The Gamechangers tells the story of Rockstar Games, creators of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and how one of their releases nearly brought down the company, thanks, in part, to a sticky-beak lawyer who needed a good slap.
As one early phone-in caller to a radio station puts it, “Grand Theft Auto III changed the face of gaming” and speculated that Vice City would be even better. And it was. Mostly for the ’80s music, in my view, leading me to occasionally finding a decent song on the radio and just pulling the car over to stop and listen to the song without interruption (yes, you can drive while listening to the radio, as in real life, but unlike real life you’ll often crash into another car, overturn the vehicle and end up having to escape before it explodes). Also, I learned how to parallel park with Vice City. It wasn’t part of my driving test back in 1989, so when this game was released I belatedly realised that I could steal two cars, place them at the right distance apart. Then steal a third, and use that to manoeuvre in, learning the angles as I went. Those angles perfectly suited this real life situation.
So Grand Theft Auto is educational!
The movie begins on 29th October 2002, just after the release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the second 3D entry in the series, the team, led by Sam Houser (Daniel Radcliffe), planned more enhancements for the follow-up, San Andreas. They discuss having a black lead character in San Andreas, and getting Samuel L Jackson into the game, who did indeed appear. Your character, Carl – or CJ, can get a haircut, buy clothes, tattoos and so on. You could even go to the gym and get buff and decrease body fat etc, but that was the sort of thing you’d do once or twice and then just start getting on with the missions, so it’s not surprising they cut back on this in later games. In GTA V, for example, you can still buy clothes and get tattoos, etc, but not so for all the nitty gritty.
Houser’s problems begin when God-fearing lawyer Jack Thompson (Bill Paxton), who is to videogames what Mary Whitehouse was to television programmes, thinks games are the devil’s work, but as time goes on, even his son tells him he’s over-reacting, saying “Not every kid’s about to pull a Columbine”. This reason for Thompson’s wrath is down to Devin Moore (Thabo Rametsi), a young American lad from Alabama who was arrested, then stole a cop’s gun while at the police station, killed him and another cop as well as a security guard, then took their police car.
Yes, you can do that in the game, and the camera followed Devin in the same way as the game would follow its lead character, but in order to be someone who does that, you have to be a screw loose in the first place. Videogames don’t make people become a killer any more than porn films make people rapists. The former is a game that gives you an adrenaline buzz and does not make you confuse reality with fiction, while porn just makes you feel a bit tired after a while.
Thompson wanted $600m for the families of the bereaved in Alabama, but all but kills their chances of winning the case by blabbing it all to any media outlets who’ll listen, and saying Rockstar have done a “Pearl Harbour 2”. And despite complaining about the game, he’s entranced when playing it. When the case came to court, it was instantly dismissed because the game doesn’t follow a scripted path, so there’s no way that Devin’s actions are related to GTA.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the film including ‘Hot Coffee’…
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.