A Life More Ordinary

See, I was hoping for an experience more like this, where you get to rob and threaten innocent minimum wage earners. 

What I like about video games, and Grand Theft Auto games in particular, is that they give me the opportunity to live a reckless, dangerous, exciting life the likes of which I’d never pursue on my own. Recurring gripes on the blog aside, I’m pretty happy with the life I’m living, but sometimes when I get down about how much time I spend in my apartment staring at a screen it’s fun to fire up my PS3 and pretend to be somebody more exciting – and way easier than actually going out and being somebody more exciting.

Grand Theft Auto Online is the multiplayer component of Grand Theft Auto V – it sets you and up to 15 other players loose in the vast open world of GTAV to tackle difficult missions together, or coordinate convenience store robberies, or race against one another, or go skydiving, or play tennis, or find rare and exotic cars, and to date none of that ever happens in GTA Online because everybody is too busy running around machine-gunning each other to death at first sight.

Remember in Ghostbusters when that asshole from the EPA forces them to shut down their containment unit, thereby releasing hundreds of angry poltergeists into New York City? That’s basically what Grand Theft Auto Online is. It’s created a vast playground full of opportunities for dickery and populated it with the mature, well-reasoned luminaries who comment on YouTube videos.

I experienced this firsthand. After my avatar “arrived” in Los Santos (the game’s equivalent of LA) and completed a few tutorial missions I was set free to do as I pleased. While cruising toward a nearby race in the game’s version of a 2011 Dodge Challenger, a thousand or so virtual dollars in my virtual pocket, I spotted a white blip ahead of me on my radar, representing another player heading in the same direction I was.

I stepped on the gas and he started to come into view ahead of me at the end of the street, driving some kind of SUV. Pulling my headset mic down to my mouth, I said, “Hey, can you hear me? Are you heading to that race over by the airport?”

The SUV spontaneously whipped into a 180 degree handbrake turn, throwing up a huge cloud of white tire smoke.

“Oh, showing off, huh?” I said, growing closer. “Well, those sorts of tricks won’t serve you very well when we’re on the racetra-”

His Uzi chattered and a hail of tracers plowed through my car’s windshield and straight into my avatar’s face. My character’s lifeless body must have fallen against the horn, because it blared incessantly as my Challenger coasted off the road and smashed into a bus bench. While waiting to respawn I watched my attacker scurry over, pull my body out of the driver’s seat, and speed off in my car.

I respawned a few blocks away, standing in an urban plaza that was the spitting image of Pershing Square. I was completely willing to write off my first brush with death as harmless shenanigans until I saw that the thousand virtual dollars I’d earned playing the tutorial races were no longer in my pocket – as it turns out, any money you don’t deposit into an in-game bank can be stolen from your corpse when you die.

I ran for the street, looking to jack a car so I could hunt this guy down and get my $1000 back. On the way there I decided to get into the spirit of things with some trash talk.

“Hey xXquestforglory69Xx – that was my car and my $1000, and I’m going to find whatever rock you’re hiding under and kick OH FOR CHRISSAKE!” I yelled as another player – this one clad in a bikini with bright blue hair – gunned me down with an assault rifle from halfway up the block.

I respawned further away, this time in the relative safety of a golf course in faux-Beverly Hills. I took a moment to glance at my character’s bank account information, only to find that in addition to having had my $1000 cash stolen, most of the $2500 in savings my character had started with were gone too, because every time I died a substantial hospital bill was debited to my account.

Grumbling something about how this wouldn’t be a problem if the game had been set in Canada, I had my character jump a low retaining wall and jog toward the nearby facsimile of Rodeo Drive so I could boost a car and exact my now-cold revenge. On my way toward a parked sports car, I heard sirens blaring nearby and spotted a white dot on the radar barreling in my general direction.

“Oh no.” I muttered, diverting my course away from the car and toward a cobblestoned pedestrian path between expensive shops instead, hoping to avoid whichever homicidal maniac was in the area.

Moments later, a bright orange city bus driven by another player screeched around the corner, three police cruisers in hot pursuit.

“No no no no no.” I chanted, my thumb pummeling the X button to make my character sprint. By this point, the psychotic bus driver had spotted me on his radar, and as I watched him come careening down the street towards me I knew exactly what he wanted to do.

NonononononononononononononoNONONONONO…” I whimpered, sprinting up the pedestrian path with several terrified computer controlled civilians. Running was my only choice; my character’s one weapon was a handgun weaker than most four letter words.

Behind me, the bus mounted the sidewalk, mowing down multiple virtual shoppers and lamp posts before finally slamming into me, killing me and dragging my lifeless corpse for a few meters before depositing it in a bloodstained heap on that staircase from Clueless.

 Riiiiiight about there.

In the month or so since then my luck has improved a bit. By perfecting my defensive driving abilities and memorizing lots of escape routes, I was able to stay alive long enough to earn just enough cash to buy my avatar an in-game apartment, which basically serves as a safe zone where you can store your cars and nobody can kill you. There’s a kitchen with some red wine in it, which makes your screen blurry after your character has had a couple drinks, and a big screen TV where you can watch what the other homicidal maniacs on the server are doing from a safe distance. 

Best of all: No carpet to worry about!

Now whenever I fire up Grand Theft Auto Online my character spawns in the safety of his apartment, protected from random vehicular homicide. More and more often, I really don’t take my character that far outside of his apartment – even with better weapons I’m usually preyed upon by 13-year-olds who have invested way more time in this game than I have, and there still doesn’t seem to be much interest in any of the cooperative play that the game was designed for.

I’ve only played a couple times in the past month, but both times my avatar – a daring, ruthless criminal mastermind the likes of which I would never be – just meanders into the kitchen, drinks a couple glasses of virtual wine, and then slumps in front of the TV to watch what other players are doing.

Either art copies life or I’m just so lame that it’s contagious.

Truman Capps has not found a way to eat peanut butter in game yet.