Steelheart, Grand Theft Auto, and Having THE POWER
I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson’s book Steelheart recently, and unlike a lot of books, some of its themes really stuck with me, and caused me to have those internal moral/prediction/was this a smart move? conversations that I love to have with myself. The book takes place after a mysterious occurrence takes place in the sky that gives people superpowers.
I’ve really been meaning to read this, but I’m terrified of the prospect, because this is like the James Bond of book series. THERE’S JUST SO MANY OF THEM.
Not that. The event, called Calamity, turns thousands of people into Epics, superhumans with varying degrees of powers, ranging from being able to fire a handgun without ever running out of ammo to flying and causing earthquakes. It’s an excellent book, and I love how detailed these powers and the people who have them are, but it has some moral arguments in it that aren’t handled incredibly well. Anyway, after a bit, the U.S. government decides to declare Epics (who wantonly kill and steal-this will become relevant shortly) immune to the law, since who’s going to stop a guy who can point at you and instantly turn you into dust?
If you were to crack open a thesaurus and look up the synonyms for scapegoat, one of them would undoubtedly be Grand Theft Auto. This old and famous game series serves you a heaping plate of killing, stealing, and driving through a fictional city or three, with a big side of societal commentary. While there have been a bunch of the games, we’re going to focus on the fifth and most successful (the entire production costs were made back in pre-ordered copies ALONE) installment, Grand Theft Auto V.
A.k.a. The Obvious Cause of All Violence Ever-Fox News.
In this game (and the series) there’s a story, but in between coordinating multi-million dollar heists and helping out your “homies” in the “hood”, “dawg”, you can partake in what the franchise is best known for: running down innocent people in expensive cars just because you can, punching people on the street, and committing general crimes against humanity. And the thing about this is: you can do it with next to no repercussions. Yes, you’ll get a wanted rating, but that goes away after a bit if you avoid the police who are now rapidly chasing you. And if nobody sees you, you can do whatever you please. And generally car theft goes unpunished. In other words, we’ve created a Venn diagram between these two otherwise unrelated things: both let you get away with literal murder without either any legal problems, or minimal ones.
Why does this matter? Well, consider this idea: if you suddenly got a boatload of incredible power, and invincibility, what would you do? Now, you could always be a good human being and help the innocent, and I respect that. You choose to take the Superman route. But let’s say you’re given immunity because, as I’ve said before, you’re basically a force of nature at this point. Who’s gonna stop you? With all this power and no rules, how long would it be until you decided to, at the very least, take out some petty anger on a public place?
Or, you know, this.
Actually, Grand Theft Auto isn’t the only franchise like that. Really, any sandbox game gives you this sort of power, from Skyrim to Saints Row. Give a man a machine gun and a linear pathway through a bunch of evil ethnic stereotypes and he’ll kill said stereotypes. Give a man a huge open world, a machine gun, and next to no rules, and you can’t really predict what will happen.
Yes, this is a high hillbilly drug dealer shooting clowns and watching them explode into color.
So, ultimately, both Steelheart and Grand Theft Auto ask a similar question, even if it’s not deliberate: what would you do if you were given all the resources and power in the world to do whatever you pleased? In my case, it wouldn’t be pretty, as evidenced by the fact that my mother will never let me play Grand Theft Auto.