Grand Theft Auto VI is likely still far off in the distant future, but that hasn’t stopped the internet from continuously discussing what might be the single biggest game launch of the next decade. In a recent interview, Rockstar Games’ co-founder and former VP of Development Jamie King said he envisions GTA 6 as a game that’s “maybe not quite as edgy or quite as funny” as its satirical predecessors. Is that the best direction for Rockstar’s flagship? Here are four reasons why a more tame approach may be exactly what GTA needs.
1. It becomes more accessible to new audiences
No matter how you slice it, humor in games is almost always a divisive ingredient. While plenty of players may appreciate the comedic stylings of Borderlands 3, Grand Theft Auto V, or even Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, all those quips and funny moments don’t hit the same way with everyone. As a medium gaming is still very much steeped in making fun of violence, and that sort of thing may not sit right with everyone in the modern era.
The way GTA depicts women, in particular, has always been “edgy” — which is to say it’s also problematic. The humor is often defined by the male perspective (and the male gaze).
Smoothing out some of those rougher edges might turn off the longtime fans, but setting a new tone could absolutely bring a bunch of new players in as well. You don’t have to cut out all the humor to have a good time, of course, just limit the over-the-top violence and sexist dynamics that were more trendy in the early 2000s. Grand Theft Auto has become one of the biggest entertainment franchises to date thanks to Grand Theft Auto V, which means it doesn’t need to rely on shock value to succeed anymore. We’ve all seen what snarky GTA looks like, but adopting a smarter, more nuanced tone means more players potentially getting in on the same fun.
3. 2021 is already a satire unto itself
Back in 2018, Rockstar Games’ co-founder Dan Houser told GQ he was “thankful” to not be releasing GTA 6 in the age of Donald Trump. “It’s really unclear what we would even do with it, let alone how upset people would get with whatever we did,” Houser said at the time, "intense liberal progression and intense conservatism are both very militant, and very angry. It is scary but it’s also strange, and yet both of them seem occasionally to veer towards the absurd. It’s hard to satirize for those reasons. Some of the stuff you see is straightforwardly beyond satire.”
That politically charged energy hasn’t abated much in the years since, so Houser’s words still hold water today.
The current state of the globe is so violent on both sides of the political aisle that having the same edge we’ve seen from Grand Theft Auto in the past may not feel right. The modern era doesn’t feel like a time too many people can laugh at, so it’d make sense to dull those edges a bit. Unless you were to go back in time to tell a story set in a different decade, most of that classic Rockstar magic won’t hit the same way it used to. We’re all so disheartened by what we see on the news every day that having a game about current times wouldn't be so fun. Setting a new tone could offer more of the escapism we all desperately want.
2. GTA 6 needs to be timeless
With the unstoppable success of GTA Online, it goes without saying that its successor needs to dig into those platform-centric roots even more. The only effective way to do that, of course, is to create a world that feels a bit more generic and malleable to any given player’s whimsy.
Describing something as generic may seem like a negative, but I personally don’t see it that way. Going back to our previous Borderlands example, we’ve all seen what happens when games don’t age well or reference memes that have long since passed. As an online or offline platform alike, GTA 6 can’t make those mistakes if it intends to outlive or surpass the success of the series’ fifth entry.
This thought was echoed by Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick at the Virtual Global Interactive Entertainment Conference in November when the businessman said he hopes GTA will endure as a franchise for as long as James Bond.
As much as the James Bond films are beloved, they’ve persisted for as long as they have because they're inherently safe. They dig into the same old tropes year after year, and people devour them as cinematic comfort food. Viewers know exactly what to expect. Taking the wrong risk could mean a flop. GTA 6 can still be awesome even if it's safe, as long as it gives fans an absolutely pristine version of the sandbox fun they want. Take a look at the broadly positive response to the back-to-basics Halo Infinite multiplayer beta for evidence of this. Just do the GTA thing very well without taking risks or trying too hard to be current and your fans will almost assuredly be happy for years to come.
1. GTA isn’t taken seriously ... yet
As much as gamers at large adore the legacy Grand Theft Auto has left for them, it’s worth pointing out that people discuss the impact of GTA and something like Red Dead Redemption 2 in very different ways. Broadly speaking, Red Dead is remembered as a piece of art, while GTA is considered a platform where kids have dumb fun living out macho fantasies.
As the successor to the most profitable entertainment product of all-time in Grand Theft Auto V, there’s a chance for GTA 6 to be something bigger and better if it takes itself seriously. It doesn’t need to remove all the pulp that made the series popular, but I think there is absolutely room for a GTA game that tackles important social issues and delves into darker themes in a more serious way. Instead of satirizing the hellish world we’re living in, why not directly comment on it? The cold hard truth is that, especially given its PS2-era controversies, GTA as a franchise hasn’t earned as much respect from onlookers as its sales numbers suggest. Imagine a world where people see GTA as something more than the “dumb hooker game.” I’d love to watch that change of heart unfold in real time, but such a massive shift necessitates a more mainstream tone.