GTA 6’s Social Media Commentary Might Be a Bit Late to the Party
Keeping up a series tradition.
Grand Theft Auto 6’s reveal is already well on its way to becoming the most-viewed game trailer of all time, and it’s easy to say the world is excited for Rockstar’s next epic saga. That trailer is just a minute and a half but is already crammed with details, and makes it abundantly clear GTA is continuing its commentary on American culture. This time around, the topic du jour seems to be social media, and viral videos in particular, which raises some concerns around how GTA 6 is approaching the idea. GTA has always been an “in the moment” series that tackles big cultural questions of the time, but GTA 6’s focus on social media raises questions on whether it’s getting to the topic just a bit too late.
Every time a GTA game releases, it’s packed with references to big historical moments, biting social commentary, and pop culture. These aspects are just as essential to GTA’s identity as its sandbox playground, which is exactly why it’s not surprising to see culture and social media take center stage in GTA 6’s trailer.
Throughout the trailer, we see clips from an in-universe TikTok and Instagram Live, showing viral clips that are based on real-life events. There’s a clip of a “Karen” with a hammer, based on a real event. There’s an alligator loose in a store, pulling from true events. X (formerly Twitter) users have already started pointing out the various scenes inspired by viral clips, which makes it abundantly clear GTA 6 is trying to realistically reproduce modern America — specifically Florida, and the long-famous Florida man.
Because of that, the worry I have is that its commentary on social media might be landing at a time where it feels a bit aged, drawn out by the game’s extended development cycle. It’s inevitable that GTA 6 will age. That’s simply the nature of making entertainment that speaks to modern events.
In GTA 5, Michael talks negatively in therapy about how his son just plays video games while inebriated, a stereotype that’s long been dead as more states have legalized Mary Jane over the last decade. Then there’s the game show Fame or Shame, a clear parody of America’s obsession with vapid reality television. It’s effective, but there are also misogynistic overtones to Fame or Shame that are hard to look past. The whole game, in general, lacks meaningful roles for women in the story.
Technology and culture move at such a rapid pace, that these elements of GTA 5 started to feel dated after a handful of years. That brings us to GTA 6, which isn’t releasing until 2025, at the absolute earliest. The game has also reportedly been in development since 2014, although it’s not clear when it might have entered the active development phase.
No matter what, though, it’s easy to see how this nearly ten-year development cycle could affect what cultural moments the game is focusing on. While we see these little social media clips in the trailer, a lot of that could be ancillary to the bulk of content. It could merely be a stage-setter that’s giving us an idea of what kind of content GTA 6 is tackling, but the actual moments we see in-game could differ.
Social media platforms have been incredibly turbulent over the last few years. Twitter’s change to X has seen users leave en-masse, Facebook has faced major security issues and alleged data harvesting, and TikTok has faced major scrutiny and calls for bans by members of the United States Congress.
GTA 6 tackling how social media has seeped into American culture and life is a natural progression of the series, but there are also larger issues facing social media that feel imperative to talk about. Yes, tackling the cultural aspect is important, but it’s equally important to talk about the changing landscape of social media, the security and monitoring worries, and the role it plays in the dissemination of info, especially, during major world events like wars and conflicts.
At the same time, GTA 6 is far from the only game trying to tackle the cultural issues with social media. The Yakuza franchise has long dealt with cultural issues, including social media harassment, and this year’s Like a Dragon Gaiden has a sub-story that revolves around an AI chatbot. Back in 2016, Watch Dogs 2 tackled themes of privacy and big data using social media. Even Persona 5 deals with social media in some interesting ways, showing how the legend of the Phantom Thieves is spread throughout the world via social media.
Talking about how social media affects culture isn’t something new to video games, but the scope and ambition of a Rockstar game could let GTA 6 reach much further than that, especially when the series traditionally hasn’t been shy about tackling larger, structural issues with the country’s leaders.
There’s no guarantee that Grand Theft Auto 6 will dish out prescient social commentary, and Rockstar does admittedly have an overall good track record when it comes to storytelling. I only worry that the game’s themes might feel a bit late to the party, especially when we don’t know the wild twists and turns that could happen with our real-life social media and the internet over the next two years. Grand Theft Auto has always been at its best when it’s on the cutting edge of social commentary, and I genuinely hope GTA 6 can preserve that legacy.