Corporate businessmen are criminals. This adage and trope is prevalent in crime fiction from Breaking Bad to the classic film noirs like Night and the City. Men of commerce and the institutions they work for are easy metaphors for the worst of human nature. In the post housing crisis, Enron world, and Donald Trump, the men of big business are our favorite villains to ridicule.
The Grand Theft Auto franchise has long satirized this human manifestation of greed. But in GTA 5 corporate culture as criminal has become an aesthetic of the game. The latest content expansion, Further Adventures in Finance and Felony, continues that best practice.
Pointing out GTA’s merger between crime and corporations is obvious (it’s in the name: Finance and Felony), but this is a satire that contradicts itself. The best satire ridicules up, to those in power, not down to the disenfranchised. GTA 5 “satirizes” every which way and certainly up, but it undermines its own corporate and capitalist commentary.
GTA 5 glorifies the very thing its satire purports to scorn. It pulls its punch by selling us the fantasy of power and money. It makes fun of what the player wants to be, but builds whole gameplay systems to let the player become the butt of the joke. This could be clever commentary, but we know it’s not because this end is the game’s ultimate reward. There’s no consequence. Crime, corporate or not, pays in GTA.
The satire of commerce in GTA 5 is rolling in irony. It criticizes the company when the thing itself is a product of that organizational form. You don’t make a billion dollars in a day for an entertainment property without being birthed from a corporation. The head writer, Dan Houser, is the VP of marketing for all of Rockstar. You cannot separate GTA’s corporate identity from its very aesthetics. The criticisms of money and materialism the game makes may still be valid, but it doesn’t make the cycle any less cannibalistic.
GTA 5’s corporate cannibalism, an element that makes it such a curious piece of art, appropriates the language and symbology of making money and turns it into billions.