The Sounds and Sights of San Andreas: Collective Activity and Musical Engagement

In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, there are a multitude of features and design choices that can occupy and entertain the player in their engagement with the art. In my game playing experience, I was greatly intrigued by the depth of the role-playing elements in this iteration of the Grand Theft Auto franchise: from the gym work-outs to the mandatory eating. As you ride your bike, your ability to jump the bike and the speed by which you ride the bike increases with your time spent on it. The same can be said about driving a vehicle, which works to encourage the player to use their favorite mode of transportation, thus getting “better” at that locomotive preference.

bike

While this is fine and well, these component were not the features which captivated me wholly and completely. While I might look towards the game’s classic style, it’s dynamic choice of vehicles, it’s various styles of clothing to choose from, or even it’s rich and detailed story, there was something much more minute that drew a great deal of my attention.

As Howard Becker points out in his sociological text Art Worlds, “all the arts we know, like all the human activities we know, involve the cooperation of others” (7). For the development of a video game title, this rule is not only true, but it underlies and emphasizes the craft of video game making and video game development.

What truly captured my attention, and even kept me playing the game without any shred of boredom, was the game’s incredible musical selection. In the game, the music is accessed by shuffling through the radio menu, accessed within each vehicle the player enters. To add depth to this concept, a different radio station plays each time the player carjacks a non-player character’s ride, emphasizing the act of selection and choice the undergirds the musical tastes of real people in real life. As for myself, I immediately scrolled my mouse wheel to Radio Los Santos: a radio station that I became incredibly fond of along my journey through San Andreas.

Radio-Los-Santos-V.png

By accessing the IMDB full credits for San Andreas, it becomes clear that many people played a key role in developing the radio stations to their level of hilarity and entertainment. In the main writing credits, DJ Pooh is listed as a writer. Pooh is a notable force in the urban entertainment community. Working as a writer for the comedy hit “Friday” and as a producer for rapper such as LL Cool J, 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, and Dre Dre, Pooh’s addition to the Grand Theft Auto team is a stamp of authenticity need to shift the game from blatant parody to sharp satire. A likely curator for the game’s hip-hop radio station, he most certainly played a role in the development of its astounding musical selection. Featuring nothing but tracks from the late 1980’s and early 90’s, Pooh’s expertise in this temporal framework was undoubtedly key to the game’s success.

Not only is the music selection great, but the DJ’s themselves play a huge role in making the radio stations what they are. According to the game’s wiki page, Chuck D of Public Enemy plays the host of Playback FM, which features the likes of Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Gang Starr, and—even his own group—Public Enemy. The game even provides for the varied taste of its audience, placing Axl Rose, of Guns N’ Roses, as the voice actor for Tommy “The Nightmare” Smith: host of K-DST.

Overall, it’s clear that the developers of San Andreas wanted to provide a rich, complex musical element for their gaming representation of the 90’s West Coast. While the developers, level designers, and narrative writers played an important component to the success of this game, the star factor of their cast makes it all the more interesting.

Sources:

Becker, Howard Saul. Art worlds. Univ of California Press, 1982.

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5 thoughts on “The Sounds and Sights of San Andreas: Collective Activity and Musical Engagement

  1. Totally awesome article.

    In addition to the musical aspects of riding around in the drop top on the blade bumpin some G shit, how did the more ambient sounds strike you? A fair amount of gameplay involves riding a bicycle throughout Los Santos, like many people do in the hood and lower income areas. Do you think the ambient noise of car engines, freeways, and other such noise pollution do similar justice to the realm of Los Santos as its masterfully assembled soundtrack?

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  2. The sound balancing was actually a big quality problem that I noticed with my modern frame of reference. Some voices sounded fuzz, staticy when they were in person. Phone calls sounded completely clear randomly. As for the ambient noises, the modern titles certainly do this better but SA impliments these pretty well. I could have mentioned the low rider missions as a musical component as well, which frustrated me on a whole other level.

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  3. Games are more than simulations, they are reflections on life. I like to read the games I play as a collection of works that generate an image of life through participation. I am happy someone else is fighting their corner. Good read.

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  4. Yesssss! Someone that didn’t play Grand Theft Auto V! There were a bunch of people that worked on this game and the music is a part of that. Sound developers are artists in their own right and the fact that you enjoyed that aspect of the game just reinforces that. I didn’t know they had so many different artists come and put work into the game

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  5. I liked you blog post. It was very similar to mine. I was really amazed on how detailed the radio stations were in my game. I’m glad to see you felt the same for your game. Overall great read.

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