The Grand Theft Auto series has had an expansive wealth of aberrant iterations, some more distinctive than others. With narratives both satirical and breathlessly irreverent GTA has endured despite constantly being undermined as a series for “casual” and perennially censured as the cause for teenage suicide. Controversy embroiled it, defines it, imbuing it with a sense of vigour that allows it to flourish in spite of the continued sneers, directed by tabloid dirt rags and periodicals that simply look to incite fear rather than understand a game that relishes in the madness of violence and criminality. Above all GTA is daft entertainment, with its absurdity only matched by its gratuity. Nowhere is that lunacy more perceptible than in the series most commercially volatile editions: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
I didn’t just adore this game, I lived it. I received it as a Christmas present along with the PS2 that my mother generously saved for, and I subsequently devoted the entire festive period to its completion. The addiction became so prominent that I actually began enacting the scenes as they happened on-screen. Impersonating Tommy Vercetti with such acuity that he’s gestural nuances and speech patterns were mimicked more than was healthy for me. Completing the game was always intoxicating, not because the exhilarating conclusion was satisfying accomplishment (though it was), it’s because I could delete that save file and begin the whole sordid story again! Culturally Vice City was crucial for social kinship in school.
One of the few ways to be socially acceptable or “cool” in school was either not being me or my erudite chums or playing Vice City. If you owned the game and could converse with others familiar with it, then for a few blissful weeks at least, you were courteously accepted by those that didn’t waste the first half of the day talking about and reenacting last nights episode of the Simpsons. The main topic of conversation in school was either Vice City or how one specific student earned a facial scar over the summer holidays (turns out that he fell out of a tree and wasn’t in fact savaged by his Uncle like most of us suspected). The best discussions were always reserved for the supposed controversy surrounding the game, the sensationalized stories by tabloids that detailed the passive influence Vice City would have on inciting violence on children’s vulnerable little minds, which I always found hilariously ignorant and misguided. If there’s anything that concerned parents should have been vigilant of its having their children’s minds corrupted by 80s power ballads.
A 15-year-old me should not know all the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa”! I shouldn’t hear the drums echo in the night, nor for that matter “Die in your arms tonight”, regardless of what you say! Even with several years abstinence from Vice City’s diverse and hilarious radio stations, the soundtrack still resonates with conflicting persuasion. For me it featured the best music that perfectly accompanied an era excess and overindulgence that permeated through the 80’s.
The thing I remember most fondly however was immersing myself the depraved city, occupied by unscrupulous Lawyer’s, Mafia betrayals, suicidal pedestrians and power-hungry charlatans that attempted to impede Tommy Vercetti’s rise to prominence. The journey was so compelling and exceedingly challenging too. Very few of the recent GTA games have prompted the same rage induced spittle that drenched my PS2 controller the way Vice City did. Anything vehicular based or that required a first person perspective were often the most galling parts to bridle, but also satisfying when you heard that musical interlude that indicated the end of a mission, as well as a generous cash reward for your troubles.
GTA Vice City’s most endearing distinction, the one that makes it such an enduring phenomenon is that despite it being years since I last played it, I could still navigate my way around Vice City better than my home town. I knew the best routes to evade the incessant police presence that would pursue me for mild misdemeanours like destruction of property, speeding or soliciting the services of a hooker and repeatedly running over said lady to reclaim my ill-gotten money. It’s that kind of geographical mapping that I believe has made me better at navigation in real life. So I think its fair to say that a game where themes of violence, drugs and torture are abundant affrays and civilians are treated with the same callous ignorance as global warming has actually benefitted me. Perhaps even made me a better person. Maybe. Whatever influence its had on me it throughly deserves its place as one of my all time favourite games. And that’s why GTA: Vice City is my #3 most influential games of all time.