A Day Without Murder on the Mean Streets of Los Santos


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A Day Without Murder on the Mean Streets of Los Santos

We all know 'Grand Theft Auto V' is violent – but can a player stay entertained for a whole day, in real time, without once pulling out a gun? We had a go.

What's the Grand Theft Auto series best known for? Its satirical sense of humour? Kind of divisive, that, really – some players laugh along while others struggle to raise the slightest smile to company names like Lifeinvader, the fifth game's parody of Facebook. Its suite of engaging multiplayer options? Well, yes, GTA Online is massively popular, with millions of gamers getting together to pull off explosive heists and watch each other perform amazing stunts. Violence? Yes, obviously. It's the violence. Of which there's loads. You've probably read all about it – or at least seen the reactionary headlines.


But violence has been a part of gaming since Space Invaders, hasn't it? I played the hell out of Renegade in the 1980s and I've never beaten anyone to death with a crowbar. Yet. So for me, the guns and the blood of GTA is just standard fare for the medium. But I've always been completely fascinated by the worlds that Rockstar creates for its open-world adventures – and that extends beyond GTA, both 2D and 3D, and into their Western epic Red Dead Redemption, the boarding school mischief of Bully and even the slow-motion shooter Max Payne 3. The latter might be linear, but its São Paulo setting was a terrifically bright shift in visual flair after so many United States-set sandboxes.

But the most alluringly vivid of all Rockstar's worlds has to be that of 2013's Grand Theft Auto V, the Los Angeles analogue of Los Santos and the bordering northern region of Blaine County. All around the city, there are echoes of its real-life inspiration: a Vinewood sign in place of the famous Hollywood letters; Del Perro Pier standing in for Santa Monica's equivalent. And there is loads to do in town, too; a wealth of extra attractions to investigate when you're not tackling a plot-furthering mission. There are cinemas open every day, and a strip club to get sloshed in when the sun sets. There are mountains to both climb and race around on quad bikes, as well as tattooists, barbers and a wealth of clothes stores to spend one's ill-gotten dollars in.


I wanted to see if I could spend a day in Los Santos and Blaine County, in real time, without pulling out a gun once, without being tempted to waste a pedestrian or blow up a petrol station. Would there be distractions enough to keep me from my life of crime, just for a day? Only one way to find out. Note that the game's clock moves substantially faster than the one on your wrist (okay, the one that's on your mobile phone, in your pocket), so the screens don't always match the IRL time of day.

10.30 AM

I get up late – look, it's a day off from the usual grind of mischief making and murder, alright? And "I", for the day, means Franklin Clinton, one of GTAV's three playable protagonists. He begins the game broke and living with his aunt in the high-crime neighbourhood of Strawberry, South Los Santos. I've not finished the PlayStation 4 port of the game – the version I'm playing for this article (I finished it on 360) – but I'm far enough into proceedings to have unlocked Franklin's rather fancier pad at 3671 Whispymound Drive, in the Vinewood Hills. It's here that I get some clothes on before heading down to Los Santos Golf Club. Because, well, why not? Non-Stop-Pop on the radio all the way there, obviously.

I shoot a round of two over par and take out some frustrations on a sign next to the hole nine tee. Nevertheless, Franklin seems happy enough, so the two of us celebrate with some car park donuts, just to endear ourselves to the regulars.


11.30 AM

I'm feeling sporty, and I know there's a tennis game you can play in GTAV, because I've done so before. The courts opposite the golf course are empty save for a couple of dudes waiting to play. I head to co-protagonist Michael De Santa's place, as there's another court there, but clearly Franklin isn't much for racquet sports – walking onto the playing surface triggers no option to play. Either only Michael can compete in this (not quite a) mini-game, or I've not got far enough into my campaign playthrough to unlock the anytime option. Not to worry – there are watery races to be won.

On the way to the sea race in question, I'm T-boned at a crossroads by a perp fleeing some cops. He crashes and gets out of his wrecked car; the police come racing up to him and open fire. See, I'd usually step in here – I'm armed to the teeth, and fuck these pigs, right? But instead I keep my nose out of it and watch from the relative safety of my car. The police shoot down their quarry and leave him lying on the side of the road. I make a mental note to not get on the LSPD's bad side today, such is their obvious mercilessness.

I win my first race of the day, the one running out of Los Santos, down by the dry dock. Piece of piss. In the game, the sun is starting to set. I'm thirsty. At home, I boil the kettle for an overdue cuppa; in the game, Franklin heads to the sole nightspot where I know hard liquor is readily available: the Vanilla Unicorn. The radio plays Lorde's "Tennis Court" as I drive over in a borrowed cement truck, as if to rub in my failure to get some sets in earlier.


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12.10 PM

By the time I leave – several drinks, two songs from the over-animated DJ, and some wobbles later – the sun is set to rise over Los Santos, and I figure that seeing it do so from the beach would be neat. I set my course for Del Perro Pier, but accidentally clip a cop car on my way there, instantly earning a one-star wanted level – which rapidly becomes two stars for naturally preferring to outrun the police rather than get busted. Things do not end well, as I'm wasted in a shower of bullets in the very definition of Police Brutality – but upon being reborn at the nearest hospital, I maintain my intent to ride the rollercoaster and the "Ferris Whale" down by the sea. Jesse tells me that life is cool, and who am I to tell him otherwise?


I go home for lunch because Cluckin' Bell is fucking disgusting. Probably. I get a glass of red in me while I'm there, and chill for a little in front of the TV – two channels, CNT and Weazel (yes, it's a Fox parody), are available in GTAV, each broadcasting reality shows and cartoons. Impotent Rage is on – it's Superman, basically, if Clark Kent was an extreme liberal with a hypocrisy problem. Just kicking back to some big-screen entertainment seems like a good way to kill half an hour, especially since it's pissing down outside, so I drag myself off the sofa to drive to the closest cinema, the Vinewood Walk of Fame-based Oriental, a spin on Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre.


They're showing The Loneliest Robot in Great Britain. Come on, let's all watch it together. Cheerful stuff.

1.45 PM

Time for a trim at the barbers – by which I mean a completely new look – and some retail therapy at the game's highest-end clothes store, Ponconbys. Looking sharp as fuck, mate. So obviously it's a good time for a road race. It's just a shame that I'm not very good at road racing, even with Franklin's unique skill of being able to slow time as he's driving (a skill I conveniently forget about until it's too late).

2.15 PM

Darts seems like a much safer way to spend some leisure time. Who can resist the lure of the arrows? The shiny shafts catching the light as they arc through the air. The smell of stale beer, soaked into what's left of the boozer in question's carpet. But playing darts in GTAV means leaving the city limits of Los Santos and heading north, towards Sandy Shores. I can't wear this suit up there, so I stop off at a discount store to change my threads.

I guess the locals don't like black folk so much. As I'm not being violent today, I don't fight back. The result is inevitable. But after a trip to the Sandy Shores Medical Centre, I head back to the Yellow Jack Inn and make with the winning.

2.45 PM

Another (triumphant) Jet Ski race from the Alamo Sea to Lago Zancudo leaves me in the shadow of Mount Josiah. Obviously I'm going to the top of it; just as the sun is setting in the game, too, which makes for a pleasant view. I make my way to a quad bike race on the other side, in North Chumash. Chalk up another victory for Clinton, F.


3.30 PM

Not far from the finishing line is the Grand Senora Desert, home to a small airfield, which is the base of the game's stunt flying challenges. For some reason I figure this is a good course of action, despite all the alcohol and adrenaline in my system. I absolutely suck at even the first challenge, which is simply to hit some airborne checkpoints and fly under and over a couple of bridges. Several failed attempts later, I decide that revenge is a dish best served flaming hot, and slap some explosives to the plane that's been the bane of my game for the past half-hour. Problem is, just as soon it's a smoking wreck, the cops show up – I'm lucky to hop on a passing train to escape their sirens and firearms.

Related, on Motherboard: The Race to Mod 'GTAV'

4.10 PM

Paleto Bay, where I hop off, proves something of a nightmare. I again lightly brush against a squad car, kicking off a pursuit that peaks when police boats just off the coast begin firing on my position. I manage to escape another death by hiding in the Chiliad Mountain State Wilderness. There's another sea race over by the El Gordo Lighthouse, and I stop off at the "Dignity Village" en route, a place I've never noticed before in tens of hours of playing GTAV. The bastards who live there call the police on me, for whatever reason, so I don't hang about. I win the race, and decide to try my hand at flying once more – only this time, at more of a beginner's level. There's a flight school at Los Santos International, so it's back down south we go.


4.45 PM

I complete Flight School challenges up to and including Flat Hatting – completing a low-altitude course around the city – before moving on. The flight in GTA can be tricky to get to grips with but once you do, there are few freer feelings in the game. I decide to mark my new medals with a visit to the tattoo parlour while turning up "The Next Episode" on West Coast Classics. An "F" with a crown, for I am Franklin, the king of the skies. Or something like that. I can feel another race calling me, this time some 4x4s. So I'm straight on over to the start line in the Vinewood Hills for what proves to be another comprehensive victory.

5.30 PM

It makes no sense to not get to the game's highest peak, on a day off, so it's off to the Mount Chiliad cable car. (I'm working on the assumption that Franklin would like to be home for 6pm, for The Simpsons and another glass of whatever that red is he keeps on the side. Also, I've now been playing this game for absolutely ages and my eyes are melting out of their sockets.) After taking in the view – and that mysterious mural – it's no bother at all to just parachute off the top, jack a car somewhere south of the Alamo Sea, and drive home for bedtime. (There was loads I didn't do, like go deer hunting, mess about with stocks and shares, hit the shooting range and compete in a triathlon. But tomorrow's another day, okay?)

Total murders committed: zero, proving that you can go a full day (well, near enough) in Grand Theft Auto V without resorting to violence. I'd have liked to play with no criminal acts at all, but you try hailing a cab in the middle of nowhere. Times wasted by the Los Santos Police Department: one, but it could easily have been more. Deaths at the hands of racists: again, one. I don't know what that says about the real America. Probably nothing.