It’s no secret that the polarization of the current political climate is extreme, and there are certain facets of the media that you naturally expect to react to such ideological tension. The news is the most obvious outlet, but you can also see reflections of the politics in everything from prime-time television to a funny meme on Twitter. However, one rather significant member of today’s media that you likely wouldn’t consider to be affected by national politics is the video game industry.
If you identify as a gamer, or even if you have perused the Snapchat filters in the past couple weeks, you know that the long awaited “Red Dead Redemption 2” was released and immediately became what many game critics are calling one of the greatest games of all time. The newest addition to the “Red Dead” franchise even earned a seldom seen “10/10” rating on IGN, in part for the authenticity of its open world and its seemingly limitless possibilities. Many factors go into the creation of an unchallenged video game like “RDR2,” but it may very well be what Rockstar has not been working on that has contributed to the development efforts of their newly beloved Western.
In the past couple of years, Rockstar, the company behind the production of the “Red Dead” series, has focused their attention mainly on the new addition to its franchise. Typically, a big gaming company like Rockstar would work on more than one project at a time with a bit more concentration on the video game with the closest release date, but this wasn’t the case in recent years.
If you’re a fan of Rockstar Games, you will certainly be familiar with the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise. “GTA 5,” the most recent addition to the series, arrived to PS4 and Xbox One consoles back in 2014, and if you trace back the release dates of all the games in this collection, you’ll notice that Rockstar has consistently released a new “GTA” game about every five years. So if the latest game was released nearly five years ago, why hasn’t anyone heard of a release date for “GTA6”? Well, the company simply hasn’t been working on it much. But why not?
The answer lies in the current tension in America’s political climate. In an interview with GQ, Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games, said, “It’s really unclear what we would do with [GTA6], let alone how upset people would get with anything we did … both intense liberal progression and intense conservatism are both very militant, and very angry.”
It’s terribly unfortunate, but Houser is right. The left and right side of politics seem to be the more polarized than ever. As an extreme example, just think of movements like Antifa and the alt-right, and you’ll start to understand where Houser is coming from.
While I was in Portland this past August, an alt-right group game down from Washington and sparked violent conflict with local Antifa and even just resident passersby, and the confrontation ended with the police tossing flashbang grenades into the crowd. I even met a man the next day with bruises on his chest from what he said were rubber bullets fired at him from police.
So imagine yourself as a game developer famously known for a franchise practically dedicated to the use of assault weapons and various other modes of intense violence in an urban environment. I think you too may be wary of releasing a video game based solely on brutality, and that’s not the only aspect to “GTA” that makes it notoriously controversial.
Many of Rockstar’s games satirize social issues and create larger, interesting political subversions within the video games. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that “GTA” often satirizes both the inner-city thug stereotype as well as white ignorance and racism. Even consider “Red Dead,” a game that has challenged racist ideologies and women’s roles in society in a late 19th-century American setting. In the original “Red Dead Redemption,” the tutorial is actually given to you by a woman who takes you into her farm after being shot, shows you how to ride a horse and even how to shoot your gun.
Considering the current political climate, however, Houser told GQ, “Some of the stuff you see is straightforwardly beyond satire.” I think it’s safe to say, then, that Rockstar won’t satirize the so-called Trump era, probably even after his presidency, but when is the video game industry going to see “GTA6”?
There are rumors of a possible 2021 or 2022 release date, but those estimates are mere speculation at this point. The folks at Rockstar seem to be taking their time to pat themselves on the back, and rightly so, for their unequivocal success with “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Something in the order of 2,000 staff members worked on “RDR2” for eight years, according to GQ. If Houser’s team decided to work on a new “Grand Theft Auto” in tandem, then the beautiful new addition to “Red Dead” probably wouldn’t be the same masterpiece it is now.