The success of a revolutionary game
Every teenager who grew up in the 2000s has played Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. Originally released in 2004 for the Playstation 2, the game was one of the biggest commercial successes of Sony’s console with more than 2 million sales in six days in the United States, and total sales of more than 27 millions copies worldwide in 2011. What can explain such a success? In reality, many factors can and it is the accumulation of these different factors that is the source.
Even if the previous games of the Grand Theft Auto franchise published by Rockstar Games were already about the world of crime and gangs, this is the first game about Californian street gangs, a world that is not well known by the general public. And the game will be more real than real. The story takes place in the fictional state of San Andreas, which contains three cities, Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Ventura. Although the world and scenario are fictional at first glance, they are openly inspired by the western cities of the United States, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas respectively. Beyond the cities, the game incorporates a lot of real-life elements, including the decor that take in the landscapes and architecture of the original cities. Other events from the 90’s will be included directly in the game’s scenario. The most obvious one is of course the gang rivalries, we find the Afro-American gangs but also the Mexican gangs or the Italian mafia. The game also inspired directly from real events such as the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the low-rider show of Crenshaw, the delinquency of MacArthur Park, the crack epidemic that raged in the United States, or the Rampart scandal, a story of corruption within the CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums).
GTA San Andreas is also quite revolutionary in its game-play, especially in the customization of its character. The game allows you to create a wardrobe worthy of a real Los Angeles gangster, and even to tattoo or do custom haircut among a wide choice. And each clothing store, tattoo artist or hairdresser has its own range. Even if you are quite limited at the beginning of the game, you can have fun customizing your character in an almost unlimited way without even completing the missions. You can even change the physical appearance of your character, but not by clicking on a simple button, if you want a fat character, you’ll have to stuff yourself with hamburgers in the many fast-food restaurants around here, on the contrary, if you want a muscular character, you’ll have to spend some time in the weight training room. A nice way to identify yourself with your character and model him in your own image. The game offers a large number of activities outside of the missions, with a multitude of mini-games in the different nightclubs, casinos or stores accessible in the different cities.
A game at the service of street-culture
Because of its theme on gangs, the game is at the service of the street-culture and the Hip Hop culture of California, the Gangsta Rap. From the very beginning, we enter the skin of Carl Jonhson a.k.a CJ, a former member of the Los Santos Grove Street Families gang who fled the city in search of a better life but is forced to return to Los Santos after the murder of his mother. As soon as he arrives, he is greeted by CRASH officers who accuse him of killing one of his colleague, whom they themselves killed. In reality, the characters are roughly inspired by real CRASH officers who were accused during the Rampart scandal. We will follow CJ’s adventures in the different gang stories with his brother and his friends, Sweet, Kendl, Big Smoke and Ryder. We find all the stories of hustling, pimping, low-rider show, and gang war against the different rival clans like the Chinese Triads, the Italian mafia or the other street gangs of Los Santos.
The different protagonists are partly interpreted by famous rappers and actors, including Young MayLay, who plays the role of CJ, MC Eiht, Ice-T, Yo-Yo, Kid Frost, or actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Vincent, James Woods or Chirs Penn. And one of the directors of the game is none other than DJ Pooh, a West Coast producer who has produced great rappers such as 2pac, Snoop Dogg or Ice Cube. DJ Pooh was probably hired for his contacts in the Los Angeles street-culture and his knowledge of the gangs’ universe, which allows the game to be faithful to his world. The different actors also allow for full immersion as each one is chosen for a role that corresponds to them, favoring the inclusion of street slang specific to the Los Angeles gang, the actors only have to be themselves to interpret their respective characters.
Despite the various criticisms and controversies surrounding the game for its violent nature, it will have a considerable impact on the diffusion of street-culture, Hip Hop culture and gang culture on the general public. Every elements are directly inspired by Los Angeles gang life, including the style of dress, gang codes, graffiti, language, Gangsta Rap and especially the lifestyle and daily activities.