It has to be said that the late 90s was pretty epic all round for a guy at my age. I was soon to be leaving school, I was also soon to become a legal adult…which meant nothing really apart from the fact that everything I had been doing illegally was soon to be legal and therefore ok in the eyes of the law. We hadn’t had much more controversy over video games since the 16bit era, people had come to realise that video games were now emulating real and fantasy world violence but it was to be Grand Theft Auto that stood apart from the rest of the crowd with a big blood stained knife in one hand and a sign in the other that said “Look at me!!”. Looking back at the first installment of GTA makes you really question what all the fuss was about (No offense guys!). It really goes to show how little the media scum and civilian do-gooders have going on in their lives, when a small, pixelated world of top down criminal activity can become a focal point of a society.
Ultimately what you take from a game like GTA is the most important part. Was it that you took someone’s life during a robbery and then were abruptly run over by over zealous local authority? Or do you now think that yes, selling cocaine on the streets, although lucrative, is in fact living your life on a knife edge between becoming Scarface or a shit stabber behind bars.
The minority who complained about the game were often the ones who have never played it and it was the fine upstanding role model, Max Clifford who got the controversy ball rolling. Your background and circumstances obviously play a big part in your early development, not some crooked graphical representation of a city from the view of a pigeon. Before shoddy looking violent video games, the previous generation had been subjected to beautifully composed and well animated cartoons. Young people witnessed a man with a passion for spinach, solve all of his day to day tribulations with simple brutality. Punching and kicking anything that stood in his way, often all for the love of a gawky looking woman. I don’t remember the public outcry to ban Popeye, core values and morals in life are something you may or may not follow depending on your wiring and upbringing. If you are influenced enough by video games to commit heinous acts, the games aren’t the problem. Boredom is a scary thing, never let humans, adults or children, become bored, it leads to awful things…I believe computer games combat this.
I remember entering Curry’s in 1998, which for those of you who do not reside in the UK, it is in fact an electrical store, not a food outlet. GTA had just hit the shelves and I went in to shoplift…I mean purchase the game. I had read the reviews, scanned the screenshots and so, I was looking forward to playing the game as it sounded like a riot. For whatever reason though this game received an 18 rating and because of this, the young man behind the counter couldn’t serve me. Saddened by my inability to crack on and sell virtual crack, I politely asked my Dad if he would go in and buy it for me. My Dad had spent many an hour sat with me, hand drawing the maps of DOOM for me as we ran around level after level mercilessly gunning down anything sprite that moved…he knows it’s just a game and he doesn’t give a flying fuck what you do in a game as long as you’re not stupid enough to carry out ‘missions’ in real life. You join to army to kill legally, and carry out missions all in the name of drugs and or resources. I’m far too lazy for that kind of thing and that’s why I play video games.
If Wipeout and Gran Turismo raised the bar for technical and content excellence in a racing game. GTA took RPG/Action/shooter/driver, to a whole new level. Real stereo audio tracks boomed over sounds of a bustling city, as you joy ride to victory doing favours for local drug dealers and pimps. Originally penciled to be a simple cops vs robbers chase game, the small team of programmers and enthusiasts pooled ideas from their favourite films and TV shows to come up with a totally original idea. The big cheeses funding the operation didn’t want it, at times the programmers couldn’t meet the concepts, It was almost canned at every corner but for some reason, it was destined to be brought to life and beamed into our brains to turn us into violent drug pushing thugs.
The PS1 was now on fire (not literally due to becoming violent) with so much great content, Sony were an unstoppable force at this point. GTA along with other great titles secured PS1’s place as top dog.
After well over fifty hours playtime I can’t say I was any closer to stealing my neighbours car and going on a knife rampage, I had a teenage temperament already, which meant I was naturally either hot, cold or horny or all of the above. Drugs had come long before GTA ever did to. I remember it like yesterday (going against any so called ‘reports’ of cannabis leading to memory loss) my friend and I stood under his porch in the back garden, listening to the heavy rain on the plastic corrugated roof, hunched over trying to ignore the cold. He produced from his coat pocket what I saw him roll earlier and said “Try it, it’s like cigarettes only different’.
Different indeed, I don’t think we stopped laughing for three hours, laughed at the rain, laughed at each other and laughed some more. We went back upstairs and stuck on the Playstation and a beautiful friendship came to being. I didn’t realise at the time that this was illegal, I guess people can only have fun as long as there is a limit to it, enforced by government.
I was no stranger to physical violence either with over seven years of traditional Karate behind me, long before GTA being released. Karate is an age old Japanese method of practicing how to effectively use ones foot to make an opponent’s eyes pop out of their ears. You enter a room full of strangers and quite often you’ll find yourself punching and kicking each other, occasionally being whipped by a teachers belt if and when you made mistakes. Had I used these techniques in anger? Not really, but I had been able to defend myself once or twice, usually resulting with me trying to put someone’s foot up their own ass.
I’ve seen monks from Asia smash pots on their heads and take kicks to the groin from a man twice their size…those bald fella’s haven’t even got a TV so whatever influences them to practice the arts of inflicting pain is anyone’s guess. I’d say boredom.
Smoking plants and playing video games was now what happened between school and eating. It could not have come at a better time as titles that have earned their place in the video game hall of fame, were released within two years of each other. Who can forget the four player split screen romp that was 007 Golden Eye on the N64, running around as Nick Nac while your friend fruitlessly attempts to karate chop you to death with Jaws had me in tears of laughter, not to mention the hilarious animation. Resident Evil 2 stoned was another level of frightening too, with curtains drawn, walking around as a cop who can only move like a cheap educational robot, HI-FI turned up to 11 and the lights off, it certainly tested your nerves.
For me this was a highlight in my gaming history so far. The days when I’d sit with a mate in my school uniform for hours until it was time for me to go, I could take the game home if they let me borrow it and the disc contained the full game.
I still had my Megadrive, I don’t recall when I sold the old girl but I do remember on the odd occasion, slamming in a cartridge for one final blast on California Games, Streets of Rage or James Pond. The sounds, the gameplay and the pad brought on feelings on nostalgia even at such a young age. When I play these games now on emulators, it’s never the same, similar to the thoughts of child hood, it reminds me of how easy going things were back then when compared to the ever maddening, shameless, money grabbing, product placing, non supportive, underhanded, identity stealing, slutty industry it is today.
There are just too many games to mention here, the step into the 3D polygon world of Sony’s powerhouse was only the beginning, but for a lot of us, we were playing reinvented titles of the originals. The Strike games continued with Soviet and Nuclear Strike. We had Micromachines V3 which surprised many as it was just as additive and frustrating as the original. Mortal Kombat was given more content and fighters with the Trilogy, with strong competition in the genre from 3D titles like Tekken and Soul Blade, there were no complaints. The PlayStation, was the first video game console to ship 100 million units, 9 years and 6 months after its initial launch. Gaming was becoming seen as a worthwhile past time and not just the hobby of spotty kids with high scores and corduroy trousers.
In the year 2000, we were going to see what would become the bestselling home console of all time, the aptly named, Playstation 2. It was also the year I left home, had my first house mate and so, the battles continued.