The 3 Merits of San Andreas
Perhaps those who would attack video games never recognize this merit because they are the ones being skewered. The Grand Theft Auto series has always been home to some great writing and San Andreas is no different. Whether it is some wayward comment or movie reference in a cutscene, a commercial on one of the radio stations, or just the name of a fast food joint, almost everything in the game is taking a stab at pop culture – and a good one, at that! While the potty humor of a restaurant named Cluckin' Bell may seem too low-brow, I've always felt that if a creator can show humor with an intelligence, then he's earned a free pass to all the fart jokes he/she wants.
And that seems to be the case in San Andreas. The development team clearly knows going in that the content is controversial and, truthfully, mommy and daddy should know that, too, when they go buying the game as a birthday present for their kid. So, why put any restraints on it? As I just mentioned above, if you can showcase some intelligent humor, then you're allowed to throw in some low-brow stuff, too. That's what ultimately sets a mature game like GTA apart from a “mature” game like BMX XXX (notice the quotation marks there).
Just take a moment to indulge in the talk radio station and you'll see parody of sensationalist news and talking-head pundits just as much as you'll hear Andy Dick blathering on about plants with plenty of sexual innuendo in Gardening with Maurice. San Andreas strikes a nice balance and that is what makes it good. It's all tongue-in-cheek, but that little element of truth in there is what validates the humor in the game. There is that same slight hint of truthiness (to steal a neologism from Stephen Colbert) that keeps Howard Stern and South Park on the air.
Besides that, the GTA series has always just been plain funny. The characters are great and well-acted and just driving around running over things and causing massive interstate pile-ups can provide hours of amusement. In the real world, this would be offensive, dangerous, and shocking, but we must continue to keep in mind that this is a video game. On top of all of that, the action is just very cartoonish. Just because things look realistic doesn't mean they are realistic. Instead, the world of San Andreas lies in a different dimension, just a few inches to the left of reality. It is a parody, a facsimile, of real life, not a carbon copy.
1/30/2006 Cavin Smith