Saturday, May 31, 2008

Grand Theft Auto: Girlfriend Experience

Grand Theft Auto 4. Been playing it, like everyone. And, y'know... I love the girlfriend mechanic. Loved it in GTA: San Andreas, loved it in Bully, love it here.

Early in GTA4, you have to post an online dating profile to complete a mission. Once that's up, you can meet various girls through the service, each with a profile that tells you about their personality. Once you've, ahhh, met girls on the internet (GTA4 is a game famous for its willingness to let you kill time in-game by surfing the web, listening to talk radio, or watching TV, among other amusingly ordinary activities), you set up dates with them. They grade you on your clothes and your car (their profile gives you hints about what kind of man they like), and decide whether you get positive or negative points for the date. In GTA:SA, they also graded you on your body, which you could make fatter or thinner based on what you ate and how often you went to the gym---a mechanic that a lot of people seem to have hated, but which I thought was a riot.

Much of the hilarity of Rockstar's funny, funny games comes from the whole concept of translating social behavior into the rules-based world of a video game. The process of translation often yields a vision that's both amusing and disturbing: kisses are a unit of currency, cynically exchanged according to strictly laid-down rules, and the whole process of living in the game world is about learning what those social rules are.

Smooches (in Bully) or sex (in GTA) thus becomes like money, points, or any other pellet handed out to keep you playing a video game: the basic unit of which game narrative is composed. By layering story elements (the character of the girls, and the activities you have to do to please them) on top of that, the interaction of narrative and story produces some very funny results.

Like for example: In Bully, kissing girls restores your health. Giving girls flowers makes them like you, but you have to give them flowers many times for them to like you enough to kiss you. You can make them like you more by giving them chocolate,but buying chocolate at the store in town requires more money than just stealing flowers from the teacher's garden, so you have to get a paper route to pay for it... and so on. Better yet, if you complete Art and English classes, you gain abilities to talk girls (and teachers, and bullies) into liking you, even if you don't have any gifts.

Now, comedy is relative, but to me, the whole concept of deciding to increase your sex appeal via either Art class or a paying job is, like, pure satiric genius.

Among the many bummers of the Hot Coffee foofraw was the loss of the Hot Coffee sex minigame in GTA, which really was a shame---it's low-res minigameness, in which your ability to sexually satisfy your partner was based on your ability to listen to their, ah, verbal cues to determine how fast to hit the buttons, was the perfect jaunty, mean-spirited cherry on top of the game's view of a man's relationship to the world.