Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009

Sam and Dan Houser

Oh, Grand Theft Auto, what carnage have you wrought upon society? We can't measure it in the copycat rampages its critics predicted, since few players ended up running wild in the streets, flamethrower-ing policemen and Lord-knows-what-ing prostitutes. No, the real damage is measured in the careers bazooka-ed, marriages Molotov-cocktailed and grade-point averages sent to sleep with the fishes. Because unlike theories about video games and violence, there is a proven connection between regular lives obliterated and the immersive addictiveness of Sam and Dan Houser's universe. You just don't want to leave their world.

The passion that these reclusive British brothers, 37 and 35, have brought to creating — no, inhabiting — Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City has translated into games that offer quantum leaps in genre-defining fun. None of their video-game-industry imitators have even come close.

But what makes the Housers' creation unparalleled is that their games have a take on American cultural history. A smart take. A take that solidifies the culture's vision of its recent past. Was it a prominent film or book or record that defined how we look back on gang-era Los Angeles? No, it was a video game that uses movies, music and writing to a greater effect. Who better summarized and satirized the drug-dealing Miami of the '80s? Or the New York City of now? The Housers are doing the work of Tom Wolfe, creating tapestries of modern times as detailed as those of Balzac or Dickens. At least, I assume that's true. Instead of reading those guys, I've been in Liberty City stealing tanks.

Selman is an executive producer of The Simpsons

Fast Fact: Grand Theft Auto IV sold 3.6 million copies, netting $310 million, on its day of release