By Molly Steadman
The Grand Theft Auto series has revolutionized and influenced the gaming world in a ton of ways, but the musical aspect of the games, especially the music from GTA V, has arguably made the largest impact. Grand Theft Auto is definitely not the first game to use licensed music during gameplay, but no game before or since has used as much licensed music as GTA V does - the game features 241 licensed songs.
Grand Theft Auto Radio Stations
What makes the Grand Theft Auto musical experience so unique is that gamers get to choose what they listen to while they play. In fact, most of the music in the game is only heard when you’re in a vehicle. While you drive, you get to choose from 17 carefully curated Grand Theft Auto radio stations, spanning a wide variety of genres plus two faux “talk radio” stations.
Video game music, from chiptunes in the early days of gaming to the full-blown orchestral productions in today’s games, are a really important aspect of the gaming experience, but a game allowing the player to choose exactly what they listen to is pretty rare, and serves the purpose of letting you set the mood for the game yourself.
Check out the full list of GTA V’s radio stations and hosts below.
Music Is Freedom
The ability to change the station in Grand Theft Auto adds to the feeling of freedom you feel when you play it. One of the first games to let the player choose their own musical experience was Tetris, which originally allowed players to choose between three songs, labeled simply as A, B, and C. Another example is the Sims, which allows players to choose various genres of music to play on in-game stereos or jukeboxes, and uses actual songs by bands like The String Cheese Incident, The Veronicas, Lily Allen, They Might Be Giants, and Fischerspooner - all translated into “Simlish”, the made-up language that characters use in the game, so the songs are only recognizable by tune, since the lyrics are nonsense.
GTA uses the actual recorded versions of all the licensed songs in the game - no translation necessary - and released the full soundtrack of the game on vinyl as a six-LP set called The Music of Grand Theft Auto V, containing the 241 licensed songs from the game plus original compositions from the score. GTA is not the first game to release a soundtrack on vinyl, but it is the first to do it on such a large scale. Six LPS is a lot of music!
As evidenced from the massive selection of music and the huge, gorgeous, detailed world players explore, GTA V in particular is a game that clearly took a massive collective effort to produce. Licensing music is a complicated and expensive thing that a lot of artists have mixed feelings about, and the amount of effort it must have taken to get 241 songs licensed is something to marvel at in itself. The roster of “DJ” hosts for the in-game radio stations, too, contain a fair amount of A-listers and well-known public figures - most notably, Pam Grier and Bootsy Collins, who have had active careers since the 1970s and can easily be described as legends of the film and music industries, respectively.
Ever since GTA V’s release in 2013, a lot has changed in the gaming world - Minecraft, Skyrim, and the Fallout series are all examples of open-concept games influenced by GTA, and all of them have enjoyed enormous success in popularity and sales, too. A few of them have even released soundtracks on vinyl, but none are even close to being as extensive as GTA’s, and all feature original compositions for the games instead of licensed music.
It's Not Just About The Music
Instead of having to follow a linear mission in the game, players are able to fully explore “Liberty City” (a fictionalized version of New York City). In the original game released in 1997, you could wander around the city for hours without doing anything to further the plot of the game or complete any mission objectives, because the game’s creators at Rockstar North took the time to develop a huge, detailed world full of characters, scenery and side missions.
Grand Theft Auto was actually not the first game to use an open-world concept - the first one was probably a game called Elite that was released in 1984 for Commodore 64 systems - but it definitely was the first to take the concept to a level gamers had never seen before.
The theme continued with the next few releases from Grand Theft Auto - taking players from Liberty City to Vice City (Miami), San Andreas (a combination of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas), back to Liberty City for GTA IV, and then most recently to Los Santos, based on Los Angeles. The city of Los Santos in GTA V is larger in itself than all the worlds combined from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV (Liberty City), and Red Dead Redemption (another popular game from Rockstar North). Read: it’s huge.
Grand Theft Auto Is Art
There’s been a lot of debate in the gaming community about whether video games can be considered art, and the amount of work that went into the creation of GTA V is a strong argument that they absolutely can. Easily over 1,000 people contributed to the making of the game, and the amount of hard work that went into it shows. The author of Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto, David Kushner, described in an interview the first time he played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, when he “took a car and just drove down to the beach and watched a sunset because I’d never seen anything like this in a game before.”
Art Is Graphic
The game is definitely beautifully crafted, and the scenery, like Los Angeles itself, is gorgeous - but GTA also received a lot of attention for some uglier aspects of the game. GTA: San Andreas became infamous for the “Hot Coffee” mod (“coffee” being a euphemism for sex), which depicts crudely animated but graphic sex. The mod can’t be accessed by most players, but hackers found a way to get to it with various hacking techniques in every released version of the game. This caused quite a bit of controversy and got GTA: San Andreas’ rating changed from M (Mature) to AO (Adults Only), and got it entirely removed from sale in Australia.
The graphic sex scene in San Andreas was coded into the game but wasn’t actually meant for players to find, and could only be found by hackers who knew what they were doing. But the graphic violence in the game is everywhere, and you don’t need to be a hacker to find it. Often, the violence is against women, specifically sex workers. This has also been a big subject of debate for the game, but ultimately it hasn’t been proven definitively that violence in video games causes an increase in real-life violence. The game isn’t like the Sims; your character in GTA is a criminal, and so the violence in the games is part of the storyline, though some might find it offensive. Judge for yourself --
That's not where the controversy ends. Grand Theft Auto has also been the subject of scrutiny for the blatant racism often present in the games, especially in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where your character is involved in a gang war between Cuban and Haitian gangs. Various racist slurs are tossed around, but it’s all part of the story. Real life isn’t always pretty, and the makers of GTA sure didn’t sugarcoat anything. The controversy around the violence and profanity in the game didn’t affect sales, though it did spark some debate, mostly because the creators of the game are white men.
What's Next For Grand Theft Auto?
Taking into account the gigantic effort it takes to create a game like Grand Theft Auto V, it’s no wonder that there’s a gap of at least 5 years between GTA V and the upcoming GTA VI, which as of yet doesn’t even have an official release date, but is estimated for release in about 2018. Based on the massive success of its predecessor, GTA VI will definitely be the subject of a lot of anticipation, and one almost wonders how it’ll even be possible to top the masterpiece that is GTA V.