I’m not actually a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto games, though like a lot of gamers I find the relatively open structure of the gameplay in the series compelling. It’s a personal thing, not something that I’m inclined to be a scold about, but gangster-related popular culture usually doesn’t appeal to me. Even The Sopranos doesn’t grab me as much as it does other people. To some extent, the whole subgenre has felt played out to me since Goodfellas, and I find it boring even when it’s very well done.

That said, I am playing GTA IV, and right off the bat it has definitely grabbed my attention more than its predecessors. Maybe somehow the weird combination of vintage Saturday Night Live Wild-and-Crazy Guys plus Borat in the voice work and portrayal of Niko and Roman is more appealing to me than previous GTA protagonists and their surroundings were. Yes, maybe I’m a classic liberal wuss in that regard: politically correct until it’s Eastern European white guys getting stereotyped? Though honestly, Niko feels like a much more interesting, realistic character to me than Carl Johnson. I like the brooding eyes, the references to the war in the Balkans, and so on. Also: I cannot say exactly why, but somehow hearing Roman spontaneously exclaim “sheety fuck!” in his stereotyped accent when I hit a fire hydrant, light pole and pedestrian while driving like a maniac was just very funny.

Maybe it’s not the accent, but the appropriately dynamic way the world reacts to what you do. That has always been a part of the GTA games, but this time, it really grabs me. Forget driving: I’m finding it fun just to walk in the game. The body language, overheard conversations, look of the alternate-universe NYC, it all feels both gritty and cartoonish all at once, hyperreal.

On the other hand: I started playing while my wife was sitting there working on her laptop. (After our daughter went to sleep.) The misogynistic material is so extreme and to me not particularly funny that I went to headphones as soon as possible. In all honesty, I’d actually like to see an iteration of GTA with a female protagonist with the same raw, satiric tone but flipping a lot of the gendered material. Thelma and Louise GTA? Also in a way a GTA with a protagonist like Michael Douglas’ character in Falling Down could be kind of interesting (though that was a crappy film); maybe cross that with something like the show Weeds?

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