‘Grand Theft Auto 3’ defined a generation and rewired video games forever

Grand Theft Auto 3 – the myth, the legend – has just turned 20. We look back at how that shattered expectations and changed the course of the entire video game industry.

I still remember when Grand Theft Auto 3 was first released on PS2. The promotional photos I had seen in magazines had left me intrigued and timidly excited; although I was admittedly skeptical, Rockstar Games could rediscover the chaotic energy that made the first two games cult hits, especially in a 3D environment. It turns out I was spectacularly wrong.

My jaw almost hit the ground when I realized how Grand Theft Auto 3 was in fact. And what’s even more impressive is that the size of the game hasn’t compromised the freedom of the player. You could apparently do anything and everything; steal ambulances, rob and beat up Liberty City citizens, race cars, and infamously, you might even procure the services of prostitutes.

For a 13-year-old boy, it really looked like everything, at least in the context of video games in 2001. This level of freedom was not only revolutionary, but also oddly taboo.

Image: Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy / Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto 3 and the morality of video games

With improved graphics and a more cinematic presentation, Grand Theft Auto 3 began to garner a level of media attention and attention that previous episodes of the show did not have. The debate around censorship in video games immediately became much more nuanced, simply because there had never been a game more complex in terms of player agency.

Up to Grand Theft Auto 3 video games were generally considered linear, which meant that if you could do anything, it was considered an intentional part of the experience. Therefore, if a game allowed you to kill someone, it was assumed that the game developers were responsible for it.

And that’s exactly how the media first portrayed Grand Theft Auto 3 and the team behind its creation.

In hindsight, however, this was just one of the first examples of the player agency offered by the principles of “sandbox” game development. Just because you can cheat in chess by stealing pieces from the chess board doesn’t mean the creator of chess intended to cheat to become part of the game. Cheating happens to be a possibility inherent in the reality of games. of society.

Likewise, the ability to commit acts of violence and criminality is an inherent possibility in a video game, the primary purpose of which is to create the illusion of complete freedom. It’s widely understood and taken into account in today’s media, but it was Grand Theft Auto 3 that blew the lid off this whole discussion.

gta 3 remastered
Image: Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy / Rockstar Games

Open-world freedom and player-driven storytelling

While controversy has undoubtedly played a big part in GTA Ascent to the top of successful video game series, its true legacy lies in its open world ambition.

Of course, there had been computer role-playing games like Bethesda’s. The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall who eclipsed Grand Theft Auto 3It’s Liberty City in terms of size. But the way the game world felt alive and responsive was unlike anything that came before it.

This was critical to how most players experienced and interacted with the game, often choosing to skip the main quests in favor of player-driven storytelling. What I mean by that is rather than being Super Mario You are Mario in his quest to save Princess Peach.

Grand Theft Auto 3 gave players the option to ditch their red Mario caps, forget about Peach, and get out of the castle that we had all been made to believe was the whole world.

grand theft auto 3 original
Image: Grant Theft Auto 3 / Rockstar Games

It’s hard to overstate how big a deal this was back then; and it’s almost impossible to understand how deep an impact it has had on the video game industry. Even games so far removed from RGT series like Minecraft and Death loop bear the mark of this innovation.

Skeptical? here is Death loop director Dinga Bakaba explaining the influence of Grand Theft Auto 3, and how he ultimately rewrote the rulebook of video game development:

“I had a group of three friends and we spent a lot of time together playing games. And when GTA III came out, we were playing it all the time. The thing is, we weren’t doing story missions or side missions. It was days, weeks and months messing around in the city, telling each other stories, reacting to the living world chaotically, and challenging each other. “

“And the magic thing was that whenever there was a visitor beyond that core group, they naturally got involved, not necessarily by playing but by commenting, asking the player to try things… This experience opened my eyes to the power of emerging gameplay. and stories, seeing games perhaps for the first time as a truly expressive way beyond choosing his character in a fighting game or combos in a skating game, and that the stories he was creating were something that could be enjoyed not only by gamers, but also by viewers. “

“[It’s] something that has intertwined with support with the rise of gameplay streaming, and most notably the incredible GTA Online scene, with its role-playing streams this time involving more than one concurrent player.

Grand Theft Auto 3 was released on October 23, 2001. It is reissued as part of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy collection remaster, coming to PS4, PS5, PC, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X / S on November 11, 2021.

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