April 11, 2012 by jamtime
Playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas in lab this week brought back so many fond memories. Although I haven’t visited the diegetic world of San Andreas since high school, I became instantly reimmersed the second I picked up the controller. I remembered exactly where everything was on the map, and to my surprise, I even remembered a cheat code. Although I hadn’t used it in years, I was able to enter the complex series of buttons (r1 r2 l1 r2 up down left right up down left right) in a matter of seconds—the sequence firmly ingrained in my muscle memory. It was as if I had never stopped playing all those years ago.
San Andreas is able to achieve this staggering level of immersion by creating a world which is both enormous in size, and incredibly interactive. According to Janet Murray “the experience of being transported to an elaborately simulated place is pleasurable” and this lends itself to a feeling of immersion (McMahan, 2003). I would agree with this statement, and I think this game is a perfect example of this. In my opinion, San Andreas is definitely a world which is made real through aspects of simulation. Part of what makes San Andreas so immersive is that San Andreas feels like a real city. The game, for instance simulates traffic. Aside from cars, the game also simulates pedestrian traffic, boat traffic, and even aircraft traffic. The traffic isn’t uniform throughout the city, either. Certain areas are more congested than others. Certain neighborhoods are more likely to be filled with certain cars and character sprites. This helps give each area of the city a distinct feel. Certain areas are also more prone to listen to certain radio stations. When you steal cars in a Hispanic neighborhood, for instance, the radio station they are more than likely tuned to is the Spanish one. The game also aims to simulate the real world, by imitating the amount of things there are to do within the city. When playing San Andreas, you have a plethora of options in terms of ways you can interact with the world. You can go to a restaurant, be it upscale or fast food. You can go clothes shopping. You can get your hair cut. You can go on dates. You can ride your bike at the skate park. You can go to a casino. You can go to a bar and play darts, or pool, or even try your hand at getting the high score in one of the arcade games. The list goes on and on, and each and everyone helps bring more of a sense of ‘realness’ to the story world.
Of course, the appeal of the GTA franchise is the ability to wreak havoc within the world, and the amount of pleasure the gamer is able to get from this directly corresponds to how well the game world reacts to the havoc you are able to create. In order for a game to be immersive, “the user’s actions must have a non-trivial impact on the environment” (McMahan, 2003). Here to the game excels. Upon picking up the controller in lab, I immediately put in the weapons cheat. I then proceeded to throw Molotov cocktails in a crowded air causing a slew of pedestrians to catch on fire. Instead of simply dying on the spot, the pedestrians were lit on fire and began to scream and run around on in circles before dying. Moments later, a fire truck arrived to put out the raging fire in the street. For the sake of irony, I lit the truck on fire. After the ensuing explosion, cops began to arrive on the scene, guns blazing. At this point, a police helicopter arrived on the scene as well. As the officer in the helicopter futilely issued a command for me to drop my weapon and surrender, I hopped into a police car and initiated a high speed chase.
Of course, the joy of the all too famous GTA killing spree has nothing to do with the pleasure of killing, but the unique way the game responds. The back and forth interaction between the game and the player in which each player action initiates a response from the game, which escalates the situation. It’s a thrilling experience, and it’s this kind of interaction which further immerses the player in the world of the game.
Although I have always been of the opinion that San Andreas is a fantastic game, my experience in lab helped me realize just how masterfully crafted this game truly is. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas offers a level of immersion which few games can rival.