Writing about the Grand Theft Auto video games for the Time 100 issue, I unpersuasively argued the following semi-flippant point: the Houser brothers who write and create these games are the spiritual successors to Balzac and Twain and Wolfe. They are societal super-reporters, stuffing the gaming experience with detailed observations worthy of great novels. Their video games are the art form of record, describing and ultimately defining modern American culture.
Last summer’s Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice, supports my thin argument, in a way. Reading Inherent Vice feels like playing Grand Theft Auto. The game is like a novelization of Grand Theft Auto: Gordita Beach. Finally, GTA takes on the hippie era. Indeed, both Dan Houser and Thomas Pynchon are obsessed with and deeply literate in the intricacies of the sub-cultures they so skillfully write about, and the parallels between the two guys are palpable. So let’s take a look at:
Ten Similarities Between Grand Theft Auto and Inherent Vice
1) Fake Versions of Real Cities (Gordita Beach = Manhattan Beach. Los Santos = Los Angeles)
2) Corny, Corny, Corny Jokes
3) Broad characters with no internal lives and silly names spouting insane monologues revealing their strange or anti-social world views who appear in multiple books/games in the series
4) Crazy-named Restaurants and Nightclubs Galore (IV: Wavos, Club Asiatique, Zucky’s / GTA IV: Cluckin’ Bell, Meeouch Sex Kitten Club, Gulag Garden)
5) Lots of sex with crazy women
6) Lots of drugs and drug-related hallucinations
7) Lots of driving around vastly different neighborhoods in vastly different cars
8) Part of it is in Las Vegas
9) Actual soundtrack of era-appropriate real and fake songs included
10) Incoherent plot you don’t really care about because it is so much fun
It is possible that Pynchon’s culture and drug-culture rich books inspired the Hauser Brothers – bringing even greater coalescence between high art fiction and low art video games. After all, “Vineland” is the name for “Hollywood” in GTA: San Andreas. This could be a coincidence. But maybe not. In Pynchon there are no coincidences, only conspiracies.