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Grand Theft Auto IV: Ballardian atrocities

Author: • Jan 3rd, 2009 •

Category: academia, Ballardosphere, comics, computer games, hyperreality, speed & violence

Martin Pichlmair has written an interesting article for Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, ‘Grand Theft Auto IV considered as an Atrocity Exhibition’, that draws parallels between the controversial GTA and Ballard’s most experimental work:

This review outlines the intersections between Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar North, 2008) and the British novelist J.G. Ballard’s experimental text “The Atrocity Exhibition”. Obvious parallels like the dominant roles of cars and carnage are supplemented by more subtle similarities. Grand Theft Auto is an “Atrocity Exhibition”, a deliberately instigated scandal, and a cynical masterpiece.

J.G. Ballard is convinced that science fiction authors should pursue the exploration of inner landscapes rather than be writing about adventures in outer space. Not unlike Grand Theft Auto, he seeks to articulate the pathology that underlies consumer society… Most of his novels exhibit civilisation in a state of disintegration, dystopian landscapes and protagonists unable to shake off their past. The hostile landscape acts as an expression of the personal struggle of the hero, its inhabitants gradually regressing into savages. The protagonist is the only constant, stubbornly sticking to his foredoomed path while elegantly sidestepping all dangers. Grand Theft Auto also tells the story of a man who keeps his path in a world bare of illusions.

Without wishing to distract from Martin’s eloquent argument, I wonder why Crash wasn’t considered alongside Atrocity (to which it can be considered a sequel) and Ballard’s 1968 exhibition of crashed cars, which Martin does refer to. Indeed, Atrocity blueprints the later novel in its chapter entitled ‘Crash!’, which, as Ballard explains, ‘was written a year before my exhibition of crashed cars at the New Arts Laboratory, and in effect is the gene from which my novel Crash was to spring’. Elsewhere, Atrocity records the first, enigmatic appearance of Vaughan, Crash’s ‘nightmare angel of the expressways’. In effect, Crash amplifies the tensions Martin rightly identifies as underpinning the Atrocity dynamic, such as ‘the psychotic principal character … who regards all other people as inhabitants of his mental landscape’.

Interestingly, the connection between the hyper-aestheticised violence of Crash and the elegant carnage of autogeddon-style computer games is something Matt Bittanti drew upon in his experiments with gamics, ‘the combination of comics and videogames’:

I love the idea of gamics, but I’m not really interested in storytelling, so for my first experiments, I decided to cut-and-paste various popular artifacts. “F.E.A.R. I.K.E.A.” combines the fetish for IKEA’s catalog with Monolith’s awesome FPS. “CRASH” is what happens when you play too much Burnout while reading JG Ballard’s stories; “WAR/GAMES” is about the ideology of games, while “SIM-BAUDRILLARD” is about… well, you get the drift, right?

ABOVE: Matteo Bittanti’s Crash, part 2.

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6 Responses »

  1. Interesting idea, for sure. The next time I play through GTA4, I will keep the article in mind. Thanks!

  2. By the by, the above images are from a game series called Burnout (and not from GTA4). Most of the games in the series have had a mode dedicated completely to crashing your car into as many other cars as possible and getting the biggest score.

    The latest Burnout, with the subtitle Paradise, sadly did away with that game-mode.

    A Burnout game with a Ballard subtitle would be a wonderful thing, I reckon.

  3. That’s right, BJ — which is why Matt says ““CRASH” is what happens when you play too much Burnout while reading JG Ballard’s stories”


  4. Spent a luckless Xmas day trying to make GTA IV work on my son’s PC !! I felt like I was going potty and entering a parallel universe all of my own making .

    By Boxing day I went and bought a PS3 .

  5. […] me gusta repetir lo que voy diseminando por internet, pero ese link con el que me despedí ayer -una de esas joyitas de mis bookmarks que sé que hace tiempo debería […]

  6. […] who died yesterday, I came across something suitably striking, full credit for which must go to Simon Sellars and his excellent site Ballardian. Sellers remarks on Martin Pichlmair’s cunning comparison of Grand Theft Auto IV with […]

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