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We need a Southern video game
Grand Theft Pickup, Grand Theft Tennis Mom Minivan, Grand Theft Lake Lanier Jet Ski ... whatever you want to call it, we need it
When my son was a wee lad, not even out of diapers, I threw out my back. How I did it isn’t important.What’s significant is this: for the first time in my post-grad-school life, I had the opportunity again to just lay around on the floor of my office and play video games. And I did exactly that, storming my way through the various Grand Theft Auto installments like I was binging a Netflix show. It ruled.
Briefly, for those of you who aren’t gamers or gamer-adjacent: the GTA series is the kind of video game that parents who worry about video games worry about, one premised on violence and felonious carnage. But the GTA games are also open-world, which means you can roam literally anywhere and do pretty much anything, free from the shackles of morality, legality and common sense. Want to try to jump a sailboat with a jet-ski? Leap out of a plane and parachute onto the top of a blimp? Ride a bicycle down the side of a mountain? Aim a high-performance sports car down the wrong side of the highway? Drive an 18-wheeler into the ocean? Steal a 747 and try to fly it under a bridge? You can do all that, and I have. Often.
If this newsletter were a video game — and believe me, I’m trying to get the licensing worked out — the above two grafs would be the cut scene, establishing the story before we get to the damn point, which is this: Last week, Rockstar Games suffered a catastrophic leak when someone posted a huge tranche of screenshots and gameplay from the upcoming Grand Theft Auto VI game. Landscapes, maps, characters, in-game action … it all got dumped out on the web, a half-baked entree dragged out of the oven hours before it was ready to be seen.
I had two takeaways:
Losing control of your work before it’s ready to be shown, letting the world see an unfinished product … that’s just the worst. You wouldn’t judge the quality of a meal at a steakhouse if someone led a live cow to your table and threw a dirty potato at your head, right?I feel awful for the developers and creators who’ve just had their half-finished work put up for judgment by gamers, who are famously a level-headed bunch with plenty of real-world perspective. That said…
The game looks awesome for one reason alone: it’s going to be set in Florida. One map of the game depicted the Sunshine State from about Port St. Lucie and the north edge of Lake Okeechobee south to the Keys. (No, I will not be posting or linking to any of this. Copyright lawyers have sharp teeth and long knives.) This is a return to “Vice City,” a fictionalized version of Miami and the site of a previous GTA franchise. (I conquered it a few years back; let me know if you need anything in Vice City and I can hook you up.)
So, yes … while the leak is terrible news for the company, I can definitively say that I will be buying this game on Day One … and vanishing for a month afterward.
Seeing that GTAVI will be set in Florida is one thing. Its immediate predecessor — called GTAV, believe it or not — takes place in a version of California that includes everything from beaches to Hollywood to tech-bro skyscrapers to northern watch-your-ass hill country. Which got me thinking … why limit a game to just South Florida? Yes, it’ll be amazing launching cigarette boats onto South Beach, but why not widen the lens a bit? Consider the following possibilities for a video game set in our beloved South:
Smokey & The Bandit mission quest. Self-explanatory.
Daytona: Heist a car and run it in the Daytona 500. Side quest: Survive Bike Week breaking three or fewer commandments.
Northern Alabama: Evade the cops who will tag you for speeding if you’re even walking through the area. Side quest: Sit in with the Swampers in Muscle Shoals and try to stay on the beat, Guitar Hero-style, or the bouncer comes and hauls you away.
Kentucky Derby: Same as Daytona, but with a horse. Side quest: Consume 14 mint juleps and try to find your car while you avoid hitting on a family member or employer.
New Orleans: Survive. Side quest: Select ingredients for gumbo and craft a creation good enough to satisfy a local. If you can’t, you go into the gumbo.
Any SEC stadium: A Madden-style minigame: you’re the cupcake brought in to feed the mighty SEC beast. Side quest: Dodge NCAA investigators and the filthy media as you hustle to recruit this year’s five-star high schoolers.
Atlanta: Waffle House fight, of course. We covered this last week, conveniently enough. Side quest: Your flight boards in 20 minutes and you’re 10 miles away from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in standstill traffic. Good luck!
Gulf Coast: Establish a criminal seafood-sales empire and fight off the twin threats of fellow fishmongers and vacation-minded tourists. Side quest: Master the mullet toss at the FloraBama Lounge.
Your turn. What would make for a good Southern video game?
There’s another reason why a Southern video game would be so glorious, and it has nothing to do with tormenting redneck sheriffs or running high-speed chases through the Appalachians. The best games these days aren’t just shoot-n’-stab-n’-move on, they’re immersive works of art. You can enjoy a well-crafted game just by literally sitting still and observing how the world moves around you.
Red Dead Redemption 2, which is kind of like Grand Theft Horse, specialized in this, so much so that when you were galloping across the plains you could literally put the game in “cinema mode” and watch yourself ride as orchestral swells accompanied you on your journey. The great Spencer Hall summed this up a few years back when he contended that RDR2 wasn’t just the greatest Western video game, it was the greatest Western, period:
“There’s oddball characters peppered throughout the landscape, and thieves, and setups, and animals — my god, so many animals, and so many of them instantly willing to kill you violently — but mostly it’s just ... the West,” he wrote. “There’s not a telephone pole in sight at some points in the game. The sun rises on red desert sandstone and filters through Sierra conifers and burns down over the lip of a small but eerily accurate Great Plains. The occasional lonely campfire burns at night down a trail. The moon cycles from new to full — and when the moon is full, the cacti cast their own shadows in the pale white light, and the sands look like the bottom of a vast seabed.”
Putting aside the beauty and brilliance of that writing — go check out Spencer and Holly Anderson’s reliably delightful Channel 6 newsletter — the world that exists within Red Dead Redemption is video games at their very apex, a combination of sight and sound and motion and sensation that’s more expansive than a symphony, more immersive than a movie.
Imagine flying over the fog-wreathed Blue Ridge Mountains at dawn (probably in a stolen cropduster, but let’s stay on point). Imagine speeding across the pristine sands of the Atlantic Coast like an old-time race car driver, or wheeling through the back roads of Mississippi at triple-digit speeds. (To be clear: you can and should actually go out and actually DO all these things at some point, too.)
Anyway, this’ll never happen. These games take forever to build and bring to market; GTAVI wasn’t slated to hit shelves for another two years even before the leak. But we can always dream.
And hey, there’s apparently going to be a real Waffle House fight in GTAVI, so at least we’ve got that to look forward to!
Song of the week: Lee Bains + The Glory Fires, “Battle of Atlanta”
And now, we veer from the trifling to the substantial. Lee Bains marries the instrumentation of old-school conservative country and the anarchic rage of punk and rock to arrive at a thoroughly progressive vision of a New South at war with itself. “Battle of Atlanta” name-checks Atlanta locales like Summerhill, Bankhead and Hapeville while wistfully observing the changes that have reshaped the city at dirt level:
In a dark corner of the museum Far from the blazing corporate campaign Of a city too busy to hate A silver photo shows a multitude, swellin' the sweet black avenue Where now the rents are like to make you faint
The music encompassing Bains’ pleas, rages and remembrances just flat-out stomps. There’s just something about a guitar solo that’s both purifying and unifying, and you can hear it and a whole lot more goodness on the ever-growing Flashlight & A Biscuit Spotify playlist.
One more thing: Over at Yahoo Sports, I talked to Steve Spurrier earlier this week for a feature on the Tennessee-Florida rivalry, which for a brief moment in the ‘90s was the finest in all of college football. Check that out right here, if that’s your jam.
That’ll do it for this week, my friends. Stay safe and we’ll see you next Saturday, when it’ll be — holy crap, is this right? — October!
This is issue #74 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, check out some of our recent hits:
Could you survive a Waffle House brawl?
On Willie Nelson and his magnificent old guitar
Thoughts on the first cool day of autumn
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
If you dig this newsletter, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everyone’s welcome.
I was playing tennis. God, what a suburban dad way to injure yourself.
I kind of want to visit this steakhouse now, though.
Some very good games are already set in New Orleans, including Mafia III. Recommended.