The Top 7… Ways Grand Theft Auto III changed the face of gaming

It’s a little hard to believe, but this Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Grand Theft Auto III – and whether you love the brutal, free-roaming car-crime game or hate it, it’s impossible to deny that it’s one of the most important games of the past decade. It was a cultural milestone and a watershed moment for a lot of gaming-industry trends, and it’s had a strong influence on the way games have developed since. To mark our dawning (and slightly horrifying) realization that it’s already been a full decade since GTA III rolled onto the scene, we’ve got a whole week of GTA-themed content planned, starting with this look at the ripple effects this amoral hooker-beating sim had on the industry.

This article is part of a weeklong series of features celebrating the 10th anniversary of GTA III. You may also want to look at What devs think of GTA III, Who's your favorite GTA character? and GTA V: Location! Plot! Characters! Guesswork!

7. It opened the door for more storylines aimed at adults

As is the case with many of the entries on this list, GTA III didn’t pioneer adult storytelling in games, but it did something arguably more important: it showed that telling a morally ambiguous story geared exclusively toward grownups in a big console release could be profitable.

Above: How many games, pre-2001, started with the main character's rightful imprisonment?

OK, granted, its plot wasn’t exactly a watershed moment for maturity: terrifying girlfriend betrays equally terrifying mute sociopath during botched robbery, prompting mute sociopath to climb criminal ladder in order to get revenge on terrifying girlfriend. On the way from point A to point B, however, it told a surprisingly involving story of underworld intrigue, paying homage to seemingly every great work of crime fiction while adding unique touches of its own. And at the center of it all was a sharp sense of satire that lampooned everything ugly and crass in American culture, and did so at a time when post-9/11 patriotism was at an all-time high.

Above: Considering when GTA III came out, publishing a game in which you could shoot cops in a New York proxy was a pretty ballsy move

The success of this approach had two immediate effects: First, it prompted a tidal wave of imitators starring “anti-heroes” who ranged from dirty cops and unprincipled badasses to Mafiosi and outright psychopaths. Second, it proved that after 20-odd years of playing the hero, console gamers were ready to get their villain on and explore darker, more morally questionable themes, and that they didn’t necessarily need a cerebral RPG or adventure game to do it. Long-term, it helped pave the way for things like moral choices, mature themes and a growing, grudging acceptance of the idea that games aren’t just for kids anymore.

6. It made “100%ing” a verb

In GTA III, you ruthlessly steal or shoot pretty much any polygon that moves. You launch a warehouse worth of cars into daredevil slow-motion stunt jumps that often end in fiery explosions or crushed pedestrians. You scour every last street, parking lot and alleyway for secret stashes that unlock deadlier and deadlier weapons. And while you do this all for the excitement and escapism, a part of you does it for something much smaller and simpler: the stat screen.

You wouldn’t expect a lengthy list of numbers – even a list that keeps track of headshots, knife kills and the number of times you’ve hijacked an ambulance – to hold such interest or carry such power, but human beings crave a record of their accomplishments. And when those accomplishments are summarized into one giant percentage that tells you exactly how much of the game you’ve experienced, it’s impossible to resist. Or to compare to your friends’ percentages.

GTA wasn’t the first game to include collectibles – just look at the zillions of Jiggies, Mumbo Tokens and Musical Notes in Banjo-Kazooie for a ludicrous amount of proof of that – but the series was the first to make “100%ing” a verb and a competitive, completionist obsession. It’s the evolutionary link between the arcade high scores of the past and the Achievements/Trophies of today.


  • fthel - October 17, 2011 7:37 p.m.

    GTA week? will next be halloweek?
  • profile0000 - October 17, 2011 7:55 p.m.

    Good Top 7. I loved GTA III. Looking forward to the rest of the themed content this week.
  • BrittonPeele - October 17, 2011 8:05 p.m.

    Now I just want to play Body Harvest and Space Station Silicon Valley.
  • MsSmith - October 17, 2011 8:27 p.m.

    I actually went back and played this a few months ago ago. It might look like complete ballocks graphically now, but it's still a genuinely fun game to play even to this day. :)
  • NanoElite666 - October 17, 2011 9:54 p.m.

    I remember Body Harvest! Had an N64-owning friend way back when who had the game, so I played it a few times.
  • inkyspot - October 18, 2011 3:27 a.m.

    The game that changed my life and interest in Video games. Most of the games in my collection are open world. Seriously, it all started for me with GTA 3. Waiting for GTA 5, in the meantime I will endure the pain with the upcoming Saints Row The Third.
  • KidKatana - October 18, 2011 4:08 a.m.

    Space Station Silicon Valley! If ever there was a game that deserved a sequel to expand on its ideas and improve its mechanics...go on Rockstar, get a sequel on - make it an XBLA/PSN download so you don't lose quite so much money when nobody buys it.
  • sternparez - October 18, 2011 5:13 a.m.

    HD Collection, now! (I had Body Harvest)
  • rob619 - October 18, 2011 8:53 a.m.

    If this contributed in the release of Just Cause 2, then hey men! Just Cause rocks...
  • Sjoeki - October 18, 2011 10:11 a.m.

    Chatterbox, that was the reason I bought GTA III, pure awesomness.
  • StrayGator - October 18, 2011 12:47 p.m.

    1993 DOOM Mods are huge.
  • Deathblow92 - October 18, 2011 1:25 p.m.

    Jokes on you GR, I missed nothing, I've actually played Body Harvest, and I rather liked it.
  • Yeager1122 - October 18, 2011 3:27 p.m.

    Now i wonder what GTA 5 will bring to the table.
  • Larinah - October 18, 2011 7:10 p.m.

    I was probably one of the few people that actually played Body Harvest back on the N64... It really was a great game. I loved how you could actually blow up houses, back when destructibility was nowhere to be found.
  • psycho ninja 4 - October 19, 2011 12:55 a.m.

    I could never seem to find a working copy of this game. But when i was able to find a disc that worked (for a while at least) were absolutely awesome.
  • AuthorityFigure - October 19, 2011 3:38 a.m.

    This list is also a list of some of the complaints I have of the game.
  • H2A2I00 - October 19, 2011 10:39 a.m.

    Im proud to say that I have a copy of Body Harvest for my N64 and that game was incredible.
  • D0CCON - October 19, 2011 5:08 p.m.

    Open world games are more often than not my favorite types of games out there, so I'll be forever in debt to this game. Thanks a million Rockstar.
  • UnrealCanine - October 20, 2011 6:28 a.m.

    GTAIII allowed extensive modding. Valve allows extensive modding on Steam GTA + Steam = ................oh

Showing 1-20 of 22 comments

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