The Chicago Tribune has heralded Grand Theft Auto IV as harbinger of "the literature of the 21st Century," high praise for a game best known to the general public public for being violent and having hookers.
When it was released a year ago, Grand Theft Auto IV earned accolades for taking gaming's top gangster series into a serious story about the American Dream mythos. The writing, which wove a deep tale about protagonist Nico Bellic, his life, family and the new dystopian world he finds himself in, became the talking point for many reviewers.
The Chicago Tribune is asking whether a story as somber and deep as GTA4's could set the tone for the literature of the 21st century.
"We're trying to make this whole experience hit you in loads of ways," said Rockstar head Dan Houser on GTA4's blend of gameplay and acting. "That's what the games are very powerful at doing: They let you be in this world as opposed to just doing stuff."
Peter Travers, a reviewer for Rolling Stone wrote, "In terms of action, thrills, imagination and innovation, GTA IV has it all over the pablum currently passing for ingenuity at the multiplex ... so far this summer, except maybe Iron Man. There's plot development, character depth and moral ambiguity, stuff you don't find in 'Speed Racer.... GTA IV deserves major props for extending the potential of storytelling."
Houser emphasized the importance of the story in driving players to experience the whole game, "We're constantly trying to convince the player that continuing with the story is a worthwhile pursuit. We're constantly trying to balance the need for narrative and the need for action."
Although the Tribune's headlining question is never definitively answered, Professor Chris Swain of USC's School of Cinematic Arts proposes games as the literary medium of tomorrow.
"Look at film in 1908-there was no sound, you viewed it through a nickelodeon, there was a limited filmic language developed," he explained. "If at the time you had said film would be the literature of 20th Century, you would have been laughed at. Games could be the literature of the 21st Century. But it takes vision."