The Grand Theft Auto franchise features a cast of playable sociopaths set loose in an urban jungle overflowing with graphic violence, misogyny, racism, and a complete disregard for the most basic requirements of social cohesion. It’s a highly addictive game wrapped in the protective blanket of “ironic social commentary” so that we don’t feel bad when Trevor Phillips murders bystanders in a drug-fueled rage.
Rockstar Games’ co-founder Sam Houser played a key role in taking the GTA franchise from a somewhat generic top-down mashup of Spy Hunter and Sim City, and transforming it into an immersive open-world medium of felonious hijinks. Now that the games are a global phenomenon, the objection to GTA entries is little more than white noise drowned out by billions in revenue. Back in 2002, however, the concern over GTA was amplified.
Enter The Gamechangers. As Houser, Daniel Radcliffe looks bemused over the wild success of the reinvigorated franchise that perfectly captured an American fantasy of violent nihilism, despite being created across the pond. Meanwhile, Bill Paxton plays Jack Thompson, a bible-thumping lawyer who resents this British invasion, and sees the depravity of the game as and its purveyors as enemies who must be stopped.
Will Houser win, and go on to be a creative force behind one of the most successful game franchises of all time? Will Thompson lose, only to be publicly disgraced and disbarred due his own personal misconduct? Will GTA use violence and lasciviousness to mask the fact that their games are actually a laundry list of humdrum virtual chores? You can find out, either by visiting your local Gamestop or watching The Gamechangers on September 15 on BBC Two.