Update 1/16/2021

Real Journalism Takes on Fake City

New York Times Examines GTA IV vs NYC, Reveals Cheat?

GTA has always been more of a New York Post sort of game, but today David Itzkoff, a 'real writer' who works for the New York Times, attempts to take on some of the deeper aspects of immersive gameworld design in his review of GTA IV's Liberty City... without revealing too much of his East Coast Liberal Media XBox Elite bias. Itzkoff, who usually reviews books and movies for the Times, has put together a deep and readable article here, especially for non-gamers. It's much more interesting and refreshing to see a treatment like this than yet another press-release driven 'review'. While his ivory tower does glimmer a bit from time to time (Who else but New Yorkers could possibly understand or appreciate this, he explains matter of factly), it's never blinding, and he does give this shiny blinky 'videogame' a serious treatment, and we always welcome that: too much public discourse about GTA is trapped in a sort of "oh but it will corrupt our children!" loop. In an aside, and perhaps accidentally, he even reveals what might be a hidden GTA IV cheat. More on that later.


At the outset, Itzkoff is enthralled, like most of us, by the depth and level of detail in GTA IV's huge NYC analog, its design, and its virtual citizens.

[GTA IV is] a game that has an extra layer of resonance for indigenous New Yorkers. With all the knowledge, confidence, predispositions and prejudices we possess, we're not only better equipped to detect the many references and insider jokes, we may even come out of the game thinking differently about the real-life New York we've always known.

Itzkoff explores the relationship between the fake Liberty City and the real Big Apple in ways that other writers haven't yet touched. In the article's funniest turn, and one that's either clever for its self-awareness and parody, or hilarious for the unawareness of same, he remarks on the disorienting disappointment when GTA does not provide an in-game version of his own real-world apartment in all its detail.

It was as if some unknown natural disaster had recently touched down and attacked only the portions of New York that I cared for most deeply. My city -- at least, the parts of it that I thought of as my city -- no longer existed... Faced with this catastrophic revelation, I turned to a life of crime... At the urging of my human confederates, I even attempted one of Grand Theft Auto's missions... that required me to shoot my way through a gang of drug smugglers and steal their truckload of contraband... I did as I was instructed, but my heart just wasn't in it. If I truly believed in Liberty City as a functioning community, how could I open fire on my fellow simulated citizens (even if they shot at me first)? How could I tread all over the social contract in a ripped-off truck full of bootleg prescription medication?

If the New York Times hadn't told us all that irony was dead, we'd know what we were dealing with here. If it's sincere, perhaps Itzkoff needs a little less... well... latte.

Itzkoff, who wrote his piece based on a prerelease demonstration, also reveals the presence of a cheat that was at Rockstar's disposal, which we're going to call The Neo Cheat:

So I had my flesh-and-blood [Rockstar] chaperons turn on a hidden feature within their version of the game that allowed me to fly anywhere on the G.T.A. map.

It seems likely that this 'hidden feature' is actually still tucked away in release versions of GTA IV, but as of yet, nobody's found quite the right magic key-combination or imaginary telephone number to unlock it.

Itzkoff's complete article, entitled A Strange City Called Home, is available for free on the NY Times website.

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