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Life lessons learned from 25 years of GTA controversy

The GTA franchise has generated more than $9.986 billion since it hit video game stores in 1997 and continues to cause controversy 25 years later. But the history and humble beginnings of this influential franchise have taught us more than you might think.

It's difficult to comprehend that a quarter of a century ago, Dundee would be responsible for releasing what would become Scotland's biggest digital export with a videogame called Grand Theft Auto. Between 2013 and 2017, GTA 5 alone sold 90 million units generating $6bn, more than the biggest movies of all time. Video games became bigger than Hollywood and the music industry combined in this golden era of gaming.

The influential series came from humble beginnings, and the makers have continued to celebrate this with a series of Easter Eggs in its games. For example, Vice City Airport features a 'Come to Dundee' billboard with an image of the RRS Discovery. GTA V also tipped its hat to Dundee's Ricky Ross with a ship called Dignity registered in Los Santos inspired by the Deacon Blue song.

Many were also attracted by the killer soundtrack that dared to feature an eclectic mix of musical genres, ranging from opera to heavy metal. Once again, a member of the fictional rock band introduced in GTA: Vice City is seen wearing the 2001/02 Dundee away strip. Further evidence, if it were needed that the franchise has always tried to keep its feet on the ground while reaching for the stars.

25 years of controversy

Despite its simplistic visual style and cartoon-like violence, the world's media quickly whipped up a frenzy calling the game a murder simulator that glorified the criminal underworld and trivialized violent acts such as carjacking.

The 2012 book, How British Video Games Conquered the World, hinted that there was more to the moral outrage and condemnation than many thought. A carefully designed PR campaign masterminded by Max Clifford. Although the designers thought it would be a bit of fun, the now disgraced publicist engineered a darker drive to create maximum controversy and purposely targetted politicians he knew would express outrage when shown the game's content.

Predictably, seemingly out-of-touch politicians complaining about a game they have not seen would further fuel its popularity. But the franchise would continue to court controversy with each release. An obvious example would be the GTA V mission called "By the Book," where waterboarding to extract valuable information or killing hookers and taking the money back when finished.

However, many of the biggest controversies would not be highlighted until decades after the game's release. The infamous hot coffee modification saw a sexual intercourse mini-game that would lead to a $20 million settlement in a class action suit. How Cubans and Haitians were portrayed in GTA Vice City has not aged well and, in many ways more offensive than the cartoon violence that caused outrage 25 years ago. Although attitudes have evolved over the years, there is still no such thing as bad publicity for the series.

Lessons learned from playing GTA for 25 years.

Despite the scary headlines in the media, GTA 3 taught me that there are always consequences for your actions, and although you don't have to stand tall in life, you do need to stand up for yourself. In addition, life is not like the highlight reels we see on social media, it can be very unfair, and it's always best to expect the unexpected.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, and if someone gives you a car, they will call you every day for the rest of your life. After listening to the similarities between radio adverts today and the early GTA games, it also seems that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.

The fact that many people appear to follow simple instructions in the workplace and GTA also opens up an entirely new debate around NPC's escaping into our physical world. Unfortunately, serious wounds cannot be cured by eating copious amounts of fast food, and the police seldom get bored of chasing you if you break the law. But on the topic of respawning at the nearest hospital when I die, I will have to get back to you on that one.

One of my biggest lessons in the last 25 years is that creative genius strikes in the most unlikely places. The concept of using an American phrase for stealing a vehicle inspiring a team in a Dundee Technology Park in the nineties to create a game that would become one of the biggest videogame franchises of all time is a perfect example of this.

A quarter of a century later, GTA 6 is shaping to be the most anticipated video game of all time. But, unfortunately, the continuous stream of leaks and rumors online suggests we will have to wait until 2024 or even 2025 for the release. Still, the only thing we can be sure of is that although attitudes have evolved over the years, there is still no such thing as bad publicity for the series.

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