Grand Theft Auto V is, of course, hitting consoles next week, in case our relentless coverage hadn’t clued you in. And the fact that it’s one of several massive open world games arriving this fall is testament to how influential the series is. But it had subtle influences in other ways that are easy to miss until you think about it.
Arguably, Grand Theft Auto III arrived at the perfect moment to teach a lot of gamers about music. We’ve all got a track we never would have heard if it hadn’t turned up in one of the Grand Theft Auto games. The game’s carefully chosen playlist, mixing hits and deep album cuts, both brought more music to gaming and, just as importantly, made players listen to genres they’d scorn and find songs they actually liked. Grand Theft Auto had the odd effect of making us music snobs, but very well-rounded music snobs.
Do yourself a favor, the next time you complain about a loading screen; pop in a PS2 game and see what happens. True, new hardware has helped to lower loading screen times, but there were games where you could get up, get a beer, make some nachos, sit down, and eat them all before the game started back up. As open world games need more dynamic loading, and as Grand Theft Auto games sold copies by the crate, loading times have been cut down further and further as more money’s been thrown at them.
It’s a bit odd to realize it’s only been two years since the Supreme Court declared video games a form of speech protected under the First Amendment, but nonetheless, it’s true. And without the huge success of Grand Theft Auto, we never would have had guys like Jack Thompson pushing for bans, which in turn never would have pushed the issue to the Supreme Court, and settled that cultural conversation once and for all.
The PS2 era was a hard time for a lot of developers. The jump from 2D to 3D was painfully awkward and a lot of franchises, and developers, crashed and burned. Fighting games and platformers had been the bread and butter of a lot of companies, and those are harder to make work in 3D. Nobody was sure what kind of games console gamers wanted.
Grand Theft Auto, to some degree, had the answer. Not only did the jump to 3D massively benefit the franchise; it illustrated that there had to more to a dimension switch than just a polygon count. In many ways, Grand Theft Auto showed the way out of clumsy 3D fighting games and, for better or worse, demonstrated that gamers had grown up to some degree.