. For a fairly reserved culture like the UK, Americana fills Brits with an equal amount of fascination as it does contempt.

But that’s not to say that GTA was ever about being mean about America. On the contrary, the jibes are actually incredibly affectionate. In the UK, teasing someone is actually a form of endearment, especially when done with humour.

British “executive transvestite” comedian, Eddie Izzard, compares the US and UK film industries, summing up our cultural differences.

What we love to make fun of about America is its loudness: the rootin’ tootin’ gun-toting violence, the crass materialism, the brute machismo and arrogance – the American Dream! With American culture by way of films, musicals, and TV shows invading our shores since the mid-1900s, it’s constantly awed us with its lust for razzle dazzle and big drama; things we just didn’t attempt, let alone excel in. But, we have come to appreciate it over time, hence why poking fun at it is actually the nicest thing we can do.

And there’s so much of American culture in GTA. Die Hard, The Godfather, Dirty Harry, Taxi, and countless other iconic American action films that get more than a couple of references in over the course of the series.

 

It’s the fact that this is a British parody that really makes it. An American take on American culture would most likely not be as brave or as bold to go as far out there as GTA has over the years. 

 

When spoofing, you exaggerate, and it’s this knowing augmentation of American culture that has made the games so popular. As American culture is already perceived as over-the-top, the result is something ridiculous.

But it’s the fact that this is a British parody that really makes it. Given that there is very little guilt or reservations about doing poking fun of America, sat cosily far away on our “sceptered isles,” there’s little to hold Rockstar Games back. Being an unabashed and uncensored lambast is what makes the series as successful as it is, despite the waves of conservative criticism on its inglorious depiction of violence and adult themes. After all, self-deprecation has never really been the US’s strong point, and an American take on American culture would most likely not be as brave or as bold to go as far out there as GTA has over the years. 

 

No Gritty Realism Please, We’re British

The franchise’s outlandish parodying sense of humour being key to its success is no better illustrated than with Grand Theft Auto 4, considered by many as the weakest of the series. This is because it was trying to be too American.

Grand Theft Auto 4 [is] considered by many as the weakest of the series. This is because it was trying to be too American.

Running up to its release, US blockbuster culture had taken a turn for the gritty and real, with hard-knock reboots of popular cultural staples, such as Batman, being hugely successful and profitable. With GTA4’s emphasis on emulating this formula and cultural phenomenon by focusing on realism, it lost a lot of its humour (although by no means completely). Many fans, thinking this, turned to Saints Row for their fix of outrageous giggles, which ironically started as a much more realistic game that GTA.

But with reports of visiting a strip joint having its very own mini-game mechanics, and rumours of light necrophilia, it seems that GTA might be back on track to being winsomely irreverent, and hopefully, the America-goading that we’ve all grown to love.

Grand Theft Auto V is released worldwide on September 17 2013. For more information about the game visit www.rockstargames.com.


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Image of Destrolyn.Bechgeddig
Destrolyn.Bechgeddig
Bearded British game-bear. Likes his JRPGs accompanied with a G&T. Lives in London, UK. Also writes a lot about theatre and film. *jazz hands*