Learning from Grand Theft Auto

GTA IIIChris Kohler, from Wired, confesses to have never played a Grand Theft Auto video game. I’m in the same boat, although I did have a brief stint with GTA: San Andreas, and am currently working on GTA: Liberty Series Stories on my PSP. In preparation for the arrival of GTA IV at the end of April, he’s working his way through some of the GTA series. In this post, he writes about his experiences with 2001’s GTA III. While he talk mostly about the gameplay mechanics and story, one thing of note is that he discusses how the game makes him learn. I’ve quoted an excerpt from his post below:

in this mission, you have to drive to a parking lot, grab somebody’s car, take it to a chop shop where a car bomb is put in it, drive it back to the lot, arm the bomb and run.

Sounds easy enough when it’s described to you. But there are several reasons why it isn’t, and each one of these problems (that a player is likely to run into) teaches you something critical about the gameplay.

  • The cops might pick you up. The parking lot isn’t far from the garage where you get the mission, but situated right between them is the Liberty City police station. Since the mission is timed, and the fastest way to the parking lot is right through a little grassy area that nice people do not drive on, you’re likely to just go straight over it. Then blow a red light. Then maybe wing somebody. All perfectly OK, unless you’re in full view of the cops. More than once, my Wanted level shot up to two stars just by driving by here like a jackass. Lesson learned: Drive carefully.
  • You can ruin the car pretty easily. If Mike Lips walks out of the Italian restaurant to find his car’s windshield busted and the hood missing, what’s he going to think? He’s certainly not going to jump in and start the engine, triggering his demise. So if you have any collisions on the way to the chop shop, you’ll need to take the car to the repair shop and get it fixed up. This kills two birds with one stone: It teaches you how to drive a car and not ruin it, first of all, and it also reminds you where the repair shop is, because knowing how to use it is an important part of the game otherwise — if you get your car repaired, the cops can’t find you anymore.
  • You have to park the car perfectly. On my second try, I got the car back with time to spare, but pulled it in the wrong way. The game told me I had to park correctly, so I tried to, but the car I’d originally arrived in was blocking the way and I couldn’t get it right. Then, while trying to adjust the car’s position, I slammed it into the wall and now it was busted up. Mission failed. What did this teach me? The next time I did this mission, I parked the first car way outside the lot, thus leaving myself a clean path to pull the bomb-car in next time.

Once you successfully make it out of this mission, you’ll have learned a great deal about the rules of the game. As such, accomplishing all of this was a great feeling.

Yes, while the Grand Theft Auto series is controversial and a bit violent, this excerpt is a prime example the learning process in video games.