It was the fall of 2002. Many of us were still dealing with the world that had changed a year before, when Terrorists struck on 9/11. That was an event that really did change everything, and none of us will forget where we were when it happened. In the face of 9/11, video games didn’t seem very important.
For me, I had pretty much stopped playing video games a few years before, around 1996-97. It was those years when my first marriage was starting to fall apart. When I moved out, I had left my Nintendo system with my Ex-wife, and my oldest daughter ended up playing with it.
Eventually, I met Julie, who I would marry in 2003, but for this story, we have to go back a year before, to 2002. That’s when I fell in love with video games again, and it was a passion that has stayed with me since.
I can’t remember what I was watching at the time. I remember where I was working, however, and that I was really starting to get into nostalgia. Nostalgia for the 1980’s, to be specific. The decade in which I turned 10 at the beginning and ended when I was 19. Almost every major “First” happened to me in that decade. And in 2002, at the age of Thirty-Two, I was looking back with a lot of fondness. Especially for the music of the time. I had a massive CD collection back then, and I had recently ripped all my CDs to MP3 to play on my new iPod. Many of the CDs I had were from the 80’s, and I was in nostalgia heaven.
As I said, I don’t remember what I was watching on the television at the time. I do remember seeing an ad for the first time, however, and it simply pushed all the right buttons for me. That ad, a 30-second spot, was for a video game called “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”
The game, set in the mid-1980s, and featured a terrific sound track. It was the second of the modern GTA games, taking place in a fictional Vice City, which we all know is really Miami. In the above commercial, if you lived through the 80’s, there is an obvious “Miami Vice” meets “Scarface” vibe going on. Like I said, it hit all the right buttons for me.
The next Friday, I was at Toys R Us buying a PlayStation 2 and a copy of the game. I was not sure what to really expect, but the ad had done it’s job, and I was all in.
By Sunday, I had fallen back in love with video games. I was amazed by how much games had changed since I had last played. Mario, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Tempest, Zelda, they all seemed… tame compared to this! GTA: Vice City was a revelation. More art and movie than video game.
It was late, well past midnight, on that first Friday. I had completed quite a few missions in the game, but no where near enough to unlock the entire map. Rather than go on to the next mission, I decided I would just drive around in the game. I had stolen a convertible, and the sun was setting in the game. I was not on a mission, no police were chasing me. The song playing was “Crockett’s Theme”, followed by Broken Wings and then Four Little Diamonds. None of these songs, as I remember, were playing on the same radio station. And that was the thing! I could change the radio station, and DJ’s would be introducing the music, or crazy people chatting on Talk Radio!
The Outfields “Your Love” started playing! I love this song!
The sun started to set in the game, whereas in the real world it had set almost twelve hours before. My hands were sore, my eyes a little blurry. And life could get no better, I thought, switching to another radio station. The song was already playing, about a quarter of the way into it. And there was Corey Hart belting out that he wears his Sunglasses at Night, so he can… do something.
Once the song ended, I saved the game and went to bed.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is a third-person game (that’s where you see your entire character from behind, rather than a first person shooter where you are in the characters head) that stars Tommy Vercetti, a former member of the Forelli gamily that comes home after serving fifteen years in jail. The mob boss fears that with Tommy coming home, there will be problems with other (mafia) families, so he kinda/sorta promotes Tommy and sends him to another city; Vice City.
The voice of Tommy Vercetti is none other than Ray Liotta, best known for his starring roll in GoodFellas. There is not a man alive with an ounce of testosterone who doesn’t love GoodFellas, and RockStar Games casting Ray in the staring roll in their video game cements their brilliance for all time.
More, it is this game, and that night, that cemented my passion for video games. While I think all the GTA games have been brilliant, some more than others, it was Vice City that drew me back into the fold. It was the game that, more than any other, opened my eyes to the fact that a video game can be so much more than what they had been in the 1980’s. They could be more akin to movies, or TV shows. They could be drama, action, mystery, or horror. They could be all those things, and so much more.
They could be, and are, art.