Tomorrow's release of Grand Theft Auto IV is the latest installment in a nine-game franchise that has played a pivotal role in the history and evolution of video games. As you might expect, much has been written about the GTA series, not all of it focused on Hot Coffee and imperiling our youth.
In fact, an impressive amount of brainpower has been devoted to writing about GTA over the years, so in honor of the pending release of GTA4 I thought it might be useful to collect some of the more thoughtful pieces and create a sort of GTA bibliography. This list is by no means comprehensive - thousands of GTA essays, news reports, and reviews have been published in the last eleven years. I've focused on analytical pieces that shed light on the games and the cultural phenomenon they represent.
If I've omitted an essay you like, be sure to let me know, and I'll update my post to include it.
- Edge Magazine's April '08 cover story features a 16-page exclusive article Inside Rockstar: The Making of Grand Theft Auto. This is a MUST-READ for fans of the series as it recounts the behind-the-scenes evolution of the series since GTA3 in typical flowing Edge prose - mixed with an extended interview with Rockstar president Sam Houser. I highly recommend picking up a hard copy of the magazine because it features gorgeous full-page art from the games. But if you can't do that, the full text of the article is available here.
- The official Grand Theft Auto site contains information and dedicated pages for each of the games in the series.
- IGN's Hillary Goldstein interviews Rockstar North Art Director Aaron Garbut about the creation of Liberty City.
- Many online sites have written histories and retrospectives of the GTA series. Here are the ones I like best (though nobody gets points for original titles):
- Roger Travis, a Classics professor at the University of Connecticut, has written a delightful short essay called Niko Bellic, a new Odysseus which parallels the anti-hero stature of GTA4's protagonist with Homer's epic warrior.
- N'Gai Croal wrote a terrific piece in 2005 about Rockstar's uncanny knack for tapping into pop culture and underground trends: Why Rockstar is the Leader of the Pack.
- New Media godfather Henry Jenkins on Why Grand Theft Auto Should Be Taught in Schools (an interview with David Hutchison)
- Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology argues that much of GTA IV's success is due to its use of "creative anthropology."
Many books and journals contain useful essays on GTA. Most of these aren't available online, but they're well worth a visit to the library:
- Nate Garrelts' The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto (McFarland, 2006) is a collection of essays devoted to the series and its public and cultural impact.
- Jesper Juul's Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds (MIT Press, 2005) contains a section devoted to GTA called "Games between Emergence and Progression".
- Ian Bogost's Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism (MIT Press, 2006) contains a chapter called "Complex Worlds" which focuses on GTA3.
- Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman's Rules of Play (MIT Press, 2003) contains a section on "Games as Narrative Play" with discussion of GTA3.
- Samantha Blackmon (with Daniel J. Terrell) in Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century (Macmillan, 2007) contributes a chapter entitled "Racing toward Representation: An Understanding of Racial Representation in Video Games" focuses primarily on how racial representations/images intersect with issues of ethics and cultural models in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- David J. Leonard's article Not a Hater, Just Keepin' It Real (Games and Culture, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2006) discusses GTA: San Andreas and encourages a reading that includes consideration of race and racial tropes.
- Kiri Miller's Jacking the Dial: Radio, Race, and Place in Grand Theft Auto (Ethnomusicology, Fall 2007) analyzes the musical choices made by the games' designers and players.
- Soraya Murray's High Art/Low Life: The Art of Playing Grand Theft Auto (PAJ, Journal of Performance and Art, May 2005) examines GTA: San Andreas as an object of serious cultural consideration.
- Paul Barrett's White Thumbs, Black Bodies: Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Fantasies in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, Jan-Mar 2006) analyzes the game as an opportunity for players to act out popular culture fantasies through representation.