Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series is perhaps the greatest game that the company probably ever produced. The Grand Theft Auto videogame series is one of kind where it has literally blurred the line between virtual and reality, and is so controversial that it has come into question whether if it is a game or not. It is this very reason that I picked one the Grand Theft Auto games to answer the question, how is it art?
So, how is Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas a video game that children and teens admire while parents despise be called piece of art? Well, if we analyze the videogame from the perspective of George Wilhelm Hegel’s philosophy in that art is an ideal or a constant progress one in which the negative and abstract form the concrete or a new style of art, then GTA (short for Grand Theft Auto) is a product of an ideal.
During the many times that I inserted GTA: San Andreas into my XBOX and began to play it may seemed nothing more than just another videogame. However, when I analyzed and paid close attention in search of its artistic side I discovered that GTA correlates with the ideas of Roland Barthes. According to Roland Barthes’ article The Death of the Author, it is necessary for the perspective of the author whether it be in a work of art or piece of literature to die and the reader to give a personal meaning to his or her work. This does not mean that the reader should take the work of a critic, instead the author’s work should be open to the interpretation of the reader. Yet in order for the reader to have story or meaning to the author’s work the individual must participate. Basically, in the words of Barthes “The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author” (Barthes, 148). Thus, in GTA the reader which in this case the player gives the game its own story.
How? The act of free will, the player is given the opportunity to avoid completing the mission and carry on with what he or she desires to do, whether it be destroying cars or walking around the city. In addition, GTA in an unorthodox manner connects with Walter Benjamin’s idea of art.
According to Walter Benjamin’s article The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in era where everything is reproduced through machinery the connection between art and the human touch is severed, the loss of the “Aura”. Basically, in Benjamin’s own word “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, it unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Benjamin, 298). So, what does this have to do with GTA? Being that GTA is a videogame it obviously means that it was copied and sold to different places and people, yet if Barthes philosophy is taken into account then the GTA copy which I own becomes into its own piece of art.
Unlike films or pictures where everything is stabilized, GTA has the freedom of movement. The player gives life and differentiation in the manner he or she plays. For example, every time I play GTA: San Andreas I choose to insert cheats and customize the character to my will, thus establishing a connection between me and the game, and through this action the aura is restored. The players individualize the game by playing it at their whim, and in this Hegel’s philosophy of art presents itself. The player becomes the character, and the gameplay is the story that the player creates. The actions one takes in GTA is a representation of the self without the fear of consequences, which eventually forces the player into self-exploration of one own personality. The art (game) and individual (player) have connected establishing artistic progress of the self. This is how GTA is art.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Art of Modern Culture: An Anthology to Critical Texts, edited Francis Frascina and Johnathan Harris, 297-307. IconEditions.