The short tale of how a violent game helped give me my life back.

In 2001, Rockstar made Grand Theft Auto a fully 3D title, plotting the course for future ‘open world’ games even to today. Considered landmark by the games industry, it won many awards and near-perfect scores upon release. The freedom to act out the player’s imagination set it to legendary status, as players wreaked havoc with RPGs and high-speed chases. It also clashed with an emerging cultural awareness of hyper-violence specifically in games, still strong today, and growing stronger with the misguided association with school shootings.

That year, as well, life was strange: I was coming into my own as a young individual with fleeting dreams and a flair for isolation, afraid of what came next, and still emotionally scarred. Then the towers fell, leading many of my generation to believe it hinted at desolation. I was a mixed bag of emotion, frail from being weighed down by external crises, figuring out how the world operated as I went. The one place I could turn to free my mind was a video game: a burst of frustration filtering courtesy of Liberty City.

The chaos I caused was never about pleasure, or vindication, or the opportunity for maleficence. It was about redeeming the world for its cruelty as my friends claimed; they played simply because it was fun. I thought that point revolting, a destructive aim and cause that never should enter the minds of adults or children. But they remained arbiters of violence and I relented, for in my position friends were a resource I could not live without.

For me, the purpose lied in accepting my reality, the product of a failed family and a mother who succumbed to alcohol. The violence distracted me from that reality and became my salvation; a digital utopia where I was king and nobody else could wrestle it away. Grand Theft Auto 3 and its senseless, unremitting violence never progressed further than this, because I could separate realities and act civilly as if everything was fine.

The feeling after a GTA 3 session was powerfully euphoric. It was a time when I had full control of my environment, unlike the revolving chain of insults or bullying that was my life. I had displaced verbal violence with digital violence, committing to another dangerous cycle which lasted the better part of a year. My PS2 became neighbourly; I used to sleep downstairs after playing into the night, to wake up in the morning and have Claude staring back.

Grand Theft Auto 3 became my only point of interaction with anything outside my mind. I was never invested in math or history or science; even writing, usually a safe bet, I lost interest in. And I knew, too, of obsession and addiction. But for a young, friendless introvert, I saw it as something new and wildly fascinating. I could be an adult for once, in control and with lots of cash, and no barriers to constrain my imagination.

In a way, brutally running over civilians going about their day reinvigorated my creativity. A game vilified for testing the boundaries of media, only surpassed by Manhunt, brought back my enthusiasm.

It is weird how that happens.

Always like to include the personal posts. I will be doing more of this because they are fun to write. Anyway, you know the drill: Share the post if you like it, subscribe from the sidebar for instant updates, and while the beginning of spring is snowy, enjoy your Friday.

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