Don't Blame Grand Theft Auto for the London Riots

Illustration for article titled Don't Blame Grand Theft Auto for the London Riots

So, a London cop says something about Grand Theft Auto and suddenly a British newspaper sees fit to blame the series for the riots that have plagued the English city all week long.


Idiots. They're blaming the wrong Rockstar game!

If the unnamed London police officer who made the statement, or anyone at the London Evening Standard had known their Rockstar games, they'd have known that aside from a brief tip of the hat to the LA riots in San Andreas, civil disturbance does not play a role in the Grand Theft Auto series. You murder prostitutes, and blow up helicopters, but you do not steal flat-screen TVs from a department store.

That kind of action was left in the hands of State of Emergency, a game published by Rockstar for the PS2, Xbox and PC in 2002.

State of Emergency made no bones about its premise or its purpose: there were riots going on, and it was your job to make the most of the temporary breakdown in law, order and general decency.

In order to get the game out the door and passing through classification boards, there was a thin veneer of purpose drizzled over the chaos. You are a member of the "Freedom Movement", charged with taking to the streets and toppling an evil organisation.

It was bullshit, of course. The characters were designed to look like street thugs, and any politics or good will are there as window dressing only. The real aim of the game, like most other titles Rockstar has ever published, was to go nuts. In this case, take to the streets and smash the place up, set things on fire, crack some skulls.


Coming out in 2002, it had obviously been inspired by the numerous acts of civil unrest that hit Western cities around the turn of the millennium, particularly the Battle of Seattle which saw riot police clash with protesters over the policies of the World Trade Organisation. The game's bad guys, the "American Trade Organization", are a testament to this.

You could play the game in one of two ways. The first was a "story" mode, in which you were given specific (and simple) missions to accomplish, the other being a more free-form arcade mode where you had to keep a countdown clock alive by blowing shit up.


Repetitive gameplay and an awful camera meant State of Emergency wasn't much of a game, the only praise you could lavish upon it being the fact it looked great at the time, and that it worked wonders in getting up to 200 non-playable characters on screen at once.

Like a more recent example, LA Noire, State of Emergency is usually labelled as a Rockstar game by virtue of the fact the British company published it, but unlike the Grand Theft Auto series Rockstar did not develop this game.


Instead, it was made by fellow Scots (Rockstar being based in Edinburgh) VIS Entertainment, a company best known for a parade of licensed titles on the N64 and PS2.

While State of Emergency sold well initially, the game soon slipped out of the limelight in the wake of Grand Theft Auto, and a shoddy 2006 sequel (which was neither developed by VIS or published by Rockstar) was barely even noticed.


Perhaps most damning for the game, though, is the fact that it's so forgotten that even as real riots are taking place, nobody remembered it well enough (or cared enough) to point a finger at it. Even though it's a Rockstar game about taking part in a riot.

FUN FACT: The character of Libra was voiced by hip-hop star Jean Grae.

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I find it mildly juvenile that so many are so quick to overlook the racial, social, economic, and class-strata undercurrents that are influencing at least some portion of these riots.